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Firsts in Television

by Christopher Stires

A Short List of Firsts in Television

Home entertainment television has changed dramatically since its humble beginnings. Today we have network, independent, cable, satellite, video, DVD, TiVO, digital, HD and much more. And the contents of programming are wide open.

It was not always this way. Broadcast standards were tight and regulated for many decades. To protect the innocent and uphold moral standards, it was said. But slowly the barriers have come down. Are we the worse for it? Some say we are; others state that you can always change the channel or use the on/off button.

The following are “firsts” in television broadcasting.

1926: the first American television picture is broadcast from Arlington, Virginia to Washington, D.C. It is a picture of a weather map.

During the Thirties, experimental stations are established to test television broadcasting including color broadcasting. Their broadcasting schedule is irregular.

1938: The NBC New York station carries the first live unscheduled news story when their mobile unit spots a fire raging on Ward’s Island.

1939: Franklin D. Roosevelt becomes the first incumbent President to appear on television when he gives the opening address at the New York World’s Fair.

Also at the Fair, the first television sets for sale to the American public are exhibited by RCA.

1941: CBS and NBC are granted the first commercial television licenses for their New York stations on the same day so neither network can claim to be the “first.”

By 1945, fewer than 7,000 TV sets are in American homes and there are only nine broadcasting stations. They are in New York City (3 stations), Chicago (2), Los Angeles (2), Philadelphia (1), and Schenectady, NY (1).

1946: Regular programming begins.

Faraway Hill is the first soap opera to appear on television on the short-lived Dumont network (1946-1956).

NBC broadcasts the first sports special extravaganza. It is the heavyweight-boxing match between Joe Louis and Billy Conn at Yankee Stadium. Louis would win by a knockout in the 13th round.

1947: Baseball’s World Series is televised for the first time. The New York Yankees defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers four games to three. The series features Dodger Jackie Robinson, the first black major league player.

Kukla, Fran & Ollie premieres on a local Chicago station as Junior Jamboree (it is picked up by the NBC network in 1948 and its name changed to KF&O). It is the first show to telecast from ship-to-shore and the first color television broadcast of a network program.

Mary Kay and Johnny is the first series to show a married couple sharing the same bed. It would be two decades before married couples were again shown sleeping in the same bed. (The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Brady Bunch, The Munsters, and The Flintstones will all lay claim to breaking the separate beds doctrine.) May Kay and Johnny is also the first series to feature an on-screen pregnancy.

1948: The first cable TV systems (CATV) are started in Oregon and Pennsylvania. Their television signals can only be received by homes that are in the "line-of-sight" of the originating broadcast antenna.

1949: Captain Video and His Video Rangers is the first science-fiction series on television. The children’s show has a props budget of $25 per episode.

1950: The Faye Emerson Show has the first live-television wardrobe malfunction occur when the talk show hostess’s unencumbered breasts pop free of her low-cut dress.

The Hank McCune Show uses a laugh track for the first time on an American television series.

The Cisco Kid, starring Duncan Renaldo and Leo Carrillo, is the first syndicated TV series hit and the first non-network show produced in color.

1951: Amos ’n’ Andy is the first TV series to be filmed with 35mm cameras.

I Love Lucy premieres. Its stars — Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley — will become TV legends. It will be the first series to end its run (in 1957) as the #1 rated show on the air, the first to be filmed on 35mm cameras in front of a live studio audience, and Arnaz as the “I” in I Love becomes the first Hispanic TV star on network television.

1952: The first early morning network news show, NBC’s Today, premieres with host Dave Garroway and a chimpanzee named J. Fred Muggs.

1953: Dragnet is the first series whose theme song is on the Billboard Top 60 pop chart. It peaks at the Number Three spot.

The Oscar ceremony is broadcast on television for the first time.

1954: The Marriage is the first network series to be broadcast solely in color. (It had no previous black-and-white episodes.) It starred Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn.

Captain Kangaroo, with Bob Keeshan as the Captain, premieres. It is the first network-produced children’s show.

The first color commercial is telecast.

1956: CBS Cartoon Theater, hosted by Dick Van Dyke, is the first prime-time program to show cartoons.

1957: Leave It to Beaver, with Hugh Beaumont, Barbara Billingsley, Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers as the Beav, is the first series to show a bathroom toilet. (Only the tank was actually seen. The brothers are hiding a baby alligator inside.)

1960: The Presidential debates, between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, are broadcast for the first time.

The Flintstones, the first animated series made for prime-time network television, premieres. It is also the first animated series to have a story arc involving infertility when, following the birth of Pebbles, Fred and Wilma’s neighbors Barney and Betty Rubble become depressed because they cannot have children.

1962: First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy gives the first televised tour of the White House. It is broadcast simultaneously on CBS and NBC.

1963: The networks cancel all regular programming and go to live 24-hour news coverage for the first time when President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas.

The first home video recorder goes on sale at Neiman-Marcus for $30,000.

Instant replay is used for the first time during the broadcast of the Army-Navy football game.

1964: Another World, the daytime soap opera, has the first abortion storyline (abortion is still illegal at this time).

See How They Run, the first made-for-TV movie starring John Forsythe, Senta Berger, and Jane Wyatt is broadcast. (The Killers with Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, and Ronald Reagan was supposed to be the first but it was deemed too violent for television.)

1965: I Spy is the first series to have a black actor, Bill Cosby, in a starring role.

The Wild, Wild West, starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin, is the first science fiction western TV series.

1966: The Avengers, with Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg, is the first British TV series to be broadcast in prime time by an American network (ABC).

The Oscars are broadcast for the first time in color.

1967: Star Trek is the first series in which the word “hell” is uttered. (Captain Kirk (William Shatner) says, “Let’s get the hell out of here” at the conclusion of the “City on the Edge of Forever” episode.)

First Super Bowl is televised. Networks CBS and NBC broadcast the game simultaneously. (CBS has the NFL broadcast rights and NBC the AFL.) The Green Bay Packers defeat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10.

1968: On Star Trek, Captain Kirk (Shatner) and Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) share television’s first interracial kiss.

1971: All in the Family — starring Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, Sally Struthers, and Rob Reiner — has several firsts. The first series to be videotaped in front of a live studio audience. The first time a toilet is heard being flushed on series television. The first time the words “goddammit” and several derogatory slurs such as “fairy,” “spade,” and “nigger” are used in series television. The first time a gay character is shown on network television.

1972: Maude is the first prime-time series to show a main character, Maude Findlay played by Bea Arthur, deciding to have an abortion.

The Corner Bar, with Gabriel Dell, is the first series to have a recurring gay character (played by Vincent Schiavelli).

1973: Steambath, a made-for-TV movie starring Bill Bixby and Jose Perez as God, broadcast on PBS, is the first to show female nudity (deliberately) with a scene of Valerie Perrine taking a shower.

M*A*S*H, starring Alan Alda, is the first series to show male nudity when Private Radar O’Reilly (Gary Burghoff) is seen naked (from behind) when he drops his towel and dashes back to the showers when an enemy sniper opens fire on the field hospital. It is also the first series where the phrase “son-of-a-bitch” is uttered.

1974: Born Innocent, a made-for-TV movie starring Linda Blair, has the first rape storyline (involving a toilet plunger handle) shown on network television.

On Love of Life, the word “bastard” is used for the first time on the daytime soap opera.

1975: S.W.A.T. is the first TV series whose theme song reaches Number One on the Billboard pop chart. (Also reaching Number One will be the themes from Welcome Back, Kotter in 1976, Miami Vice in 1985, and The Heights in 1992.)

A TV station in San Jose, CA, airs the first condom commercial.

HBO becomes the first TV network to broadcast its signal via satellite with the boxing match called the “Thrilla in Manila” when Muhammad Ali defeats Joe Frazier.

1976: Rich Man, Poor Man, based on the Irwin Shaw novel, is the first TV mini-series. It starred Nick Nolte, Peter Strauss, and Susan Blakely.

1977: The first pre-recorded movie videos are offered for sale.

The first video rental store opens in Los Angeles.

1978: Laserdisc is first offered for sale to the public.

1980: Magnum, P.I. is the first TV series in which the main character, Thomas Magnum (Tom Selleck), is a Vietnam War veteran.

1981: American Bandstand, hosted by Dick Clark, airs the first rap/hip-hop song on television when the Sugar Hill Gang performs “Rapper’s Delight.”

Saturday Night Live is the first show where the word “fuck” is said on network television. The comedian Charles Rocket, who said it, is fired.

1986: Cagney & Lacey, starring Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless, is the first network series to use the word “condom.”

HBO is the first satellite network to encrypt its signal from unauthorized viewing.

1987: The first TV commercials, for Playtex, showing women wearing only bras and underwear are aired.

1989: Lonesome Dove, the mini-series based on the Larry McMurtry novel and starring Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones and Danny Glover, is the first network entertainment program is show a male penis (for less than a second) when the cowhands are driving cattle across a river.

1990: The first TV commercial broadcast in which an actor says he has diarrhea.

1991: L.A. Law, with its ensemble cast, is the first prime-time series is show a passionate female-to-female kiss between series regulars Abby Perkins (Michelle Greene) and C.J. Lamb (Amanda Donohoe).

1993: NYPD Blue, starring Dennis Franz and David Caruso, is the first R-rated network series. Twenty-five percent of ABC’s 225 affiliates pre-empt the first episode.

1997: Ellen is the first network TV series to feature a lesbian main character when Ellen Morgan (Ellen DeGeneres) announces “I’m gay.”

The first DVDs are sold to the public.

1998: The first HDTV receivers are released to the public.

1999: Chicago Hope, starring Adam Arkin and Hector Elizondo, is the first network series where the word “shit” is uttered.

2001: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, starring William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger, is the first network series to be interactive in a joint venture between CBS and WebTV Plus.

What will be next? Some possibilities:

Whatever it is, it will make interesting viewing.

Copyright © 2007 by Christopher Stires

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