Every up has a down, and everything that has seen glory will eventually fade. The history of American television is no different. It was once a topic of luxury if someone had a TV set at home and enjoyed live dramas. Today, a gazillion categories of shows are available on a finger’s single tap.
Today’s kids will never know the struggle of changing channels from the rotating knobs of TV. Standing at the rooftop to adjust aerial antennas just to get visuals was something every tall person dreaded. As a matter of fact, this was not the beginning of television as we know it. It started way earlier and in a much “old-fashioned” way:
The History of Television
Simply put, the Golden Age of TV was considered somewhere between the late 1940s to early 1960s. Some attempts at making mechanical TVs work were made, and the television era changed. Early TV shows were composed of live streaming – news, drama, sports; everything was shown on the screens in real-time.
This means that a 90-minute drama episode required a dozen cameras and an equal number of sets. Everything that had to be changed must be done within the commercials break. The actors never had a “second chance.” If a mistake was made, it was broadcasted to anyone who was watching.
In 1957, videotapes were brought to use. The shows were recorded live and streamed, but now everyone has a chance to retake. The directors also had the luxury to play the show at a later time and day. At first, only a handful of people had TV sets in their homes. Most people would just rely on the radio. People on the street would sometimes stand outside the shops to get a glance at the running shows. This change by the early 1960s when almost 90% of Americans had already purchased a TV set.
TV Stations and Shows
At first, there were only three major stations – ABC, NBC, and CBS. Anything that was broadcasted was distributed to these three channels. During the 1950s, which some critics claim to be the real Golden Age, the general audience was only affluent people. The showrunners knew that they fascinate Broadway shows. So, they incorporated theater into TV. They recorded the most famous Broadway shows on television studios and played them.
Another thing that the producers adopted was the concept of Omnibus. They were convinced that Americans need more than entertainment, so they mixed entertainment with education. The Omnibus series would run shows that were of educational nature. Plays by Shakespeare, Tchaikovsky’s ballets like Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker were a few to be aired. The Omnibus ran from November 1952 to April 1961. It won 65 awards for its nine-year-long run.
The other category of shows was shown during the Primetime of the day. This was the time during the evening, and the performances were generally targeted at an adult audience. Walt Disney’s first shows made a public appearance during this time as well. Shows like Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz did remarkably well. Classic plays like Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men and Chayefsky’s Marty were a huge commercial success. They played an important role in serving the Golden Age. The first telecast of the James Bond story was also aired during the time of 1954.
In 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and everyone watched the telecast on their TVs. This was the first incident that was broadcasted on such a vast scale. Everyone was hooked to their TVs to know more about the updates. It was like a virtual yet collective experience and trauma for everyone. The Vietnam War followed next. Critics describe it as “bringing a war into the living room. Death tolls and military updates were within everyone’s reach.
It’s funny how the decade that saw the most turmoil also gave the most popular shows. During the 1960s, TV shows were shifted to have a rural background so that the Americans relate to it personally. The Andy Griffith Show ran for eight years and remained in the top 10 every year.
Another show Petticoat Junction followed the story of a hotel owner Kate and her three daughters. The show gave everyone ample feminine rural jokes. Green Acres and Beverly Hillbillies were also top-rated shows of their time.
The End of Golden Age
Despite the success of rural sitcoms and quiz game shows, most TV studios were shifting to Hollywood. The general consensus was that the people were getting tired of watching anthology. They wanted something that had a continuous storyline and would for some time. This was also the time when Baby Boomers were coming of age.
One by one, the shows got canceled. The older shows were limited to public channels where the older audience could enjoy them in peace. By the 1980s, the public media went cold too, and the audience watching them died of old age.
The New Golden Age
The actual origin of the new Golden Age is disputed among critics. Whatever the actual years were, the new Age brought about everything exciting and fast. In fact, it changed the course of viewership and digital technology. According to French scholar Alexis Pichard, the new Age was all about three things – massive improvement in visuals and storytelling, consistency in cable and network series, and overwhelming success of shows. The French were not wrong at all.
With the launching of platforms like HBO in the 1900s, the revolution of television started with a bang. The shows were extraordinary, and everyone could watch something. The level of technology used to make these shows was awe-inspiring for everyone. Sitcoms and lighter family shows were still there, but now, people had a choice. Shows like Friends marked the start of something extraordinary – so much that it remains one of the most-watched TV shows even now.
In 1997, the world saw the birth of a digital giant – Netflix! Netflix is an online streaming platform that allows its users to create accounts and choose what to watch. It has a huge collection of shows which keeps on increasing. At first, it only had shows that other companies created. Breaking Bad and Mad Men are considered two of the best shows ever created.
Since 2012, Netflix has started making its own shows. It started with its first original House of Cards, a political thriller that gained critical acclaim. From then on, there was no stopping Netflix. It is said that Netflix has 15,000 shows in its library. Since it is available in almost every country on Earth, Netflix is the top subscribed online platform.
The New Golden Age witnessed some of the most magnificent dramas of all time. From acting to production, millions of dollars were spent, and it really shows. Game of Thrones, a historical fantasy drama based on a series of novels, was a record-breaking show. It came second only to Breaking Bad in terms of awards.
Since the online platforms expanded in number, there are literally no boundaries anymore. An American can easily watch Korean dramas and vice versa. The language barrier is no longer there since the shows are either dubbed or subbed (with subtitles).
While the new Golden Age is extremely convenient, it also has many drawbacks of its own. Easy access to everything means that not everything has great quality. You may have a ton of shows to choose from, but this also means that not everything is good and enjoyable. There are shows out there that just make no sense, and yet they exist.
Everyone had to think first before investing their time and money in developing a show in the old Golden Age. They would release a show and would wait to get people’s responses. If it got hit, all good. If not, cancel the show. Now, the developers just throw their creations at people and think about the response later. Too much money and such ease of access do that to people.
Earlier times and people were simple. A crowd of people would gather around a single television set to watch a show. There would be pin-drop silence as everyone was fascinated by the magic of TV screens. Today, people watch everything on their mobile phones. Subscriptions are cheap, and often, people just share them with their peers. This made the shows immensely popular, but at the same time, it gave birth to toxicity and unrest. People are less tolerant these days – they wouldn’t hear anyone else’s opinion about their favorite show. This lack of unity makes us wonder whether this age is really a golden one.