The American Sportsman is a television series that aired on ABC from 1965 to 1986 every Sunday afternoon. It’s one of the earliest reality series in American television, and one of the first hunting and fishing shows with celebrity guests This show presented filmed highlights of the program’s hosts and celebrities participating in fishing and/or hunting trips, along with other recreational activities like hang gliding, whitewater kayaking, and free climbing. The production team would visit locations in USA and Canada to film the hosts and guests doing outdoor recreational activities.
Typically, the show was presented after coverage of live sporting events like basketball, auto racing, or whatever else was on the network’s sports docket on a specific day.
When the show was launched in 1965, it was hosted by Joe Foss, a former South Dakota governor, World War II hero, and American Football League commissioner. Later on, it was hosted by Grits Gresham, a Louisiana outdoorsman, and then veteran sportscaster Curt Gowdy. Gowdy was the host more closely associated with the series and earned the nickname “The American Sportsman” himself. The show lasted 22 seasons, from 1965 to 1986, before ABC cancelled it due to declining ratings.
Some of the celebrities featured in the show included Bing Crosby, Cameron Mitchell, Andy Griffith, Burt Reynolds, Larry Hagman, Bert Jones, General Jimmy Doolittle, Phil Harris, Redd Foxx, Shelley Hack, and William Shatner. Outdoorsman Grits Gresham was oftn on the show, and some sources consider him as a co-host. These people are all wonderful sportsmen, and for many of them, being featured in The American Sportsman was their chance to take a break from Hollywood, entertainment, politics, or sports.
The show started in a 20-minute segment featuring Curt Gowdy and Joe Brooks fly fishing in the Andes Mountains in Argentina in 1964. This particular segment appeared on Wide World of Sports on ABC and was spun off to its own series. The show aired at 3 PM EST on Sundays, from January to March. The first episode aired in 1965.
In 2002 to 2006, the show was revived as a primetime entry on ESPN2, hosted by actor Rick Schroder (season one), two-sport icon Deion Sanders (season two), and seasoned outdoorsman Tom Ackerman (seasons three and four). Several members from the original production team were involved in the revival. Celebrities including Morgan Freeman, Bo Jackson, Kevin Costner, Jack Nicklaus, Robert Duvall, Ethan Hawke, and William Shatner (the latter of whom appeared on the original series several times) appeared on the revival.