Television in the 1950s


It is no doubt that television mesmerized and fascinated a lot of people since it became widely available to the masses during the postwar period. People had enough of wars, and they wanted entertainment. Television came in the perfect smack of time to meet the demands of the war-weary populace. It would soon begin to displace radio and movies as a popular mass medium, and needless to say, it was quickly embraced by millions of American households.

Television made a crucial impact on the American pop culture. It also opened a whole new window of opportunities and career possibilities especially to lots of entertainers. They may be actors or actresses who attempted to make a career on film (but failed), fading vaudeville stars, or mere beginners who were looking for the “big break.” Television also provided new opportunities for directors, editors, screenwriters, cameramen, costume designers, and others who had previously worked behind the scenes in movie productions. Advertisers quickly saw a potential gold mine in television. Sponsors wasted no time in taking advantage of the new medium no matter how costly it would take them to buy an airtime, because they were sure the enormous returns would be worth the cost.

Television truly came into its own as a form of entertainment and also as a major tool for influencing the opinion of the masses. There were sitcoms, game shows, variety shows and Westerns. Variety shows also paved the way for the development of the late-night talk show format which started sometime in the late 1950s. Pioneers like The Tonight Show proved to be so successful that they inspired subsequent TV shows of this format in the ensuing decades.

Here are some of classic TV shows that ruled the television airwaves during this decade:

1. I Love Lucy (CBS)– Undoubtedly the most iconic TV show in the 1950s, it stars Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, William Frawley and Vivian Vance. Even after six decades, the show retains its humor and appeal. Truly a landmark in American TV-scape, “TV Guide” lists I Love Lucy as the second greatest TV show of all time, next to Seinfeld. For more interesting and entertaining facts about this show, check out I Love Lucy Fun Facts.

2. The Ed Sullivan Show (CBS) – One of the longest-running variety shows in American television history, The Ed Sullivan Show was responsible for introducing many music stars to the wider American audience such as Elvis Presley and The Beatles (during the 1960s). For more interesting and entertaining facts about this show, check out “Interesting Facts about The Ed Sullivan Show

3. Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts (CBS) – Like many TV shows during the era, Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts made a big jump to the small screen after it first attained success in radio. Notable contestants include Lenny Bruce, Pat Boone and Connie Francis, among many others. However, some hopefuls like Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley auditioned but were not lucky to be chosen. Just imagine – would they become rock and roll legends today if they otherwise passed the audition?

4. The Colgate Comedy Hour (NBC) – This variety show, obviously sponsored by Colgate-Palmolive, delivered a heady mix of comedy sketches and musicals. Many famous comedians and entertainers of the era such as Mel Brooks, Phyllis Diller, Donald O’Connor and “Ol’ Blue Eyes” Frank Sinatra appeared on the show.

5. Gunsmoke (CBS) – Westerns had been wildly popular among audiences, whether they appeared in the movies or on the television during the era. Once a popular radio series that ran from 1952 to 1961, Gunsmoke made a big transition to television in 1955 and went on for 19 successful seasons. Probably the most famous Western TV series of all time, it stars James Arness, Milburn Stone, Amanda Blake and Dennis Weaver.

6. Dragnet (NBC) – Another spin-off from a successful radio program, it stars Jack Webb in his iconic role as Sgt. Joe Friday. He also served as the creator, producer and executive producer of the show. Find out more about him in our article, Who Was Jack Webb? One of the pioneering police/crime dramas of the 20th century American television, it is also famous for its opening theme. Read our Intriguing Facts about “Dragnet” to discover more about this television series.

7. The Lone Ranger (ABC) – The Lone Ranger was one of the first shows that really put ABC on the TV map. Running for five seasons, this popular Western series stars Clayton Moore in his iconic title role.

8. Fireside Theater (NBC) – While this anthology drama series was not quite popular among TV critics, it nevertheless enjoyed a long and successful run. It featured low-budget stories which were frequently based on public domain. A host of freelance writers, like Rod Serling (who is most famous for his work in The Twilight Zone), provided these stories for the show.

9. The Honeymooners (CBS) – One of the first American TV shows that bravely portrayed working-class couples in a less-than-perfect and otherwise realistic fashion, it stars Jackie Gleason (who also served as the show’s creator) and Audrey Meadows. It also boasts a formidable supporting cast consisting of Art Carney and Joyce Randolph.

10. The Jack Benny Program (CBS) – Sometimes known as The Jack Benny Show, it was considered one of the greatest milestones in radio when it started in NBC sometime in the 1930s. Like the original radio show, its TV incarnation became a big hit, and is now generally considered as one of television’s greatest achievements. Jack Benny and his company delivered 15 hilarious years of comic misadventures to their beloved TV audiences.

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