Golden Age of Television
This article focuses too much on specific examples without explaining their importance to its main subject. (August 2016)
The "Golden Age of Television" refers to the era of live television production in the United States, roughly from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. According to The Television Industry: A Historical Dictionary, "the Golden Age opened with Kraft Television Theatre on May 7, 1947, and ended with the last live show in the Playhouse 90 series ten years later. 
Many[who?] today argue that after the advent of cable TV, satellite TV, and Internet TV, which have greatly increased the number of TV stations and number of programs, a new golden age of television has begun, but the first golden age was about the availability of high-quality cultural offerings in an era of limited channels, made possible because early television receivers were expensive and could be afforded mostly by the more educated and cultured class of viewers.
Evolutions of drama on televisionEdit
Prior to approximately 1948, there had been some attempts at television programming using the mechanical television process. One of the first series made specifically for television to have a sustained run was CBS's 1931–33 murder-mystery series The Television Ghost, which ran for all 19 months that its flagship television station, then W2XAB, was on the air. The limits of mechanical television inherently meant that these productions were extremely primitive; The Television Ghost, for example, consisted entirely of a 15-minute monologue of a single actor, with the only visual shot being the actor's head. By the time electronic television was standardized in the late 1930s, some more varied experimental programs, including live sportscasts and some game shows (such as the CBS Television Quiz and Truth or Consequences), were appearing; most television service was suspended beginning in 1942 because of World War II. The decade-long period of developing television techniques allowed broadcasting companies to be prepared when the war ended and the ensuing post-war prosperity allowed for increased consumer adoption of television sets.
The early days of television were a time when many hour-long anthology drama series received critical acclaim. Examples include Kraft Television Theatre (debuted May 7, 1947), The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre (debuted September 27, 1948), Television Playhouse (debuted December 4, 1947), The Philco Television Playhouse (debuted October 3, 1948), Westinghouse Studio One (debuted November 7, 1948), and Your Show Time (debuted January 21, 1949).
As filmed series such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone began to dominate during the mid-1950s and early 1960s, the period of live TV dramas was viewed as the Golden Age. Although producer David Susskind, in a 1960s roundtable discussion with leading 1950s TV dramatists, defined TV's Golden Age as 1938 to 1954, the quiz show scandals of 1959, the final show of Playhouse 90 (debuted October 4, 1956) on May 18, 1960, and the departure of leading director John Frankenheimer brought the era to an end. Indeed, the 1960–61 television season was noted by Time magazine as being the worst season in television up to that point, a sentiment echoed by Newton Minow, the head of the Federal Communications Commission, who lambasted the television networks for creating a "vast wasteland" of inferior programming in his speech "Television and the Public Interest."
As a new medium, television introduced many innovative programming concepts, and prime time television drama showcased both original and classic productions, including the first telecasts of Walt Disney's programs, as well as the first telecasts of Mary Martin in Peter Pan, MGM's classic The Wizard of Oz and Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. The first screen adaptation of a James Bond story was a teleplay that aired in 1954. Critics and viewers looked forward to new teleplays by Paddy Chayefsky, Horton Foote, Tad Mosel, Reginald Rose, Rod Serling, William Templeton, Gore Vidal and others. A few of these teleplays, including Rose's Twelve Angry Men and Chayefsky's Marty, would be adapted for film and other media and go on to great acclaim.
Most of these programs were produced as installments of live dramatic anthologies, such as The Philco Television Playhouse, Kraft Television Theatre and Playhouse 90. Live, abridged versions of plays like Cyrano de Bergerac, with members of the cast of the 1946 Broadway revival recreating their roles were regularly shown during this period. Playhouse 90 was one of the last shows of its kind; by the late 1950s, production of most American television was moving to Hollywood, which itself carried a contrasting culture and sensibility to shows based in New York City, where most Golden Age programs originated.
Limitations of early televisionEdit
Early television broadcasts were limited to live or filmed productions (the first practical videotape system, Ampex's Quadruplex, only became available in 1956). Broadcasting news, sports and other live events was something of a technical challenge in the early days of television and live drama with multiple cameras was extremely challenging. A live, 90-minute drama might require a dozen sets and at least that many cameras. Major set and other changes had to occur during commercials, and there were no "second takes." The cast and crew operated with the awareness of as many as 10 million people watching and any mistake went out live. After the adoption of videotape in 1957, many live dramas were shot "live to tape," still retaining a "live" television look and feel but able to both preserve the program for later broadcast and allowing the possibility of retakes (still rare since videotape editing required a razor blade and was not done unless absolutely necessary).
High culture dominated commercial network television programming in the 1950s and 1960s with the first television appearances of Leonard Bernstein and Arturo Toscanini, the first telecasts from Carnegie Hall took place during this era, the first live American telecasts of plays by Shakespeare, the first telecasts of Tchaikovsky's ballets The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker and the first opera specially composed for television, Amahl and the Night Visitors. The Bell Telephone Hour, an NBC radio program, began its TV run featuring both classical and Broadway performers. All of these were broadcast on NBC, CBS and ABC, something that would be unheard of today. Commercial networks now concentrate on more popular items. The networks then had their own art critics, notably Aline Saarinen and Brian O'Doherty, something that was mostly discontinued (with the exception of film critics) by the start of the digital television era.
This high culture approach to television could be interpreted as a product of its time. At its earliest, television was still a new product and a large investment available mostly in the cities, and as such, the niche market of wealthy, more urbanized audiences (precisely the kind to have an interest in fine art and classical music) were more likely to own and watch television. As television expanded and reached critical mass, more of the low culture gained access to television, thus compelling the networks to shift their programming to accommodate their more popular interests. As Dennis James, a Golden Age host who was still active into the early 1970s hosting game shows that were not always critically acclaimed, remarked:
|“||The critics will always look down their noses, but you can't have The Bell Telephone Hour on and still stay in competition. They can sit around and talk about the great wasteland and everything else. If you want to read books, read books.||”|
In November 1960 former NBC head Sylvester "Pat" Weaver commented on the end of the Golden Age of Television in The Denver Post, saying: "Television has gone from about a dozen forms to just two - news shows and the Hollywood stories. The blame lies in the management of NBC, CBS and ABC. Management doesn't give the people what they deserve. I don't see any hope in the system as it is."
Many programs of this era evolved from successful radio shows that brought polished concepts, casts and writing staffs to TV. This is one reason that quality was so consistently high during this period. Even an original show like I Love Lucy drew heavily from radio, since many of those scripts were rewrites from Lucille Ball's late-1940s radio show My Favorite Husband. Shows like Our Miss Brooks, Gunsmoke, Amos and Andy and The Jack Benny Program ran concurrently on both radio and TV until television reception reached beyond the major metropolitan areas in the mid-1950s. Others, such as Father Knows Best and Fibber McGee and Molly, attempted to "flash-cut" from radio to television, to varying degrees of success. By the early 1960s, about 90% of American households had a television set, and the roles of television and radio (which was largely saved from obsolescence by the invention of the far more portable transistor radio in the 1950s and the concurrent rise of higher-fidelity FM radio) had changed, so that radio was primarily a medium for music, and scripted programming became wholly the domain of television.
Canada's Golden Age of Television timeline is very similar to the US's (in fact, most Canadians were within the broadcast range of at least one American television station by the 1950s), but there is an overall five-year delay because of the country's sparser population. CBC Television, the country's official national broadcaster, launched in 1952, and CTV Television Network, the oldest commercial network in the country, followed in 1962. Although there were a handful of efforts to produce domestic content for the Canadian networks, most Golden Age shows were imported from the United States until the Can-Con requirements took effect around 1970.
Nigeria has the earliest television industry on the African continent and one of the earliest in the world. The Western Nigeria Television Service (WNTV), Nigeria's and Africa's first television station, began operation in the then Western Region in October 1959. The other two regions of the country soon followed suit; with the establishment of the Eastern Nigeria Television Service (ENTV) in Enugu, in 1960, and the Radio Television Kaduna (RKTV) in Kaduna, in March 1962. Also in 1962, The Federal Government established a fourth station, the Nigerian Television Service, in the then capital, Lagos. The numbers grew rapidly and in the mid-1980s, that every Nigerian state had its own broadcasting station.
Laws were made by regulating bodies to limit foreign contents on television, with the National Commission recommending a minimum of 60 percent local programming content for all broadcasting stations. This led television producers to begin the broadcast of local popular theatre productions. Chinua Achebe's novel, Things Fall Apart was adapted as a television series on National Television in 1987 and became very successful. At this time, Another very successful television adaptation was the adaptation of D.O. Fagunwa's 1949's novel, Igbo Olodumare. The television series, which is of the same title witnessed a tremendous success, especially in South western states, where it was reported that the show constantly left streets deserted during its broadcast on Sunday evenings. Other television successes witnessed in the 1980s include series such as: Adio Family, The Village Headmaster, Cock's Crow at Dawn, The Masquerade, Mirror in the Sun, Checkmate, Sura The Tailor, Second Chance and Awada Kerikeri. Hausa comedy soap operas such as Karkuzu and Karambana were also quite popular in this period.
- South Africa was one of the last nations in the world to have TV; the apartheid government resisted TV broadcasting until the mid-1970s, with experimental broadcasts only beginning in 1975 and nationwide service starting in January 1976.
- The development of TV in South Africa can at least be considered in New Zealand or Australian context – although the social and political constraints limit the length of the 'Golden Era' in this nation.
- British television, like its American counterpart, began developing in the 1930s, with the BBC Television Service beginning regular broadcasts in 1936; however, these ceased in 1939 (as did the production of television receivers) – resuming in 1946 after World War II.
- The golden age of British TV enjoyed its peak around the same time as in the United States, ranging from approximately 1949 to 1955 – although the term has been used to describe the period right through until the 1970s.
- Writers such as Nigel Kneale and producers like Rudolph Cartier produced classic programming such as The Quatermass Experiment and Mystery Story (of which no recording exists).
- Other notable programs include serials by the producer Francis Durbridge and classic children's programs such as Muffin the Mule and Andy Pandy.
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As the bloodstained 1960–61 season crawled toward its grave last week, it had proved one thing to everybody's satisfaction: it was the worst in the 13-year history of U.S. network television.
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