50 fascinating facts about the TV industry
With the arrival of the second wave of the coronavirus upon us, many Americans are facing a long, cold winter spent indoors, apart from family and loved ones. Having already passed a large portion of the year this way, several more months of lockdown seems like drudgery. Still, health officials remain confident that this sort of strict social distancing is the best way to ensure case numbers remain low, protect vulnerable individuals, and keep hospitals from becoming overcrowded while we wait for a vaccine.
As necessary as they may be, this year’s lockdowns surely haven’t been anyone’s ideal way to spend a year. But there have been a few bright spots, including extra time to spend indulging in our favorite hobbies, like crafting, working out, reading through the world’s greatest novels, and watching all the TV we can handle.
One of America’s favorite pastimes, television celebrated its 80th birthday in 2019. Philo T. Farnsworth, a Mormon farm boy, invented TV at the age of 14. Self-taught, Farnsworth quickly realized that the early TV technology that was already in existence would never work fast enough to display actual pictures. So he set out to create a new electron-based system that would be clearer and could have some commercial value. In 1928, he demonstrated his invention for a group of reporters, in 1939, it was introduced to the public. The rest, as they say, is history.
Using information from news outlets, network archives, and other assorted sources, Stacker compiled a list of 50 other facts you may not know about the television industry. From the development of TV technology to the sitcom with the most spinoffs to binge-watching culture, you’re sure to learn something new about the silver screen.
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TV technology existed before commercial radio
While many of us think of radio as the precursor to television, TV technology actually existed years before commercial radio was developed. In 1897, Ferdinand Braun invented the cathode-ray tube, the primary piece of technology used in modern televisions to display the images we see. It wasn’t until 1920 that the first commercial radio station was established in Pittsburgh.
TV made its debut at the World’s Fair
In 1939 at the New York World’s Fair, television was introduced to the public for the first time. RCA broadcast the fair’s opening ceremonies which featured President Franklin D. Roosevelt on television sets around the fairgrounds and across the city. The following day, May 1, 1939, the company began selling their television sets.
There’s a forgotten network
Almost all of the first major television networks—NBC, ABC, and CBS—still exist today, but there was another early pioneer, the DuMont Television Network, that’s been lost to the annals of TV history. The second network to get off the ground, DuMont only existed from 1942 to 1956, but made some pretty major contributions to the industry, like airing the first two seasons of “The Honeymooners” and “Mary Kay and Johnny,” which is widely considered to be the first sitcom.
Gertrude Berg was TV’s first star
In 1949, “The Goldbergs,” a sitcom about a Jewish family living in the Bronx, hit the airwaves. Gertrude Berg, who wrote, produced, and starred in the show, was the daughter of Eastern European Jewish immigrants and based her radio-turned-TV show on her own childhood experiences in New York City’s Lower East Side. She won the first-ever Emmy for Lead Actress in a Comedy Series and quickly became the face of TV, receiving thousands of fan letters each week.
The 'M*A*S*H' finale is TV’s most-watched episode
While Gertrude Berg’s “The Goldbergs” drew in thousands of viewers during TV’s early years, it’s hardly the most-watched show of all time. That title is actually held by “M*A*S*H,” the ‘70s and ‘80s series about a team of field doctors stationed in South Korea during the Korean War.
The series’ finale, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” was watched by some 106 million Americans, or 60.2% of American households, making it the single most-watched TV episode of all time.
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'The Sopranos' is TV’s best-written show
While it may strike some as odd, there appears to be no correlation between the most-watched TV episode of all time and the best-written series of all time. The Writer’s Guild of America West gave the latter honor to “The Sopranos,” an early 2000s cable drama about an Italian American crime family. Meanwhile, the group voted “M*A*S*H” fifth, falling in line behind “Seinfeld,” “The Twilight Zone,” and “All in the Family.”
TV viewership grew exponentially during its Golden Age
None of these accolades would mean much if not for the Golden Age of Television, which took TV from a luxury for the ultra-rich to a staple for the everyman. Between 1949 and 1969, the number of TV sets in American households jumped from less than a million up to 44 million. This was largely spurred by a drastic drop in TV set prices, as well as an increase in available stations (and therefore an expansion in programming) from 69 to 566.
There was a quiz show scandal in the ‘50s
As more Americans began watching TV in the ‘50s, one of the first types of shows to take off was the quiz show. “The $64,000 Question” was the first of this sort to air, premiering on CBS in 1955, before being quickly followed by others like “Dotto” and “Twenty-One.” In 1958, it was revealed that the big winners weren’t quite as lucky as they appeared to be after several former contestants came forwards and revealed that they had been coached or fed the correct answers before taking the stage. The scandal saw “The $64,000 Question” canceled and ratings for similar shows sharply declined.
Morning talk shows made their debut in the ‘50s
Morning talk shows, of which modern viewers have dozens to choose from, also developed during this golden age of television. The “Today” show, created by Sylvester L. Weaver Jr. and hosted by Dave Garroway, was the first, debuting in 1952. An instant hit, the show has dominated the Nielsen ratings for most of its run, only occasionally dipping below rival shows like ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
The first live-television breaking news event was in 1958
On Oct. 23, 1958, one of the deepest coal mines in the world collapsed in Springhill, Nova Scotia. Ninety-three men were trapped below ground, desperately attempting to dig their way out just as rescuers attempted to dig their way in. For the next seven days, audiences around the world tuned in to the first live-television breaking news event, watching all of the bodies and survivors emerge topside in real-time.
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