Major TV debuts from the year you were born
As the landscape of TV continues to shift, it’s always a good time to pause and look at the medium’s history. Although the latest buzzy Netflix show dominating everyday conversations is normal, television is one of the youngest art forms around. The first American TV station began broadcasting in 1928, but television didn’t really start growing into the influential, widespread phenomenon that it is now until the 1950s.
Since there were initially only three major TV networks—ABC, CBS, and NBC—popular television was limited to a strict number of channels and studios for decades. The advent of cable television and streaming services has allowed more and more diverse forms of TV storytelling to be made. The most popular show that aired in 2012 when an 8-year-old was born looks vastly different than the most popular show that aired in 1965 when a 55-year-old was born.
Some of the older TV shows obviously still hold a place in American culture and television history today. For example, “The Twilight Zone” forever shaped the anthology series, as well as how the genres of science fiction and suspense unfold within the medium. However, pinpointing every major show that’s come out since TV took off can be a time-consuming task.
Stacker conducted manual research to compile a list of notable television debuts from the past 70 years, listing one show for each year and using a variety of unique sources. When selecting TV shows to add, Stacker looked for series that were not just popular when they were airing, but remain influential and iconic in pop culture to this day.
Read on to find out which major TV show debuted the same year that you were born, from the 1950 comedy hour “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show” to the 2019 HBO drama “Watchmen.”
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1950: The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show
This early TV comedy turned its titular married couple into one of the most respected duos in Hollywood. George played the straight, serious husband, while Gracie and their neighbor Blanche, played by Bea Benaderet, frequently annoyed him with their mischief.
1951: I Love Lucy
Real-life comedy couple Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball starred in “I Love Lucy” as bandleader Ricky and his feisty, troublemaking wife Lucy. The show made the pair major Hollywood stars, and is generally regarded as one of the most influential sitcoms ever made.
1952: Guiding Light
“Guiding Light,” which began as a radio show, followed the trials and tribulations of the Bauer family in the fictional Midwestern town of Springfield. The show aired until 2009, and is the longest-running soap opera—and one of the longest-running dramas—of all time.
1953: The Danny Thomas Show
“The Danny Thomas Show” revolved around nightclub singer Danny Williams, played by Danny Thomas, who struggled to balance his career and dysfunctional family life. The show was originally named “Make Room for Daddy,” but was renamed ahead of its fourth season. When actress Jean Hagen, who played Danny’s wife Margaret, departed the series after the third season, writers chose to kill off her character rather than show the two getting a socially unacceptable divorce, making Margaret the first major sitcom character to die.
One of American pop culture’s most famous dogs was introduced in 1954. “Lassie” ran until 1973, showcasing the adventures of its titular collie and her various human and animal companions.
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1955: Alfred Hitchcock Presents
When horror pro Alfred Hitchock created this anthology, he already had 30 years of filmmaking experience under his belt. The show’s opening was particularly well known, as he introduced a mystery thriller story, as “Funeral March of a Marionette” played in the background.
1956: As the World Turns
Created as a spinoff of the soap opera “Guiding Light,” this soap concerned itself with the intrigue between families in the Midwestern town of Oakdale. It ran until 2010, and current Hollywood stars like Meg Ryan, Amanda Seyfried, and Julianne Moore started their careers on the show.
1957: Perry Mason
This CBS series followed its titular lawyer, played by Raymond Burr, who defended innocent people in Los Angeles. “Perry Mason” was one of Hollywood’s first one-hour TV shows, and was recently rebooted as an HBO drama starring Matthew Rhys. The series was adapted from Erle Stanley Gardner’s detective books.
1958: The Rifleman
“The Rifleman” tells the story of Western rancher Lucas, played by Chuck Connors, and his young son Mark, played by Johnny Crawford. The series was named after Lucas’ signature weapon, and was one of the first major TV shows to focus on a single parent.
1959: The Twilight Zone
This iconic Rod Serling-hosted anthology combined a number of genres, from sci-fi to horror, and each episode took on themes of prejudice and morality, often with an unexpected twist. The original series ran for more than 150 episodes and inspired multiple reboots, including a 1983 Steven Spielberg-produced film.
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