Culture and Recreation

Radio and Television

Is there a golden age of television?

Yes, people commonly refer to the 1950s as TV’s golden age, which is the decade when Americans embraced television and the networks responded with a rapid expansion of programming. Critics still hail the programs of the golden age to be the most innovative programming in television history. It was during this decade that anthology programs such as Kraft Television Theatre, Playhouse 90, and Studio One made live drama part of the nightly fare on prime-time television. Americans could tune in to watch original screenplays such as Twelve Angry Men (1954), Visit to a Small Planet (1955), and The Miracle Worker (1957). And tune in they did, prompting the production of more than 30 anthology programs sponsored by the likes of Goodyear, Philco, U.S. Steel, Breck, and Schlitz. Since the production work was based in New York, the anthologies drew young playwrights including Gore Vidal, Rod Serling, Arthur Miller, and A. E. Hotchner. A new group of prominent television directors and producers emerged. And the studio dramas attracted the talents of actors George C. Scott, James Dean, Paul Newman, Grace Kelly, Eva Marie Saint, Sidney Poitier, Lee Remick, and Jack Lemmon.

The other cornerstone of 1950 television programming was the variety show—also done live. Comedians Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason, George Burns, Sid Caesar, and “Mr. Television” Milton Berle thrived in the format.

But the cost of producing live programs and the growing popularity of television, which created a new mass market that demanded even more programming, combined to spell the end of television’s golden age. Soon, live dramas and variety shows were replaced by situation comedies, westerns, and other set-staged programs that could be taped in advance, and could be produced in quantity.


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