A brief history of TV, Decade by Decade

When shows are popular, you have to ask “why are they popular”? Good TV has evolved over time. That’s the wonderful thing about the world we live in, things are constantly improving. Society is always trying to make things better and people are attracted to things that are better. I’m going to go through a little TV history and than give my opinion on today’s broadcasting.


True regular commercial television network programming did not begin in the U.S. until 1948. The most popular shows of the 50’s were I Love Lucy, Dragnet, Gunsmoke, The Bob Hope Show and the 64,000 dollar question<. Tv in this decade was just getting started and I have to admit that I've never seen even the most popular shows (let alone the least popular). The above named shows were your typical sitcoms. Lucy is your family comedy, Dragnet your detective show, Gunsmoke the Western, Bob Hope was the comedic talk show, and the 64,000 Question is the start of game shows on TV. Let's face it, they had the same types of show we are watching today except it was set in the 50's. These shows would probably be fascinating to watch in 2011 and how differently things played out that were set 50+ years ago. However the genres haven't changed much, just updated.


The 60’s brought about popular shows like The Andy Griffith Show, The Price is Right, The Beverly Hillbillies, Rowan and Martin’s Laughin and Bonanza. Other than the Price is Right, I’ve only seen a few of these shows. Bud’s dad watched Beverly Hillbillies so I’ve seen that a few times. Probably not too much advancement in quality of programming except that color TV was starting to spread in the 1960’s. A huge event for TV in the 60’s was the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. It’s worth a watch to understand the hysteria around this event. In the video, the text that appears when they identify the Beatle is so prehistoric it’s comical. Owning a TV was probably a big deal and programming was probably minimal. Meaning that if these were the shows that were being made, these were the shows you were watching. Quality was probably average but it was better than nothing.


The 70’s most popular programs were All in the Family, 60 Minutes, M*A*S*H, The Jeffersons, Happy Day’s and Laverne and Shirley. The finale of Roots holds the number 3 spot of the most watched shows of all time. A news program enters as one of the highest rated shows along with the same format of sitcoms we are all used to. Back in the 70’s, I get the feeling that there more shows were being produced and the quality was improving. African American programming was also becoming a hit with the Jeffersons, Roots and Sanford and Sons. Not being alive during this period, I have a feeling this had a dramatic cultural effect. More shows were probably available and the quality was improving but I still would think the programming was limited.


Moving into the 80’s, it’s getting close to when I started watching TV. The most watched shows of the decade were Dallas, 60 Minutes, The Cosby Show, Cheers, Murder She Wrote and Family Ties. I used to watch The Cosby Show regularly and my mom used to make me sit through Murder She Wrote which was a bit over my head as a 5 year old. During the 80’s TV continued to become more widespread and more homes had the ability to afford it. The 1 and 2 most watched shows of all time took place in this decade. The series finale of Mash was watched by more than 100 million people and holds the #1 spot. The series finale of Dallas holds the #2 spot. The thing to note is that there are probably 20 quality shows during this decade that I don’t have time to list like A-Team, Alf, Growing Pains, MacGuyver. Who’s the Boss, Webster. The Super Bowl also routinely became one of the most watched programs each year. Also to note is that Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune were re-invented during this decade.


The decade of the most TV watching of my life. From ages 7-17, I watched a ton of TV. The most popular shows were Seinfeld, Home Improvement, the Simpsons, Full House, Friends, ER and Frazier. Other less popular shows were The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, 3rd Rock from the Sun, Family Matters, Step by Step, Married with Children, Saved by the Bell and Wonder Years. Who Wants to be a Millionaire was the most popular program in 1999 and it re-introduced the game show’s popularity. A couple of shows like Greed and The Chair tried to capitalize but never panned out. Notice though that most of these shows are all just sitcoms. We hadn’t hit reality TV yet and this was the last time period when sitcoms ruled. I think the programming was still halfway decent though and the 90’s produced a lot of memorable shows.


Let’s thank Survivor for Reality TV. Now let’s understand something during this fabulous decade, this is very close to scripted “reality” TV. The actual reality TV that has ruled this decade is American Idol. American Idol holds the most watched program for the past 7 years. People like watching real people doing real things. This sparked tons of other shows like Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, cooking shows, police shows…the list goes on. HBO & Showtime also broke into this decade with some of the best programming of all time with hits like the Wire, the Sopranos, and Dexter. Because people paid for the subscription, they had the advantage of making their shows even more “real” because they weren’t restricted by what the network was allowed to show. This was a huge advance in what people saw on TV. No more censorship led to better television. These two concepts, reality TV and the ability to show unrestricted television, set this decade apart from the rest. Now “real” reality TV is the next step to where better TV can still go. Show’s like the Real World and Jersey Shore are still entertaining but there isn’t any real feature to them anymore. It’s just sort of real. The shows that will take it to the next level will be really real. The market is inflated with tons of shows to watch nowadays and the concept of fake reality is all over. Real reality, without the influence of producers and the forced story lines, will win for the next decade. The cable networks series will continue to thrive as well.

I sort of got carried away with this entry and am not really sure how this took shape. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoyed the history of TV shows and if you read through this and found it interesting, a quick comment saying you enjoyed the read would be appreciated. If I wasted your time, that’s ok too.