Sitcom history from the year you were born
Sitcoms have changed so much over the years amid shifting styles, audience tastes, and improvements in technology. They can be a reflection of what is happening in the world, a unique parallel to the most significant events and movements in history.
The sitcom is a shortened version of the term “situation comedy” and found its origins in radio. Though the first television sitcom aired in 1946, Merriam-Webster dates the first known use of the word to 1962. Sitcoms revolve around a fixed set of characters, with situations carrying over or continuing from week to week, and usually foreground their comedic elements.
Stacker looked at various entertainment news sources including The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and IMDb to gather information about the history of sitcoms from the year you were born. The years range from the sitcom’s beginnings in 1945 until the present day, and include debuts, series finales, and important and interesting facts about one of the most relevant genres in the history of television.
Do you remember your favorite sitcom? Maybe you watched it with your parents or a college roommate. Perhaps there is one episode that you’ll never forget, or maybe it’s a famous line or a catchy theme song, or maybe the death of a beloved character.
Whether you were born when the first same-sex marriage took place, the most-watched season finale aired, or the first time that the wage gap between the sexes was addressed—no matter what decade or season, we’ve got you covered.
Join Stacker as we take a stroll down memory lane, back to the year of your birth, to explore the most fascinating, profound, hysterical, and unforgettable moments in sitcom history.
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1945: The end of radio’s Golden Age sets stage for television
Commercial television found its beginnings in 1945, which meant big changes for radio, the primary entertainment medium up to that point. Radio shows would begin transitioning to television, including situation comedies. By the beginning of the next decade, television would become a lucrative and ultimately unstoppable medium.
1946: The world’s first television sitcom airs
The 30-minute show "Pinwright's Progress," about a store proprietor's many misadventures, aired on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The very first sitcom hit the small screen on Nov. 29, 1946. Though the BBC aired a full season made up of 10 episodes, the sitcom was broadcast live, predating television's ability to preserve broadcasts, so no episodes survived.
1947: The first American sitcom airs
“Mary Kay and Johnny,” the first American sitcom, centered on a young married couple in New York (real-life married couple Johnny and Mary Kay Stearns). The 15-minute weekly show, which aired on Nov. 18, 1947, was performed live for a studio audience. It was also the first show to feature a married couple sharing a bed and a pregnant woman on television—though the pregnancy remained hidden, and the birth was later written into the show.
1948: A sitcom features the first African-American actress in a recurring role
“The Laytons” starred Amanda Randolph and ran on the now-defunct Dumont Television Network from Aug. 1948 to Oct. 1948. Randolph was the first African-American actress who appeared in a recurring role on a sitcom.
1950: ‘The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show’ offers sitcom/variety hybrid
On October 12, George Burns and Gracie Allen brought their radio show "Burns and Allen” to television. The show employed elements of both the sitcom and the variety show, making it an interesting hybrid. Burns was also the first television performer to break the fourth wall and directly address the audience while in the scene.
1951: ‘I Love Lucy’ is the first show filmed for a live audience
The classic sitcom “I Love Lucy,” which premiered in 1951, was not only the first show to be filmed using 35 mm film in front of a live studio audience, but was also the first to use a multi-camera format. And unlike many television shows of the time, the comedy was produced in Hollywood rather than New York.
1952: ‘I Love Lucy’ created the rerun
The first television rerun came about because of Lucille Ball’s pregnancy. Producers shot extra shows to pad the second season but realized they wouldn’t have enough before Lucy became unable to perform. They realized they could air older shows again, and the first rerun was the "The Quiz Show," which had originally aired on Nov. 12, 1951.
1953: ‘I Love Lucy’ is the first show to write a pregnancy into the storyline
After becoming pregnant in real life, Lucille Ball's pregnancy was written into the show's storyline, though the term "expecting" was used instead of the word "pregnancy." It was the highest-rated episode of the series and saw more viewers than either the inauguration of President Dwight Eisenhower or Queen Elizabeth II's coronation. The world met Little Ricky on Jan. 19, 1953, only 12 hours after Lucy gave birth to her son, Desi Arnaz, Jr.
1954: Ozzie and Harriet end their radio sitcom run
One of the first sitcoms to represent the nuclear family on television—and featuring a real-life family—“The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet” found its start on radio. In 1952, the show made its television debut while simultaneously airing on the radio. In 1954, the television show continued even after the radio show ended, and it remained on the air until 1966, making it the longest-running sitcom until “The Simpsons” surpassed it.
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