1960s TV: Relevance Battles With Conservatism
In the 1960s, America was beset by sweeping social change, as 70 million “baby boomers” born in the years after World War Two came of age and started rebelling against their parents’ conservative way of life. Meanwhile, television was bringing many burning issues of the day, such as the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, to American living rooms through live and filmed coverage of events such as Dr. Martin Luther King’s march on Washington and battlefield activity in Vietnam. Perhaps not surprisingly, many popular 1960s TV shows seemed to retreat from these issues and look back towards an idealized rural way of life.
The trailblazer for this trend was The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968), with its portrayal of small town life complete with stereotypical rural characters. The show kicked off a whole string of series set in rural communities or prominently featuring country characters, including The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Hee Haw and the Andy Griffith spinoff, Mayberry R.F.D. By the end of the decade, however, many of these series were considered irrelevant, though they still drew respectable ratings (of mostly older audiences) and were cancelled to give way to more timely series such as All in the Family and M*A*S*H.
Many 1960s TV shows also featured science-fiction and supernatural elements, including the science-fiction adventure series Star Trek, anthology series such as The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone, as well as situation comedies such as My Favorite Martian, Bewitched, The Addams Family and I Dream of Jeannie. The sixties also saw a surge in the popularity of animated series airing in prime-time, which appealed to both adults and children. This trend was kicked off by the success of The Flintstones, which was quickly followed by Alvin and the Chipmunks, Mr. Magoo and The Jetsons. And 1968 saw the debut of an innovative series that would have a heavy influence on American TV comedy in the years to come: the sketch-show Laugh-In.