The Golden Age of Television is the period in the United States between the late 1940s and 1960s, a time when many hour long anthology drama series received critical acclaim, sit coms and variety shows. As a new medium, television introduced many innovative programming concepts, and prime time television drama showcased both original and classic productions, including the first telecasts of Walt Disney’s programs, as well as the first telecasts of Mary Martin in Peter Pan, MGM’s classic The Wizard of Oz and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Critics and viewers looked forward to new teleplays by Paddy Chayefsky, Horton Foote,Tad Mosel, Yes, people commonly refer to the 1950s and 1960s as TV’s golden age, which are the decades when Americans embraced television and the networks responded with a rapid expansion of programming. Critics still hail the programs of the golden age to be the most innovative programming in television history. It was during this decade that anthology programs such as Kraft Television Theatre, Playhouse 90, and Studio One made live drama part of the nightly fare on prime-time television.
THE BEGINNING OF COMMERCIAL TELEVISION
By 1949 Americans who lived within range of the growing number of television stations in the country could watch, for example, The Texaco Star Theater (1948), starring Milton Berle, or the children’s program, Howdy Doody (1947Ð60). They could also choose between two 15-minute newscastsÑCBS TV News (1948) with Douglas Edwards and NBC’s Camel News Caravan (1948) with John Cameron Swayze (who was required by the tobacco company sponsor to have a burning cigarette always visible when he was on camera). Many early programsÑsuch as Amos ‘n’ Andy (1951) or The Jack Benny Show (1950Ð65)Ñwere borrowed from early television’s older, more established Big Brother: network radio. Most of the formats of the new programsÑnewscasts, situation comedies, variety shows, and dramasÑwere borrowed from radio, too (see radio broadcasting and television programming). NBC and CBS took the funds needed to establish this new medium from their radio profits. However, television networks soon would be making substantial profits of their own, and network radio would all but disappear, except as a carrier of hourly newscasts. Ideas on what to do with the element television added to radio, the visuals, sometimes seemed in short supply. On news programs, in particular, the temptation was to fill the screen with “talking heads,” newscasters simply reading the news, as they might have for radio. For shots of news events, the networks relied initially on the newsreel companies, whose work had been shown previously in movie studios. The number of television sets in use rose from 6,000 in 1946 to some 12 million by 1951. No new invention entered American homes faster than black and white television sets; by 1955 half of all U.S. homes had one.