IN 1948 ONLY ONE AMERICAN IN TEN
had seen a television, but everyone was talking about it. TV's enthusiasts predicted
that "children will go to school in their own living rooms, presidential candidates will win elections from a television studio. Housewives will see on the screen the dresses and groceries they want, and shop by phone."
Just two years later that new-fangled invention was getting so popular, radio comedian Fred Allen warned,
that television "threatened to change Americans into creatures with eyeballs as big as cantaloupes and no brain at all." Some highlights from our coverage of television's early years and its impact on American society:
In London, a concern called Television Ltd. obtained licenses to retail the 'televisor,' a radio device invented by John L. Baird of Glasgow that permits 'looking in' as well as listening in. Broadcasting from a televisor station in London was to begin at once.
Feb. 22, 1926
For centuries men have dreamed of the eye that would penetrate stone walls and miles of space. Last week sight at a distance (television) came true.
Apr. 18, 1927
Television, last spring a Bell Telephone laboratory accomplishment, last week was a General Electric and Radio Corporation of America practical device.
From Practical Television
Jan. 23, 1928
From the time it was conceived, television was a long time aborning. Soon it learned to talk, but instead of standing up and walking like its big brother, radio, it has crawled along without getting very far. Last week, still rattling in its playpen, television took a few tentative steps.
From Still a Toddler
Feb. 25, 1946
During 1948, U.S. television showed every sign of being a young monster. In one year, TV's formless, planless growth has caused seismic-like cracks in the foundations of such industries as radio, movies, sports and book publishing.
From Young Monster
Jan. 3, 1949
As the clock nears 8 along the Eastern Seaboard on Tuesday night, a strange new phenomenon takes place in U.S. urban life. Business falls off in many a nightclub, theater-ticket sales are light, neighborhood movie audiences thin....For the next hour, wherever a signal from an NBC television transmitter can be picked out of the air, a large part of the population has its eyes fixed on a TV screen
From The Child Wonder
May 16, 1949
The television industry hardly knew, last week, whether to wince or cheer. In a baccalaureate address. Boston University's President Dr. Daniel L. Marsh warned that 'if the [television] craze continues with the present level of programs, we are destined to have a nation of morons.'...Dispatches from other sections made it clear that TV was continuing its methodical overturn of long-established U.S. manners, morals and institutions.
From Morons & Happy Families
Jun. 19, 1950
Of all U.S. television shows, only I Love Lucy can challenge Dragnet's popularity.... The show's top rating, however, is an inadequate gauge of the spell which Webb has cast over the U.S. people, both young and old. There is hardly a child above the age of four who does not know and constantly voice the brassy notes (dum du dum dum) of Dragnet's theme music.
From Jack, Be Nimble!
Mar. 15, 1954
Sullivan started on TV in 1948. Where Milton Berle and Arthur Godfrey had their time of glory and then fell back exhausted, Ed has thrived and grown stronger in the heat of conflict.... On camera, Ed has been likened to a cigar-store Indian, the Cardiff Giant and a stone-faced monument just off the boat from Easter Island.... Yet, instead of frightening children, Ed Sullivan charms the whole family.
From Big As All Outdoors
Oct. 17, 1955
The weekly torment of concentration always ends in triumph for Charles Lincoln Van Doren, 30, who has already won $122,000—more than any other quiz contestant in history—and is still going strong on NBC's Twenty One.... Just by being himself, he has enabled a giveaway show, the crassest of lowbrow entertainments, to whip up a doting mass audience for a new kind of TV idol—of all things, an egghead.
From The Wizard of Quiz
Feb. 11, 1957
Are the quiz shows rigged? The question, worth far more than $64,000 in an industry that is plunging $60 million a year on such programs, has tickled the curiosity of millions of TV watchers.
From The $60 Million Question
Apr. 22, 1957
Many have come and many have fallen in TV's growth to immature maturity, but CBS's Ed Murrow, 49, marches on as TV's top journalist. Six years after his See It Now pioneered the technique for capturing the sights and sounds, persons and events that shape the news, it is unchallenged by any newer or better technique for exploiting TV's potential.
From This Is Murrow
Sep. 30, 1957
What Paar brings into American living rooms five nights a week is both more and less than a comedy, variety or chatter show — it is a special show business blend that Paartisans consider uniquely satisfying. He is one of a whole new class of TV-age entertainers—the just-talkers.
From Late-Night Affair
Aug. 18, 1958
The U.S. television audience is in the midst of the biggest stampede for the wide open spaces since the California gold rush. TV's western boom began four years ago, and every season since then, the hay haters have hopefully predicted that the boom would soon bust. Yet every season it has been bigger than the last. Last week eight of the top ten shows on TV were horse operas.
From The Six-Gun Galahad
Mar. 30, 1959
Smarter than the cops, craftier than the crooks, too quick to be caught and domesticated by the classiest doll, TV's private detective runs second to only one competitor in the race for ratings. So far, in a season riddled with old scandals and new specials, the Cowpoke is still top draw, but the Eye has impressive fire power, and by year's end he may well be top gun.
From These Gunns for Hire
Oct. 26, 1959
As a better-informed public has demanded more and more information about current events, TV news programs have changed from loss leaders and have begun to start paying their way. And as the networks have made the most of them, news shows like Cronkite's have become one of the most important and influential molders of public opinion in the U.S.
From The Most Intimate Medium
Oct. 14, 1966
Commercials - or a great many of them - are better than ever. How and why this came about is one of the more fascinating phenomena in television. They are part of the background music, as it were, of the American scene.
From . . . And Now a Word about Commercials
Jul. 12, 1968
From the moment it was old enough to earn money, U.S. television has been squandering the country's greatest natural resource: the young audience. Until last year. Abruptly, the electronic babysitter moved onto a street called Sesame.
From Who's Afraid of Big, Bad TV?
Nov. 23, 1970