The Saturday Evening Post History Minute: The Golden Age of Television

In an article from the mid-1940s, the Post doubted television would ever catch on. Boy, were we wrong.

1950s Family watching televison
National Archives, Wikimedia Commons

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  1. We got our first TV in 1948, a Stromberg Carlson, with about a 9″ screen. My Dad promptly put a screen magnifier over the screen so it was a little larger. Neighbors would stop by to watch TV as not everyone had TV yet. It changed our life as my brother and I did not lay on the floor listening to the Philco radio every night …. It was an exciting time in our Chicago neighborhood and our house had many neighborly drop ins…
    At around 10-pm the programming stopped – and a Test Pattern emerged. People used to fall asleep and wake up to the test pattern all the time, it was a running joke. TV brought people together families all crowded around the new TV and to this day I am still a TV head…

  2. Bob Taylor, you make a lot of great points. There’s so much quality material from decades ago we never get to see that I wonder if it isn’t intentionally withheld so we’re forced to watch today’s lousy stuff.

    Bob McGowan, nobody delivers more here than you in such a great way, so consistently. I know with me anyway, my computer will change some words if I’ve re-written a sentence but then altered it, so it’s entirely possible it was correct when you proofread. Your comments are often the reason I read features here I might have skipped over otherwise by the way, thank you.

  3. Bob McGowan, Jr, raises a matter which is a source of grief and rage to me: the fact that the then Big Three ( really, two and a half, sorry, ABC ) networks have thousands of hours of programming from the 40s, 50s ( especially ), and 60s which are shut away in their archives, unavailable to the national and world public except in special circumstances; I think you can see the NBC archives ( if I’m wrong, please, somebody correct me ), but you have to travel to New York in order to do it.

    Whatever the case, these thousands of hours are of inestimable value to that part of the public which could care about such things, and all of them should be available online, for free.

    Yes, you can run across a few things here and there, mainly on YouTube, but why, instead of just a few “Topper” shows, isn’t the whole series available? ( It’s considered the wittiest sitcom in history. ) How about Hallmark Hall of Fame, which into the 70s, was genuine and great theater, and the many other programs of then – live television theater? ( Can you imagine a culture in which almost every evening you could watch a play being acted live on national TV? We had it into the 60s. ) What about the classiest program in television history, The Bell Telephone Hour? Jack Paar’s 1963 – 65 Friday evening show?

    All of it just sits in various archives, and our culture is much the poorer for it.

  4. It was a typo John, that I obviously didn’t catch before submitting. Of course I meant “I saw several episodes of…”

    Anytime a mistake like this shows up, it’s a typo. I appreciate your pointing it out. Of course you expect more from me!

  5. I’d saw?
    Do they not teach grammar any more?
    I expected more from you.

  6. A great look at the very early years of broadcast television. I’d like to see some of the high quality work that was done for TV back then I’ve never seen. There were a lot of Westerns and family sitcoms in addition to some big deal original productions like ‘Cinderella’ with Julie Andrews (always wonderful) in addition to series shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

    Hitch helped legitimize TV as he utilized the new medium to tell shorter stories in addition to his films. Desilu created ‘The Untouchables’, ‘The Twilight Zone’ and later ‘Star Trek’ to name three. I’d saw several episodes of Betty White’s 50’s sitcom ‘Life With Elizabeth’ earlier this year and enjoyed them. Still, I was thinking her role of a lifetime was yet to come, but not until the 70’s as Sue Ann Nivens on Mary’s show.

    Today, with such an overkill of too many choices that it’s overwhelming, I spend less time watching it, not more. Most recently ‘Gaslit’ with Julia Roberts as Martha Mitchell during Watergate. A well written, well acted limited series, for adults with normal attention spans that are getting all the action they need from the actors with an intelligent story and sharp writing. Too many choices of junk, too few of quality. Yes. More than ever it really is just one big vast wasteland.


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