1950s TV: Television Becomes a Mass Medium
In the early 1950s, television was still a young medium, and TV sets were still a novelty in many American homes. However, television during this decade gradually evolved to become a mass medium, as the number of households with a TV set increased from less than a million to 44 million by the end of the sixties. By 1958, TV had displaced the movies and radio as the dominant form of home entertainment, resulting in declining ticket sales in theaters. Meanwhile, by the middle of the decade, black and white TV broadcasts had become color broadcasts.
The majority of the households that had sets at the start of the decade were affluent ones, and because of this, many 1950’s TV shows of the period were aimed at an upscale audience. The most acclaimed programs then were live dramatic anthologies such as Playhouse 90 and Kraft Television Theatre, which staged their own versions of popular Broadway plays, and lured acclaimed writers such as Rod Serling, Gore Vidal, Horton Foote and Paddy Chayefsky to do original plays for television. Many of these teleplays, such as Marty and Twelve Angry Men, later went on to become equally acclaimed and award-winning theatrical feature films. As a result, this period of television history became known as The Golden Age of Television.
Comedy was also a popular television genre in the fifties, and many of the most popular 1950’s TV shows were situation comedies, or sitcoms as they became more popularly known. Some of the most popular sitcoms of the era were I Love Lucy, Father Knows Best and The Honeymooners; many of these had their roots in radio shows which often brought the original casts and writing teams with them when they made the transition to TV. These sitcoms often presented idealized TV families and ways of life that many Americans soon accepted as the norm.