Television in the 1950s

by admin - September 27th, 2017

By Jess Fournier

The growing popularity of television in 1950’s homes completely altered American daily life. Television first became popular in only certain cities that were heavily populated, such as New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, or St. Louis. Even for the people living in or close to these major cities, televisions were not easy to afford.

Unlike any other household technology, the number of televisions began to rapidly increase into houses. In 1948, the number of homes with TVs was about 0.4 percent, but then jumped up to 55.7 percent in 1954, and then 83.2 percent in 1958. According to Alfred R. Oxenfeldt, the major rise of this new technology was not due to a decline in the price of receivers, but the increase of stations, which rose from 16 to 354 in a matter of six years. Another reason was the vast amount of shows they had for children, considering it seemed as though almost every couple was having children in the 1950s. Some of the children shows included NBC’s “Howdy Doody Time”, WGN’s “Bozo”, and many more. Unfortunately, this did account for decreasing popularity of listening to the radio and going out to the movies, with theaters closing down even in cities that only had one channel. Also, less people went to see shows on Broadway because they could get live entertainment at their houses instead.

Some of the most popular genres watched on television were comedy, variety shows, crime, and Westerns. One of TV’s first superstars, Milton Berle, hosted a very successful comedy show called Texaco Star Theater that lasted for eight years. Then, many other comedy shows followed the lead of Berle’s, such as Your Show of Shows, written by Neil Simon and Mel Brooks. A somewhat similar genre was the variety shows, which included singing, music, dancing, comedy skits, animal acts, and circus performers. The most known variety show was The Ed Sullivan Show, where he would have guest appearances that would be very important for the success of new talent. For example, Elvis Presley was featured on an episode, making it amongst the most viewed programs of the decade. Also, crime series that told a story through several episodes and characters would be watched by many people, for instance Man Against Crime. Producers began to step away from live production, especially when making episodic series. Immediate success came with I Love Lucy, which was one of the first shows to be pre-recorded and soon to be the greatest television hit of the decade. Others included the family oriented shows of Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, and Father Knows Best. Another popular genre was Westerns, such as The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, and Gunsmoke.

In a way, American television brought the country together, because almost everyone was watching and listening to the same shows at the same time. Dunar writes, “The result made the United States a smaller place. It hastened the decline of regionalism, diminishing differences in accent attitudes, entertainment, cultural tastes, and preferences in food, clothing, and other consumer goods” (Dunar 233). On the other hand, this website explains how television caused a social separation, with more people staying in to watch TV rather than going out with friends or family. However, it is certain that American television helped shape this country and contributed greatly to the pivotal decade of the 1950s.

Pictured here is an American family sitting around their television, relaxing and focusing all of their attention on the small screen.

Works Cited

Dunar, Andrew J. America in the fifties. Syracuse, NY, Syracuse University Press, 2006.

Television Comes to America, 1947-57. Accessed 26 Sept. 2017.

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