TV Milestones | American Experience | PBS (2024)

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TV Milestones


Philo Farnsworth patents his "dissector tube" in1927. It turns out to be an important component in the development of all-electronic television.

Television's first drama,The Queen's Messenger,is broadcast from Schenectady, New York station WGY on September 11,1928.

Russian-born, American scientist Vladimir Zworykin demonstrates the first practical electronic system forboth the transmission and receptionof images in1929.

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The Communications Act of1934ushers in an era of government regulation of television airwaves. The act stipulates that commercial television stations "operate in the public interest, convenience, and necessity." The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is charged with the responsibility of enforcing the act.

RCA's National Broadcasting Company (NBC) begins regular telecasts from New York City. In1939the network broadcasts the opening of the World's Fair and the first televised baseball game: Princeton vs. Columbia at Baker Field.

1940s - 50s
Development of commercial television takes a back seat to America's involvement in World War II.

RCA introduces a Zworykin-designedimage orthiconcamera tube in1945that has a greater sensitivity to nuances of light and dark. This is viewed as a significant advance in television picture quality.

1947marks the debut of two milestone television programs, both broadcast by NBC.Howdy Doodycaptivates a generation of young viewers, whileMeet the Pressbegins its reign as television's longest running program.

Both NBC and CBS unveil fifteen minute national newscasts during the1947-48season. John Cameron Swayze is the host of NBC'sCamel News Caravan, sponsored by Camel Cigarettes. Meanwhile CBS producesTelevision News with Douglas Edwards.

Television provides fame and fortune for the hosts of two variety shows debuting in1948:Texaco Star Theaterwith Milton Berle, andToast of the Town, hosted by Ed Sullivan. Berle soon comes to be known as "Mr. Television," while Ed Sullivan introduces the country to various musical and comedy acts.

The Fairness Doctrine is introduced by the FCC in1949. It requires broadcasters to devote equal time to controversial issues of public importance and to give those with opposing views time to air them.

The1949edition of the Sears, Roebuck catalogue was the first to offer televisions.Suddenly, everybody loves Lucy: In1951,I Love Lucy, breaks television ground on several levels. Produced on film, instead of being broadcast live, the program establishes Lucille Ball as television's first major female star.

Hear It Nowhad been a successful radio program hosted by reporter Edward R. Murrow.1952would see the television launch of the program, renamedSee It Now, featuring the same intrepid reporter.

The same year, NBC introduces theTodayshow starring Dave Garroway. The morning program is slow to attract viewers. One J. Fred Muggs changes that, however. His addition to the cast generates interest and Muggs becomes a national celebrity. J. Fred Muggs is a chimpanzee.

Also in1952,the FCC sets aside channels for non-commercial, public broadcasting.

TV Guidehits the newsstands for the first time in1953, and goes on to become the largest circulation periodical in the United States. Fifty-three percent of American households have televisions.

The era of television anthologies begins. Highly acclaimed playwrights, such as Paddy Chayefsky, produce works of drama for programs such asGoodyear Television PlayhouseandPlayhouse 90. The artistic boom is short-lived, however, as writers, directors, and actors are driven from television due to creative constraints put upon them by sponsors.

As the Cold War heats up, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy conducts his campaign to purge the nation of communists. Feeling McCarthy has gone too far, Edward R. Murrow proclaims onSee It Now,"...The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad and given considerable comfort to our enemies..."

In April,1954,the Army-McCarthy hearings allow a new television network to make its presence known. The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) carries the hearings live and in their entirety.

The Game Show craze hits television in1955with the premiere ofThe $64,000 Question. Huge ratings lead to an onslaught of similar shows. Among them:Can Do, High Finance, Nothing But the Truth,andTwenty-One.Twenty-Onewould later become embroiled in scandal that would lead to congressional hearings.

The sounds of gunshots and horse hoofs fill the airwaves as a stampede of television westerns are introduced in the1955-56season.Wyatt Earp, Tales of the Texas Rangers, Frontier, Adventures of Jim Bowie,and the most enduring of the horde,Gunsmoke, ride tall in the saddle for years. At their height of popularity no fewer than thirty-two westerns can be found on network television.

In1958, Senator Estes Kefauver holds congressional hearings on the rising rates of juvenile crime and publishes an article in Reader's Digest called "Let's Get Rid of Tele-Violence."

The first-ever televised presidential debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon take place in the fall of1960. Kennedy's comfort with the medium gives him a distinct advantage in the eyes of those who watch the debate. Those listening to the debate on radio are less impressed.

Ninety percent of US households own a television in1960. That same year, television's first animated prime time series makes its debut.The Flintstonesbear a striking resemblance to a stone ageHoneymooners. Viewing audiences respond with a rousing "Yabba-Dabba-Do!"

President Kennedy gives the first live, televised press conference in1961.

FCC Chairman Newton Minnow makes his famous "vast wasteland" speech at the1961meeting of the National Association of Broadcasters.

The doctor is on! The1961-62television season brings with it a full staff of physicians:Ben CaseyandDr. Kildareamong them.

The1962launching of Telestar I, a communications satellite, makes possible "live" transmission of events from all corners of the world. The television village goes global.

Johnny Carson succeeds Jack Parr on the Tonight Show in1962, broadcasting first from New York and later from "beautiful downtown Burbank."

In January1963, the government mandates that television sets must be manufactured to receive UHF and VHF stations. Non-commercial television stations see this move as being crucial to their existence.

For the first time, Americans in1963say that they get more of their news from television than newspapers.

The November1963assassination of President John F. Kennedy thrusts television into the spotlight as never before. For four days the nation is transfixed as history-in-the-making is beamed through TV screens. Amidst the tumult, the first televised murder takes place as Jack Ruby guns down Lee Harvey Oswald as he is being transferred from the Dallas city jail.

Instant replay makes pro football a made-for-TV sport. At least CBS thinks so: they pay $28 million for the rights to broadcast the NFL in1964.

The1964presidential campaigns of Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater use television as a means of political advertising like no other time before. Johnson's "Daisy Girl" ad is labeled manipulative, effective, and a sign of the medium's awesome power to shape a message.

Americans go crazy for the Fab Four as the Beatles make their1964appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

The Cold War ushers in the era of Spy TV.The Man From U.N.C.L.E, Get Smart, I Spy, Mission: Impossibleall entice viewers with tales of intrigue and high-tech cloak-and-daggerisms.I Spyfeatures Bill Cosby as half of a two-man team. Cosby's portrayal of an educated, worldly and witty black man is considered groundbreaking.

1965sees the death of television pioneer Edward R. Murrow from lung cancer.

In1966, Murrow's former producer, Fred Friendly, resigns from CBS over their refusal to broadcast live the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's hearings on Vietnam.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is established in1967.

The first Super Bowl is broadcast live in1967. Millions witness the Green Bay Packers defeat the Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10.

The "most trusted man in America," Walter Cronkite, reports from Vietnam in1968that a stalemate might be the best America can hope for in its fight against the Vietcong. President Lyndon Johnson laments that he has "lost Cronkite."

Television programs attempt--gingerly--to reflect the influence of the civil rights movement in its portrayal of black characters. The1968season features Diahann Carroll asJulia, a self-confident, accomplished nurse. While the show is praised for avoiding racial stereotypes, it takes heat for failing to accurately present the life of a black working mother.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong takes the first lunar stroll on July 20,1969. Television's international reach is undisputed as an estimated 720 million people around the globe tune-in to view the event live.

Legions of children begin to spend lots of time hanging out on the Street in1969. Sesame Street, that is.

Weekend football widows are forced to go it alone one day longer asMonday Night Footballdebuts on ABC in1970.

Congress snuffs out cigarette advertising on television in1970.

Norman Lear'sAll In The Family.debuts in1971and introduces the nation to Archie Bunker--a cantankerous, if ultimately good hearted, bigot whose views on nearly everything are both amusingly shocking and uncomfortably familiar. The show's success leads to numerous spin-offs, each attempting to use comedy to explore some of the day's thornier issues.

Public Television expands it audience through the popularity ofUpstairs, Downstairs.

The Senate Watergate hearings quickly become the most popular program on daytime television during the summer of1973. The Big Three networks follow PBS's lead in carrying the hearings live and quickly see it outdraw the usual selection of soap opera fare.

On August 8,1974Richard Nixon not only becomes the first president to resign, he becomes the first to do so before the unforgiving television camera lens.

The birth of the mini-series: ABC broadcastsRootson January 23-30 in1977.The program goes on to set ratings records.

A Roper study in1977reveals, for the first time since television's introduction, a drop in the number of people watching.

The VCR (video cassette recorder) is introduced into the home market. It slowly revolutionizes the way people watch television, and bedevils advertisers dependent upon a captive audience.

On August 8,1974Richard Nixon not only becomes the first president to resign, he becomes the first to do so before the unforgiving television camera lens.

The birth of the mini-series: ABC broadcastsRootson January 23-30 in1977.The program goes on to set ratings records.

A Roper study in1977reveals, for the first time since television's introduction, a drop in the number of people watching.

The VCR (video cassette recorder) is introduced into the home market. It slowly revolutionizes the way people watch television, and bedevils advertisers dependent upon a captive audience.

1980s - 90s
Interactive television is introduced in Columbus, Ohio in1980.Operating as a subscription system called Qube, it allows viewers to cast a "vote" regarding various questions of local interest.

Cable television networks, particularly Home Box Office (HBO) begin to eat into the Big Three networks' share of the viewing audience.

NBC pays a record sum for the rights to broadcast the Moscow Olympics in1980. The deal falls through when the United States boycotts the Games over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The prolonged saga of American hostages in Iran undermines the reelection hopes of Jimmy Carter, but launches a new late night news program,Nightline, on ABC.

The final episode of MASH, broadcast on February 28,1983, becomes the most watched television program in history.

In the spirit of deregulation, the FCC drops the Fairness Doctrine in1987.

The American Experiencedebuts on Public Television in1988with the film, "The Great San Francisco Earthquake."

Presidential candidates in1992"go over the heads" of the traditional media and use television to appeal directly to voters. Texas billionaire Ross Perot buys blocks of TV time and advocates an "electronic town hall." Other candidates appear on talk shows and field questions directly from the audience.

InMay, 1994, 99% of U.S. households have at least one television set.

Television networks introduce ratings, similar to those used for movies, for their programs in January,1997.

TV Milestones | American Experience | PBS (2024)


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