History of Shows and Major Events in Television in the 1950s Part 2

About the history of television in the 1950s, some famous events and programs, debut of the Today Show, Nixon goes on tv, Edward R. Murrow is Person to Person, I Love Lucy, the Army-McCarthy hearings.


--The 1st telecast of the early morning Today show went out to 26 NBC network stations. There was only one paid commercial on that debut airing. But its popularity grew quickly, and it wasn't long before one viewer wrote to the show asking that they please do something backward since he always watched the program in his bathroom mirror while shaving.

--All 3 networks covered the 1952 presidential nominating conventions in Chicago, with 70 million Americans watching. Viewers saw the hectic events at a political confab and weren't at all surprised when an exhausted announcer said, "We're waiting for the general [Eisenhower] now. We don't know when he'll come out. And frankly, I don't care anymore."

--Adlai Stevenson preempted "I Love Lucy" to make a political speech, prompting one viewer to write to him, "I love Lucy, I like Ike, drop dead."

--Vice-presidential candidate Richard Nixon, charged with accepting illegal campaign funds, went on TV to defend himself in his so-called "Checkers" speech. Nixon declared, "Pat and I have the satisfaction that every dime that we've got is honestly ours. I should say this--that Pat doesn't have a mink coat, but she does have a respectable Republican cloth coat. . . ."

--"The Jackie Gleason Show" debuted on CBS. The rotund comedian soon had the nation rollicking with lines like "Away-y-y we go!" and characters like Reggie Van Gleason, the Poor Soul, Joe the Bartender, and eventually Ralph Kramden.

1953--"Goodyear Playhouse" presented its best TV play, Marty, the story of a lonely man--played by Rod Steiger--who sought comfort from a woman who was, like Marty himself, a social misfit. Paddy Chayefsky, who wrote the hour-long teleplay, later expanded his script to a full-length film, which won the Academy Award as Best Picture in 1956.

--"Person to Person" premiered on the CBS network. With Edward R. Murrow as host, viewers were able to visit the homes of famous personalities like Harry Truman, Robert Kennedy, Marlon Brando, and Jackie Robinson. Over the years, viewers were treated to Beatrice Lillie demonstrating how she put on her fur coat, the Duchess of Windsor demonstrating how she played jacks, and Michael Todd demonstrating how he kissed Elizabeth Taylor.

--Millions of American TV viewers followed the pregnancy of Lucille Ball on the "I Love Lucy" show. When Lucy actually became pregnant, the show's producers wrote her pregnancy into the program. Viewers became addicted to the show as they watched Lucy grow in size and zaniness.

--Red Skelton, a radio and film comedian, successfully switched to TV. He brought pantomime to the video tube, earning him the title of the Marcel Marceau of Television. Skelton was constantly creating new characters for himself, including Freddy the Free-loader, Clem Kadiddlehopper, Cauliflower McPugg, Willy Lump-Lump, the Drunk, and the Yokel.

1954--The Army-McCarthy hearings had TV viewers glued to their seats, as Sen. Joseph McCarthy's Senate committee probed alleged un-American activities in various government agencies. McCarthy's controversial probing techniques were finally challenged by army civilian attorney Joseph Welch, who dramatically confronted the senator with the question, "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you no sense of decency?"

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