Golden Age of Television
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
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 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, Reginald Rose, Rod Serling, Gore Vidal and others.
Most of these programs were produced as installments of live dramatic anthologies such as The Philco Television Playhouse, Kraft Television Theatre and Playhouse 90. As television filmed series such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone began to dominate during the late 1950s, the period of live TV dramas was viewed as the Golden Age. Although producer David Susskind, in a 1960s roundtable discussion with leading 1950s TV dramatists, defined TV's Golden Age as 1949 to 1954, the final shows of Playhouse 90 in 1961 and the departure of leading director John Frankenheimer brought the era to an end.
TV stations did not broadcast 24 hours per day, as has been customary in North America since the 1990s — technical limitations in the design of TV transmitters at the time forced broadcasters to use a 12-hour to 18-hour-per-day broadcast schedule.
Television did not quite play the role in people's lives in the 1950s that it does now. However, by about 1958, it had become the dominant form of home entertainment, depleting audiences in movie theaters. It was the fear of this that drove movie studios to begin using widescreen processes in 1952, an effort to lure audiences back with something they could not see at home.
High culture dominated commercial network television programming in the 1950s and 1960s more than it does now.
- The first television appearances of Leonard Bernstein, as well as all of Arturo Toscanini's TV appearances occurred during this era.
- The first opera especially composed for television, Amahl and the Night Visitors, originally aired in the Golden Age of Television.
- The first telecasts of Tchaikovsky's ballets The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker also took place during this era.
- The first live American telecasts of plays by Shakespeare took place during this era.
All of the programs mentioned above were broadcast on NBC, CBS and ABC, something that would be unheard of today. Commercial networks now concentrate on more popular items and leave the "culture" to PBS and cable.
Many programs of this era evolved from successful radio shows that brought polished concepts, casts and writing staffs to TV. This is one reason why quality was so consistently high during this period.
Even an original show like I Love Lucy drew heavily from radio as many of those scripts were rewrites from Lucille Ball's late-1940s radio show My Favorite Husband. Shows like Our Miss Brooks, The Burns and Allen Show and The Jack Benny Show ran concurrently on both radio and TV until television reception reached beyond the major metropolitan areas in the mid-1950s. By the early 1960s about 90% of American households had a television set. At that point sitcoms and dramas dropped out of radio and became wholly the domain of television. At the same time, shows such as Playhouse 90 ended their run.
Golden Age of TV in Canada, Australia and Europe
Australia did not start television broadcasting until 1956, unlike 1946 in the USA. It took about five years (until the early-1960s) for TV in Australia to become a mass media phenomenon. Australia's "Golden Era of Television" is said to date roughly from 1960 to 1985.
- British television had a head start on American TV, with the BBC Television Service beginning regular broadcasts in 1936, however these ceased in 1939 (as did the production of television receivers) — resuming in 1946 after World War II.
- The golden age of British TV enjoyed its peak around the same time as in the United States, ranging from approximately 1949 to 1955 — although the term has been used to describe the period right through until the 1970s.
- Writers such as Nigel Kneale and producers like Rudolph Cartier produced classic programming such as The Quatermass Experiment and Mystery Story (of which no recording exists).
- Other notable programs include serials by the producer Francis Durbridge and classic children's programs such as Muffin the Mule and Andy Pandy.
- Canada was forced to adopt TV broadcasting some 10 years sooner than Australia and NZ because most of its population was in reception distance of US broadcasting stations.
- Canada's Golden Age of Television timeline is very similar to the US's, but there is an overall 5 year delay because of the constraints of economic and physical geography
- South Africa was one of the last nations in the world to have TV; the apartheid government resisted TV broadcasting until the mid-1970s, with experimental broadcasts only beginning in 1975 and nationwide service starting in January 1976.
- The development of TV in South Africa can at least be considered in NZ or Australian context -- although the social and political constraints limit the length of the 'Golden Era' in this nation.