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The following is some of the most important events of different decades in the television medium. It begins with the invention of electronic TV by American Philo T. Farnsworth in 1923, to the present day.
A young scientist named Philo T. Farnsworth, building upon previous discoveries such as being able to transmit and scan images, both found in France in the 1880's, as well as rudimentary knowledge about optics and electronics, led him to develop the first "image viewer," as he called it, although, in seeking funding for developing the product further, he changed its name to "television," meaning "far sight": Greek tele (τῆλε), far, and Latin visio, sight (from video, vis- to see, or to view in the first person). The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) hires Farnsworth after its owner, David Sarnoff, is given a presentation, and gives him thousands of dollars to improve the device, as well as its image quality and receiver functions, which is ultimately accomplished by 1933.
The first commercially available TV's are sold in New York State, and the first show, President Herbert Hoover's New Year's Eve address, is seen by roughly 500 people on 100 TV sets. Entrepreneurs such as David Sarnoff at RCA aggressively promoted TV's as "...radios with pictures." However, the cost is so high that only the rich could afford it, and with the French market cut off by the turmoil of the Iron Revolution and the beginning of the French Civil War, progress is slow.
Many television programs, such as Gunsmoke, first aired in 1949, were extensions of popular radio shows. Very little took away from it, as mostly people who already had radios bought TV's in the beginning. One of the biggest TV events of the time was Emperor Albert's declaration of the end of the French Civil War, as well as some events at the Paris Olympic Games in 1946. Prescott Bush was the first American President to be sworn into office on TV on March 4, 1945.
The First Golden Age of TV, with such shows as American Bandstand, The Wonderful World of Walt Disney and games shows such as Beat the Clock and the first installment of Guess the Price were introduced in the 1950's, and were starting to move away from its radio roots. Westerns became increasingly popular, with shows like This Way, Pilgrim, staring John Wayne, as well as the classic Gunsmoke dominated the airwaves. Talk shows such as The Way The Week Went with Bob Hope were increasingly popular, with the guests and Hope's humorous commentary on daily events. Families throughout France and the United States rushed to get TV sets, and viewer ship first reach the ten million mark in 1964. News programs by almost every network at 6:00 became a nightly tradition, with anchors such as Walter Cronkite on CBS, Johnny Carson on NBC and Dwight Eisenhower on ABC being seen as members of the family with their charm, knowledge and grandfatherly demeanor.
Ronald Reagan and other well known personalities got their start in TV at this time: Reagan worked as a news anchor for a local California network for seven years before NBC executives noticed him. The Kyoto Olympic Games were the first broadcast to the United States, which started a tradition of being able to "Watch the World at Home," as NBC promoted it.
With the fall of Hollywood, many assumed that TV would simply take over the big screen, as actors who once worked in film made their way to TV. And soon the first "situation comedy's" began to be aired, such as I Love Lucy and Denderson's Acres, while the French film noir made its way from film to TV, with the popular L' Detective Revington being popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Another immensely popular show was the Alaskan hit North to Yukon, detailing the lives of several families immigrating to the Yukon Territory to search for gold, and their dangerous lives in the few settlements, staring Oleg Smarsov as the heroic Konstantine Nikalovich Hersov.
Game shows, after a rapid period of growth, were soon rocked by the Crosses and Zeros scandal, where the producers took it upon themselves to rig the games to get popular contestants to keep coming back, and in one case, the infamous Robert J. Jameson, who, with practiced arrogance, turned the viewers against him, and made people watch the show, just to see Jameson get "his just deserts." When a first time player, Barbra Harris was able to answer a question that was in Jameson's strongest category, American Football, while he flunked it, on the May 17, 1968 episode, made many people question what was going on. It was ultimately revealed by Jameson that the producers told him to flunk the question on purpose, and all hell broke loose. Congress was even brought in, and passed the "Game Show Fairness Act", in 1969, which required all game shows to be monitored for setups and rigging schemes, headed by the new Federal Communications Commission. Game Shows went into a fifteen year funk, as viewers refused to watch them, feeling themselves the victims of the race for ratings.
Animated cartoons, inspired by the success of Walt Disney's and Vincent Price's animated shorts and films, began to be produced for TV at an increasing rate. Shows like The Flintstones and The Jetsons, as well as theatrical shorts of Disney's and other major studios, soon established themselves in prime time, and were only taken off in the 80's as the costs rose and advertisers and audiences tuned out.
Political commentary shows like American Forum in the US and Imperial Viewpoints in France become increasingly popular, bringing controversial issues into the homes of average citizens, and allowing them to call in to the show to ask questions of the guests and the panel, which at one point included centralist Bill Clinton, conservative commentator Johnny Cash, and left-leaning Gary Hart. The age was dominated by the "Big Three" TV networks in America; the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), American Broadcasting Consolidated (ABC) and Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), as well as many dozens more regional broadcasting associated with the larger networks. In France, the Largest station is the state controlled Service Impérial Français de Télévision (SIFT), or the French Imperial Television Service, nicknamed "Sebastian's Network" by the Americans for it heavily propagandized media.
News programs began to become more important in the 70's, while the big staged shows such as This Way, Pilgrim and I Love Lucy eventually being cancelled due to high costs, and the difficulty of keeping audiences tuned to difficult to understand shows week after week. Color broadcasting, first started in 1968, effectively sounded the death knell of the big black and white broadcasts of the old days. Game Shows, talk shows and soap operas, with their low cost and easy to build sets with little known actors, became much more popular with the networks. The most popular of political commentary shows for over a decade, The Ronald Reagan Show, first broadcasts. Game shows, after a long decline since the fifties, made a comeback under the dynamic leadership of Merv Griffin, and he immediately set to work, airing a new version of Guess the Price (CBS), hosted by Bob Barker in 1972, and the popular Match Game (syndicated), hosted by Charles Nelson Riley in 1974 and Family Feud (syndicated) by Gene Rayburn in 1975. These three shows, with their humor, large cash prizes and the "play along at home" idea, where the viewers would try to guess the answer along with the contestants on stage, soon rocketed to the top of the ratings. Soap Operas, long a holdout to stay only on radio, finally made the transition in the seventies, with such shows as Days of our Lives (NBC), Bold and Young (ABC), Metro Hospital (CBS), and Family Affairs (CBS) soon establishing dominance of the market for the "stay at home mother".
The American tradition of Saturday morning cartoons, was started in 1972 with CBS's Kid Bloc, and a two hour block of programming targeted at 5-13 year olds, and such shows and Disney's Mitchel Mouse, and Warner Brother's Loony Toons soon being syndicated to stations around the country. Translated version's were also exported to Alaska and Europe, although many were highly censored due to charges of American propaganda.
French Emperor Albert II Bonaparte's coronation in 1975 was the first to ever be televised, and was watched by over two billion people around the world, shattering records that for years had been held by the Olympics. However, celebration was replaced by shock and sadness with the assassination of US President Adam Eisler in 1978, broadcast around the world as the news developed.
The eighties was known as the era of the sitcom and the "policom", and ushering in a new "Golden Age of TV," with new shows like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air(CBS), Kids in the Hal (NBC), and Springer (ABC), staring comedian's Jerry Springer and Jason Alexander, and the utter dominance of Ronald Reagan(NBC), and the arrival of Bill Clinton on air: a more centralist Democrat to Reagan's right wing Nationalist. The emergence of the Lucky Wheel(NBC), the first major game show to be hosted by a woman (Vanna White) and Quiz Night Tonight!(CBS), hosted by Alex Trebek soon took over from Match Game and Family Feud in the very real "Ratings Wars". Japanese TV soon come to the fore in America at this time, with shows like Stupid People, Funny Videos, which was remade into America's Funniest Home Videos(syndicated), hosted by Bob Saget, instantly became popular, and The Tiger and the Walrus,(syndicated) considered one of the funniest shows in the world, mostly due to the obviously cheap re-dubs, which resulted in mouths moving after people stop talking and vice versa, and hilarious lines form imperfect translating (one of the most infamous was "I found this cucumber, with which I can destroy any robot, even those with salmon hands. Take that, you fiendish cockroach of a monkey!")
As well as the traditional "Saturday Morning" cartoons for younger audiences, there was a growing collection of animated shows for more mature audiences as well as children. The premier example of this trend was the Van Helsing animated series. Following the successful Van Helsing films, the animated series was popular enough to survive the end of the films that spawned it. The series was well-received for its use of lesser-known monsters instead of overusing the vampire as the main antagonist. This formula would later be used on the hit live action television series Supernatural two decades later. Instead of Clinton Eastwood, who had moved on from Van Helsing, the series used the voice of young actor Bruce Campbell as the voice of Abraham Van Helsing.
The eighties also saw the birth of cable television, with networks like Comedy Central, with shows that none of the "Big Three" networks would never even dare air, and the Columbia News Network, or CNN, founded in 1987, establishing the now common 24 hour news networks, being offered. By the end of the decade, the classic arrangement of only ten channels being offered in the US, of which only four could be seen anywhere and the others being regional, was being done away with, and people could choose from dozens.
Some of the major TV events included live reporting from the front in the Brazilian War, the Covenant Race Riots and the launching of the Persian Gulf War, all watched by ordinary citizens around the world, thousands of miles away.
- Roger Rabbit (1981-1985) One of the first "mature" cartoons, Roger Rabbit was a show concerning the lives of cartoon characters when not on the air. The show was groundbreaking in its depiction of animated characters interacting with live-action actors. While most animated characters featured were the fictional creations of the equally fictional Maroon Studios, they had more famous characters in one-episode cameos as animated celebrities. The show was cancelled after four years due to expenses, but it jump-started the careers of the entire cast. The show was popular enough to spawn a 1988 feature film entitled Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, which perfected the techniques pioneered by the show.
The nineties was called the "Decade of Laughter", mostly due to the new comedies that were turned out from 1989 until 2002. Shows like The Daily Show with Jeff Foxworthy (on Comedy Central), Just for Laughs (ABC) (filmed at the Montreal Comedy Festival), Candid Camera (CBS), hosted by Tom Bergeron, and Stewart's Follies (NBC), staring up-and-coming comedian Jon Stewart, soon made light of the years of war, economic depression and racial strife, for, as Foxworthy said: "We are here to cheer you you. We find the funny in the good, bad, ridiculous, insane and wacky, and share it with you."
Japanese anime shows began increasing in popularity since DragonBall was released in 1989. Shows like Pokemon, Digibots and Astor Boy soon began to challenge the long held position of American cartoons, which also was branching to more fantastical, realistic and exuberant, in comparison to Loony Toons characters who could be blown up or shot at, then shrug it off, usually with a one liner. However, this style, while successful in Japan and in imported and re-dubbed shows, did not work so well in American made hands, and many were made, only to be cancelled after a season. The first computer generated TV show, ReBoot was released in 1994.
One of the most immortalized moments in TV occurred in 1993, when Garth Brooks, a journalist, bronze medalist in the Cairo Olympics and writer for Ronald Reagan's successor Dan Quayle, was thrust into the spotlight as NBC broke the John Lipcourt Scandal in an emergency news broadcast. With little time to prepare him, he went behind the desk in a black cowboy hat and little makeup, but was able to accurately report the story for over an hour and a half before Quayle took over again, and said "That was Garth Brooks, which you may remember from the '86 Olympics, as a bronze medalist for track and field, and currently, one of the many talented writers on the show. We needed to break this story, and Garth accepted to do it. And, ladies and gentlemen, he did all of us at the Tonight Show and NBC proud." Brooks was later brought over to CNN and made the host of a popular talk show, later named Garth Brooks Live, complete with his trademark black cowboy hat.
Other events included the Icelandic Crisis in 1990, the 1991 Revolution in Alaska (reported by a little known American journalist Sarah Palin for CNN), and the 1996 withdrawal from the "French Brazil," Siam.
The first decade of the third millennium was the "Cable Era", where the cable channels, ranging from sports to movies to news to history, achieved primary dominance over the old format. The major networks soon began branching into cable, while trying to retain the feel of the old style TV networks from the seventies. However, specialty channels was the new wave, and soon the major networks were struggling to reinvent themselves.
The biggest conflict between the cable networks for ratings was the "Big Three" News Networks, (CNN, NBCable and the recently united Western American Media Consortium, or the WAMC, which later turned in Wamac) so named due to the intense rivalry in TV not seen since the 1970's between NBC, CBS and ABC. CNN, with such hosts as Garth Brooks, Anderson Cooper and Oprah Winfrey, was the dominant network since its creation in 1987, rapidly lost ground to the more extremist networks; the left wing Wamac, with Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell and Lou Dobbs; and the right wing NBCable, with anchors Glen Beck, Sean Hannity and later, Sarah Palin.
- The Big Bang Theory (2007-Present):
- Atop The Fourth Wall (2008-Present): A series about a man named Linkara (Lewis Lovhaug) who reviews bad comic books. The series is unique in that, instead of mainly focusing on the reviews like most shows of their kind, Atop The Fourth Wall featured an ongoing story line and plot arcs. Aside from Linkara the show featured the evil Doctor Insano (Neil Patrick Harris), suave Harvey Finevoice (Jerry Lewis), the innocent 90's Kid and arrogant Lieutenant Munro.