Saturday, November 15, 2014

On the Early Years of Television

On the Early Years of Television: When the television made its debut at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City (NYC), nobody understood what its ultimate impact on society might be. Such a dilemma had already been playing out with the radio, which came into existence during the 1920s. Would this new communications technology be used for crass commercialism (in the form of advertisements & entertainment) or cultural uplift (in the form of educational information)? This question was central to the early historical development of television. And two shows in particular helped steer television toward a mixture of both entertainment and cultural uplift. First, I Love Lucy, which ran on CBS from 1951-57, followed the trials and tribulations of a rambunctious NYC housewife, Lucy Ricardo, as she tried to break the daily monotony of household activities. Second, The Honeymooners, which ran on CBS from 1955-56, followed the lives of a crude NYC bus driver Ralph Kramden (who later became the inspiration for Fred Flintstone) and his witty wife Alice. Because each show existed mostly before the days of cable, their analog appeal reached nationwide. Ultimately, however, both shows were social commentaries about the basic nature of family and class structures in post-World War II America.

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