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Big Dream Small Screen (image map with 9 selections)

TV Milestones

1920's-30's | 40's-50's | 60's-70's | 80's-90's


Philo Farnsworth patents his "dissector tube" in 1927. It turns out to be an important component in the development of all-electronic television.

Television's first drama,The Queen's Messenger, is broadcast from Schenectady, New York station WGY on September 11, 1928.

Photo of Zworykin Russian-born, American scientist Vladimir Zworykin demonstrates the first practical electronic system for both the transmission and reception of images in 1929.

The Communications Act of 1934 ushers in an era of government regulation of television airwaves. The act stipulates that commercial television stations "operate in the public interest, convenience, and necessity." The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is charged with the responsibility of enforcing the act.

RCA's National Broadcasting Company (NBC) begins regular telecasts from New York City. In 1939 the network broadcasts the opening of the World's Fair and the first televised baseball game: Princeton vs. Columbia at Baker Field.


Development of commercial television takes a back seat to America's involvement in World War II.

RCA introduces a Zworykin-designed image orthicon camera tube in 1945 that has a greater sensitivity to nuances of light and dark. This is viewed as a significant advance in television picture quality.

Photo of Howdy Doody 1947 marks the debut of two milestone television programs, both broadcast by NBC. Howdy Doody captivates a generation of young viewers, while Meet the Press begins its reign as television's longest running program.

Both NBC and CBS unveil fifteen minute national newscasts during the 1947-48 season. John Cameron Swayze is the host of NBC's Camel News Caravan, sponsored by Camel Cigarettes. Meanwhile CBS producesTelevision News with Douglas Edwards.

image of a tv set Television provides fame and fortune for the hosts of two variety shows debuting in 1948: Texaco Star Theater with Milton Berle, andToast of the Town, hosted by Ed Sullivan. Berle soon comes to be known as "Mr. Television," while Ed Sullivan introduces the country to various musical and comedy acts.

The Fairness Doctrine is introduced by the FCC in 1949. It requires broadcasters to devote equal time to controversial issues of public importance and to give those with opposing views time to air them.

The 1949 edition of the Sears, Roebuck catalogue was the first to offer televisions.

Photo of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez Suddenly, everybody loves Lucy: In 1951, I Love Lucy, breaks television ground on several levels. Produced on film, instead of being broadcast live, the program establishes Lucille Ball as television's first major female star.

Hear It Now had been a successful radio program hosted by reporter Edward R. Murrow. 1952 would see the television launch of the program, renamedSee It Now, featuring the same intrepid reporter.

The same year, NBC introduces theToday show starring Dave Garroway. The morning program is slow to attract viewers. One J. Fred Muggs changes that, however. His addition to the cast generates interest and Muggs becomes a national celebrity. J. Fred Muggs is a chimpanzee.

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Also in 1952, the FCC sets aside channels for non-commercial, public broadcasting.

TV Guide hits the newsstands for the first time in 1953, and goes on to become the largest circulation periodical in the United States. Fifty-three percent of American households have televisions.

The era of television anthologies begins. Highly acclaimed playwrights, such as Paddy Chayefsky, produce works of drama for programs such asGoodyear Television Playhouse and Playhouse 90. The artistic boom is short-lived, however, as writers, directors, and actors are driven from television due to creative constraints put upon them by sponsors.

As the Cold War heats up, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy conducts his campaign to purge the nation of communists. Feeling McCarthy has gone too far, Edward R. Murrow proclaims on See It Now, "...The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad and given considerable comfort to our enemies..."

In April, 1954, the Army-McCarthy hearings allow a new television network to make its presence known. The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) carries the hearings live and in their entirety.

Photo of The $64,000 Question The Game Show craze hits television in 1955 with the premiere of The $64,000 Question. Huge ratings lead to an onslaught of similar shows. Among them: Can Do, High Finance, Nothing But the Truth, andTwenty-One. Twenty-One would later become embroiled in scandal that would lead to congressional hearings.

The sounds of gunshots and horse hoofs fill the airwaves as a stampede of television westerns are introduced in the 1955-56 season.Wyatt Earp, Tales of the Texas Rangers, Frontier, Adventures of Jim Bowie, and the most enduring of the horde, Gunsmoke, ride tall in the saddle for years. At their height of popularity no fewer than thirty-two westerns can be found on network television.

In 1958, Senator Estes Kefauver holds congressional hearings on the rising rates of juvenile crime and publishes an article in Reader's Digest called "Let's Get Rid of Tele-Violence."

TV Milestones 1960's-90's

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