The Black And White World Of TVs In The 1950’s
TVs are everywhere. It is estimated that there are over 2 billion t. V. Sets in the world today. But back in 1949 there were only 11,000,000 sets, 98 stations and 4 networks in the United State, and most of these were on the east coast.
There would be nothing to watch but a blank box if not for the programming provided by television networks, and all the others it takes to bring entertainment to the small screen. Back in 1949, there were only four networks and 98 stations filling the TV screens of America. These networks were NBC, CBS, Dumont Television and ABC who produced programs that aired in three cities, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. These cities were called major markets. Stations scattered across the nation, and a few affiliates, produced their own programs, mostly for local consumption. At the time color programming was technically available, but the transmissions were very bad, and programming remained black and white and shades of gray.
In the early nineteen hundred and fifties, many television programs were named after their sponsors, such as The Texaco Star Theater (Texaco Oil), Philco Television Playhouse (Philco Electronics), Gillette Cavalcade of Sports (Gillette Razors and Blades), The Colgate Comedy Hour (Colgate Tooth Paste), and so on. These companies had full control over all aspects of the shows. One cigarette company, who sponsored news programs, required that a cigarette to be burning on camera, at all times during the show. Dumont changed all that when, in 1953, they sold advertising segments during their shows to various advertisers. This practice continues today, and has, for the most part, relinquished production control back to the networks and programming producers.
At the time, family values were conservative. TV programming matched the national sentiment, which was also conservative. Variety programs showed clean cut singers, dancers, buttoned-down comedians, and good wholesome entertainment. In westerns and police dramas the good guys always won, and the bad guys always paid a price. In family comedies, families always dined together when dad came home from work, and everyone knew that Father Knew Best. Even shows that did not depict average American family life, stayed true to the principles, such as never mentioning sex. As in I Love Lucy, the married couple slept on separate twin beds, at least through the nineteen fifties.
Other favorites of the era were Have Gun Will Travel, The Lone Ranger, and The Cisco Kid, all very successful westerns. Queen For A Day was a daytime favorite on radio and television for more than 20 years. Detective shows like Highway Patrol and Dragnet, depicted police officers in the line of duty, while the enormously popular Perry Mason Show proved that his clients were never guilty, and he proved it. Red Skelton, Phil Silvers, and Jack Benny, each had shows that cashed in on their previous successes as comedians.
Sports like boxing, basketball, football, wrestling and bowling were viewer favorites in prime time and on weekends. News shows like Huntley Brinkley, The Camel News Caravan, and Douglas Edwards with the News kept the public informed of national current events.
At the end of the nineteen fifties, there were overt 67 million TVs in the United States, many of which were replacements for junked black and white sets. Existing black and white programs were rapidly being updated to new color formats, and new programs were aired in color right from the start. Technology had advanced to where portable cameras could capture history in the making right from the scene. Baby steps were left behind and television entered a new era of giant leaps.