Although television had been experimentally broadcasting for over a decade, NBC became the first actual network in 1938, with CBS following them exactly three years later (though it would be another several years before they actually had evening broadcasts). The now-defunct DuMont network began in 1946 and for the next two years, DuMont and NBC were the only two networks with regular evening programming. ABC would make the leap to television in 1948, making a total of four networks broadcasting shows to most of the continental United States. These four networks competed fiercely over the next decade until one of them met their demise in 1956.
Now, I’d just like to clarify here that Chronovision is an entirely subjective project. While I’ll likely touch upon important events in television history as we get to them, and occasionally point out what’s going on in the world at any given point, the goal of this blog isn’t to chronicle the history of television, it’s merely to watch TV shows I love and/or appreciate, in chronological order and write my thoughts on them. I’m certainly no expert on the subject of television history and I’m be learning tons myself as we go along, so although I’d like to try to do a rough sketch of the bigger picture whenever possible, most of the shows selected for this project will be stuff that cater to my own personal tastes.
As such we’ll see a lot of genres that I grew up watching in the ’80s, and one of those genres was the horror anthology series which was having a big revival when I was a kid. In the first half of the twentieth century, horror anthology stories were borne in comic book form and also performed on the radio. When television came along, many of these radio programs were adapted for the visual medium, often with the same scripts being re-used. One of the earliest conversions was a show called “Lights Out,” which premiered on June 30, 1946 as a special four-episode series on NBC. Of course, none of these episodes exist anymore, but the show was revived three years later and I’ll be enjoying some of the surviving episodes starting in a later entry.Another genre that I spent a lot of time watching in the ’80s and ’90s is the good old-fashioned situation comedy. Probably the earliest show that I regret I'm unable to include in Chronovision is “Mary Kay and Johnny.” It premiered on the DuMont network on November 18, 1947 and was the first American sitcom. The show starred a real-life young married couple living in New York City. Besides being the first sitcom, it’s also noteworthy for a couple of other reasons. It was the first program to show a couple in bed together (something which wouldn’t happen again for a long time), and when the main actress got pregnant, they incorporated it into the show (another TV first) and the child was born in December of 1948. Because of it’s historical significance, it’s terribly unfortunate that little to no footage of the show exists today.
It seems that in the 1950s, television was dominated by the variety show. It makes sense, as it’s an obvious choice of content for a live broadcast. I’m not much of a fan of variety shows, though I will be including a few select historical episodes here and there or whenever a specific guest appeals to me, but the genre really was responsible for television’s early success. Specifically, the popularity of “The Milton Berle Show” led to more sales of TV sets than any form of advertising at the time. The show premiered on NBC on June 8, 1948, originally called “Texaco Star Theater,” with a rotating set of hosts, before Berle permanently settled into the role a few months later. Guests each week covered the entire gambit of talent; comedians, acrobats, musicians, ventriloquists, etc. The show became television’s first hit and Milton Berle was known as “Mr. Television.”
Less than two weeks later, on June 20, another variety show premiered on CBS called “Toast of the Town.” The first episode had Martin & Lewis and Rodgers & Hammerstein among the guests. The show was hosted by Ed Sullivan, and several years later the show would eventually be renamed “The Ed Sullivan Show” and go on to enjoy decades of immense popularity. Again, I’ll only be viewing select episodes I deem worth watching.
Lastly, there are three more sitcoms that premiered in the months before my Chronovision quest begins.
“The Growing Paynes” (not to be confused with the ’80s show “Growing Pains,” of course) was another show about a couple living in an apartment with their child. It premiered on October 20, 1948 on DuMont. A few episodes are in existence, but none have been made publicly available.
“The Goldbergs” was a long-running radio program that began in 1929. It was created by, written by, and starred Gertrude Berg, who played a Jewish matriarch of a poor Jewish family living in the Bronx. After nearly twenty years on the radio, the show was adapted into a stage play called “Molly and Me” in 1948, and premiered as a television program on CBS on January 10, 1949. The complete set of extant episodes was released on DVD recently, so “The Goldbergs” will be Chronovision’s earliest foray into the sitcom.
And finally, “The Hartmans” was another sitcom about a young couple, this time living in the suburbs. It premiered on February 27, 1949 on NBC, and near as I can tell no copies are known to exist.
Each entry of Chronovision will include a list of the episodes I’ve watched from that month, as well as any that are unavailable to be seen.
Shows Unavailable for January – February 1949
January 5 – The Growing Paynes – 1.12
January 10 – The Goldbergs
January 12 – The Growing Paynes – 1.13
January 19 – The Growing Paynes – 1.14
January 26 – The Growing Paynes – 1.15
February 2 – The Growing Paynes – 1.16
February 9 – The Growing Paynes – 1.17
February 16 – The Growing Paynes – 1.18
February 23 – The Growing Paynes – 1.19
February 27 – The Hartmans – 1.1