Friday, July 1, 2011

TV and the USA: Born Just 3 Days (& 165 Years) Apart

Monday of course is the 235th year from the date we chose, in the course of human events, as our birthday amidst all the milestones that marked our breaking from England by a “Declaration of Independence.”

And today, July 1, is the 70th birthday of commercial television in the US. It’s not something I had thought about, that TV would have a specific start date. It does because July 1, 1941, is the day that the FCC licenses to the fledgling experimental TV stations to legally run a commercial to sell you something first went into effect.

Ron Simon, a colleague of mine at The Paley Center for Media, decided this was the year to call attention to this TV birthday, and put together some great articles and tidbits about the day. To herald the day the whole curatorial department put together 70 interesting TV Facts that we have been counting down. I recommend looking at it all: the main page, the tidbit page, Ron’s blog about his research, and the 70 fun facts that were the lead-in countdown.

My Favorite TV Birthday Tidbits

•This quote from a New York Times editorial from the week in 1941:

“The problem with television is that people must sit and keep their eyes glued to the screen; the average American family hasn’t time for it.”

That was certainly true in 1941 when people still got coal and ice deliveries, even in cities. It was the spate to time-saving devices after the war that gave people more disposible free time. And for many, some of that time is given to TV watching.

•The NYTimes full-page radio listing has a tiny box for the Television schedule. Both WNBT and WCBW actually scheduled the test pattern! For WNBT it was at 1:30 to 2:30 PM AND 8 to 9 PM.

•Ray Forrest, sometimes considered TV’s first personality, was an on-air TV announcer, like the radio announcers, who appeared between shows to tell you what’s coming up.

He appears after Truth of Consequences on WNBT to say: And that almost concludes our first first evening of commercial television operation.” It’s "almost" because there is still the Star-Spangled Banner to play. After which he comes back in: “This is WNBT, New York’s pioneer television station. Owned and operated by the National Broadcasting Company. With studios and executive offices in the RCA Building, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York City. . . . we are now signing off until 2:30 pm tomorrow. . . Now on behalf of the entire television department, this is Ray Forrest wishing you all, Good Night.”

TV: The Quintessential American Art Form
I know that distinction is usually given to jazz, but TV holds its own as an art form: Salman Rushdie is writing a series for Showtime with “the belief that quality TV drama has taken over from film and is comparable to the novel as the best way of widely communicating ideas and stories.” Great programming that is watched around the world is a signature of American creativity and imagination.

I like to think that the same restless, creative spirit that led to the founding of this country led to the development of television as an artful medium. They both have taken beatings over the years, but the country and its “other” national pastime always have more to offer, and at their best, help us all with our “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”


wbhist said...

The test pattern shown was a 1947 modification. I say "a" because the main one used had the darker background associated with the 1941 original as also on that photobank whose name was burned into that pic, and also did not have the info on the wedge calibration dots' significance.

dorki said...

And still, in the words of a previous FCC Chairman, "a vast wasteland".

M.A.Peel said...

Wbhist, that's for the distinction. As you know, there is so much to the story of tv's beginnings.

dorki, yes and no. There is much that is entertaining and excellent.

Anonymous said...

I like tv series and I Watch TV Shows Online. There are some tv shows like...Gossip Girl, Lost, Family Guy, Smallville...etc. these are my favorite and top rated shows in US.