At the dawn of the 1960s, television was evolving rapidly, with nearly 90% of all homes in America now featuring a glowing TV set. Color was starting to appear as well, as the nuclear family sat around on a nightly basis to soak up all the wonderful entertainment possibilities. Internationally Japan had its first ever color broadcast, while New Zealand began transmitting for the first time in any palette. In England, world renown BBC opened the doors on the BBC Television Centre, one of the first and still one of the largest facilities designed and built solely for the creation and broadcast of TV shows.
The big names of the Class of 1960 included My Three Sons, The Andy Griffith Show and can you believe this, The Flintstones! Fred, Barney, Wilma, and Betty are 50 years old!! Pretty amazing to consider, especially when all three of those shows are still in syndication today. Is there a child out there who didn’t grow up on The Flintstones? But another show is not just in repeats. Coronation Street is a British soap opera that began in 1960 and nearly 7300 episodes later, is still on the air. You read that right, over seven thousand episodes! Try collecting that one on DVD.
But the glory of 1960 wasn’t just about the shows that premiered that year, it was also the overall quality of network schedules in general. Here are but a few of the classic TV programs airing fifty years ago:
- Meet the Press
- The Ed Sullivan Show
- Hallmark Hall of Fame
- Alfred Hitchcock Presents
- The Lawrence Welk Show
- Leave It To Beaver
- The Price is Right
- Walt Disney Presents….
- Bonanza and
- The Twilight Zone
Historically, 1960 saw two big moments in TV history. The first came in February when Jack Parr walked off his show in protest to his monologue being edited the night before. Paar was infamous for his unpredictable behavior and relentless pursuit of creating interesting and thought provoking television. He never backed down, and upon being edited, called the network on their actions. His absence lasted a month until network execs personally apologized to Parr. But an even bigger moment was looming in September when presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon became the first to debate live on TV. The broadcast was the first to use “split screen” technology, putting side by side closeups of the handsome Kennedy next to the fidgety and gruff Nixon. The debate was without a doubt a huge reason for the outcome of the election.
1960 was also a time to say goodbye to a few of TV’s earliest success stories, such as Jubilee USA, the first program to showcase country music to a national audience. The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports was a deceptive title for a show solely about boxing. It ran for 14 years and was the most successful boxing show of its day. And yes, to quell your curiosity, there used to be a ton of boxing shows on including as many as six prime time network editions a week. TV also bid farewell to The Steve Allen Show. The original host of The Tonight Show, Allen was such a hit, NBC gave him a Sunday night variety show as well, programmed against the heavyweights of The Ed Sullivan Show and Maverick! The pioneer of the “man on the street” bit (yet another gag Leno stole from someone), Allen laid the groundwork for late night, cementing him as one of the most important comedians in TV history.
But perhaps the biggest loss of 1960 came in the cancellation of Howdy Doody. This somewhat creepy looking cowboy marionette was a pioneer of children’s television with many of the show’s quirks and setups still practiced to this day, including the “peanut gallery” or live audience of kids who are encouraged to participate in the show. Howdy was so popular, NBC even used his image as part of their test pattern in the 50s! Who doesn’t love a puppet? Fun fact: Howdy had 48 freckles, one for each state of the union. Yep, you heard me, 48. When Howdy Doody began in 1947, Alaska and Hawaii were a dozen years off from becoming official states!
A number of future TV celebrities made their own debut in 1960. Celebrating a 50th birthday in 2010 is Jeremy Clarkson, one of the three hosts of the wildly popular BBC car show Top Gear. Former NFL player and current football broadcaster Howie Long began his career of screaming in 1960 as did In Living Color creator and Solid Gold comic Damon Wayans. Everybody Loves Raymond star Brad Garrett was born in April of 1960, a week prior to One Day at a Time cutie Valerie Bertinelli. But for all my nerds out there, the biggest birth of the year goes to X-Files leading man David Duchovny.
Television is a medium that builds upon its history, and with a foundation like 1960, you can see how it remains one of the most popular past times in our country today. Happy Golden everyone!