Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
The American Experience
Technology Home American Experience Shop Teachers Archives Contact Us Kids Schedule Who We Are
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


1960's-70's

Photo of Kennedy/Nixon Debate The first-ever televised presidential debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon take place in the fall of 1960. Kennedy's comfort with the medium gives him a distinct advantage in the eyes of those who watch the debate. Those listening to the debate on radio are less impressed.

Ninety percent of US households own a television in 1960. That same year, television's first animated prime time series makes its debut. The Flintstones bear a striking resemblance to a stone age Honeymooners. Viewing audiences respond with a rousing "Yabba-Dabba-Do!"

President Kennedy gives the first live, televised press conference in 1961.

FCC Chairman Newton Minnow makes his famous "vast wasteland" speech at the 1961 meeting of the National Association of Broadcasters.

Image of TeleQuote -- Link to Text at Bottom of Page

quote goes here
The doctor is on! The 1961-62 television season brings with it a full staff of physicians: Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare among them.

The 1962 launching of Telestar I, a communications satellite, makes possible "live" transmission of events from all corners of the world. The television village goes global.

Johnny Carson succeeds Jack Parr on the Tonight Show in 1962, broadcasting first from New York and later from "beautiful downtown Burbank."

In January 1963, the government mandates that television sets must be manufactured to receive UHF and VHF stations. Non-commercial television stations see this move as being crucial to their existence.

For the first time, Americans in 1963 say that they get more of their news from television than newspapers.

The November 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy thrusts television into the spotlight as never before. For four days the nation is transfixed as history-in-the-making is beamed through TV screens. Amidst the tumult, the first televised murder takes place as Jack Ruby guns down Lee Harvey Oswald as he is being transferred from the Dallas city jail.

Instant replay makes pro football a made-for-TV sport. At least CBS thinks so: they pay $28 million for the rights to broadcast the NFL in 1964.

The 1964 presidential campaigns of Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater use television as a means of political advertising like no other time before. Johnson's "Daisy Girl" ad is labeled manipulative, effective, and a sign of the medium's awesome power to shape a message.

Photo of Ed Sullivan and The Beatles
Americans go crazy for the Fab Four as the Beatles make their 1964 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

The Cold War ushers in the era of Spy TV. The Man From U.N.C.L.E, Get Smart, I Spy, Mission: Impossible all entice viewers with tales of intrigue and high-tech cloak-and-daggerisms. I Spy features Bill Cosby as half of a two-man team. Cosby's portrayal of an educated, worldly and witty black man is considered groundbreaking.

1965 sees the death of television pioneer Edward R. Murrow from lung cancer.

In 1966, Murrow's former producer, Fred Friendly, resigns from CBS over their refusal to broadcast live the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's hearings on Vietnam.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is established in 1967.

The first Super Bowl is broadcast live in 1967. Millions witness the Green Bay Packers defeat the Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10.

The "most trusted man in America," Walter Cronkite, reports from Vietnam in 1968 that a stalemate might be the best America can hope for in its fight against the Vietcong. President Lyndon Johnson laments that he has "lost Cronkite."

Television programs attempt--gingerly--to reflect the influence of the civil rights movement in its portrayal of black characters. The 1968 season features Diahann Carroll as Julia, a self-confident, accomplished nurse. While the show is praised for avoiding racial stereotypes, it takes heat for failing to accurately present the life of a black working mother.

Photo of Niel Armstrong on the Moon
Astronaut Neil Armstrong takes the first lunar stroll on July 20, 1969. Television's international reach is undisputed as an estimated 720 million people around the globe tune-in to view the event live.

Legions of children begin to spend lots of time hanging out on the Street in 1969. Sesame Street, that is.

Weekend football widows are forced to go it alone one day longer as Monday Night Football debuts on ABC in 1970.

Congress snuffs out cigarette advertising on television in 1970.

Norman Lear's All In The Family. debuts in 1971 and introduces the nation to Archie Bunker--a cantankerous, if ultimately good hearted, bigot whose views on nearly everything are both amusingly shocking and uncomfortably familiar. The show's success leads to numerous spin-offs, each attempting to use comedy to explore some of the day's thornier issues.

Public Television expands it audience through the popularity of Upstairs, Downstairs.

The Senate Watergate hearings quickly become the most popular program on daytime television during the summer of 1973. The Big Three networks follow PBS's lead in carrying the hearings live and quickly see it outdraw the usual selection of soap opera fare.

Photo of Richard Nixon On August 8, 1974 Richard Nixon not only becomes the first president to resign, he becomes the first to do so before the unforgiving television camera lens.

The birth of the mini-series: ABC broadcasts Roots on January 23-30 in 1977. The program goes on to set ratings records.

A Roper study in 1977 reveals, for the first time since television's introduction, a drop in the number of people watching.

The VCR (video cassette recorder) is introduced into the home market. It slowly revolutionizes the way people watch television, and bedevils advertisers dependent upon a captive audience.


1980's-90's

Interactive television is introduced in Columbus, Ohio in 1980. Operating as a subscription system called Qube, it allows viewers to cast a "vote" regarding various questions of local interest.

Cable television networks, particularly Home Box Office (HBO) begin to eat into the Big Three networks' share of the viewing audience.

NBC pays a record sum for the rights to broadcast the Moscow Olympics in 1980. The deal falls through when the United States boycotts the Games over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Photo of Jimmy Carter The prolonged saga of American hostages in Iran undermines the reelection hopes of Jimmy Carter, but launches a new late night news program, Nightline , on ABC.

The final episode of MASH, broadcast on February 28, 1983, becomes the most watched television program in history.

In the spirit of deregulation, the FCC drops the Fairness Doctrine in 1987.

The American Experience debuts on Public Television in 1988 with the film, "The Great San Francisco Earthquake."

Presidential candidates in 1992 "go over the heads" of the traditional media and use television to appeal directly to voters. Texas billionaire Ross Perot buys blocks of TV time and advocates an "electronic town hall." Other candidates appear on talk shows and field questions directly from the audience.

In May, 1994, 99% of U.S. households have at least one television set.

Television networks introduce ratings, similar to those used for movies, for their programs in January, 1997.


program transcript | web and photo credits

ABOUT THE PROGRAM | TV MILESTONES | MORE ABOUT SARNOFF | TELEQUOTES | BIBLIOGRAPHY TEACHER'S GUIDE | TELEPHONE | BIG DREAM SMALL SCREEN | NEW YORK UNDERGROUND | TECHNOLOGY TIMELINE | FORGOTTEN INVENTORS