Land of Television

At the end of World War II, only a few thousand wealthy Americans had televisions, growing to two-thirds of households within a decade.

Television forever changed politics. Dwight Eisenhower's campaign staff created sound bites — short, powerful statements from a candidate — rather than air an entire speech.

America Loves Lucy

Americans loved situation comedies, known as sitcoms. In the 1950s, I Love Lucy topped the ratings.

Shows such as Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best created an image of the perfect family: a briefcase-toting father who left daily for work, and a pearls-wearing, nurturing housewife who raised their mischievous boys and obedient girls.

Members of minorities rarely appeared on television.

The Wild West

Television brought Western heroes into American homes, featuring cowboys and lawmen such as Hopalong Cassidy, Wyatt Earp, and the Cisco Kid.

Saturday morning television showed children the West in The Roy Rogers Show and Rin Tin Tin. Long running horse operas, such as Bonanza and Rawhide, were popular.

Westerns of the early 1950s drew a clear line between the good guys and the bad guys. Good always triumphed.

By the late '50s, though, Westerns had become more complicated. America entered the more turbulent '60s with heroes such as the black-clad mercenary Paladin and the gambling Maverick brothers who put money above virtue.

Variety Shows: Vaudeville in American Living Rooms

Most early television was broadcast live, so the major networks used people who already had experience with live performance. Vaudeville morphed into the variety show. These shows presented musical numbers, comedy sketches, animal tricks, and more, all emceed by an engaging host.

Nat King Cole became the first African American host of a television series when his variety show appeared in 1956.

The most influential variety program on American culture was The Ed Sullivan Show, which ran for 23 years beginning in 1948. The show combined sophisticated and popular entertainment. Watching the Sullivan show was usually a whole-family event.

Commercials: Selling Through the Screen

By 1950, sponsors were moving from radio to television at an unstoppable rate.

The most advertised product was tobacco. TV Guide voted Lucky Strike's "Be Happy, Go Lucky" ad commercial of the year for 1950, and Phillip Morris sponsored I Love Lucy for years.

The New News

The modern television newscast was established in 1951 with Edward R. Murrow’s See It Now. The NBC Nightly News with David Brinkley and Chet Huntley introduced anchormen reporting from two cities simultaneously.

In the 1950s coaxial cable linked the East and West coasts, enabling footage to be moved electronically. The invention of videotape allowed the use of prerecorded footage.

Children's Programming

Television producers developed a host of children's programs for baby boomers with The Mickey Mouse Club and Howdy Doody.

During the 1950s, few households owned more than one television, so viewing became a shared family event. The pre-packaged TV dinner was first introduced in 1954.

Source: Land of Television
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