The Paley Center’s Countdown to the 70th Anniversary of Television:

TV Facts You Will Want to Know! 

Join the TV Countdown conversation

Despite its importance in the history of television, July 1, 1941, is an unheralded date. Did you know that it’s TV’s own birthday! It was on July 1, 1941, that commercial television became a reality when the first two transmitters were licensed in New York. W2XBS changed its call to WNBT (which became WNBC-TV) while the CBS station became WCBW (and later WCBS-TV), each offering four hours of programming for those few able to see it.*


TV is looking pretty good for 70 years young. To celebrate its birthday, our Curatorial team has unearthed a dizzying array of firsts, oddities, strange coincidences, and thought-provoking tidbits across all genres going back 70 years to 1941. Come back each day to learn something new, see some interesting clips, and join in the conversation with the curators on Twitter #TV70.

And come to the Paley Center in New York or Los Angeles on July 1 for some birthday cake.

*Were You Watching? The Paley Center is looking for anyone who was watching TV on that historic July 1, 1941 day. Our curators would love to talk to him or her. Help us get the word out to friends and family. Or if you have a family story from someone who watched, we want to hear from you too. Email to contact us.

1 – 9       10 – 19      20 – 29       30 – 39       40 – 49       50 – 59       60 – 70

JUNE 12, 1980: On this day Showtime airs Andy Kaufman's legendary 1979 Carnegie Hall performance (Andy Kaufman Plays Carnegie Hall), which opens with churlish lounge singer Tony Clifton's off-key rendition of the National Anthem and closes with Kaufman inviting all 2,800 attendees to accompany him (on twenty buses waiting outside) to the Manhattan School of Printing's cafeteria for free milk and cookies. The show also features Kaufman's Foreign Man (the inspiration for Latka Gravas of Taxi), plus the Love Family (a very poor man's Partridge Family) performing "Age of Aquarius," elderly "cowgirl" Eleanor Cody Gould appearing to succumb to a fatal heart attack on stage before Kaufman "revives" her with a Native-American dance, and Kaufman's "grandmother," who is introduced at the outset and watches the entire proceedings from a stage-side chair before finally revealing herself to be Robin Williams in disguise. Diagnosed with lung cancer in 1983, Kaufman died the following year at the age of thirty-five.
Read Bob Zmuda's memories of the show.

What was Kaufman's best role? Tony Clifton? Latka? Wrestling? Discuss…


A clip of Andy playing Foreign Man at Carnegie Hall.
Come to the Paley Center in NY & LA to watch our big collection of Andy Kaufman performances.

JUNE 11, 1963: This day was a watershed day for the American civil rights movement, and—to paraphrase Walter Cronkite—TV was there. Among the historic events of the day captured by television news cameras: Governor George Wallace attempts to thwart the court-ordered desegregation of the University of Alabama by blocking a doorway so that black students Jimmy Hood and Vivian Malone are unable to enter, stepping aside only after a showdown with Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and the Alabama National Guard, which had just been federalized by President John F. Kennedy (a confrontation memorably captured by cinema verité pioneer Robert Drew in the television film Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment). That evening, Kennedy delivers his famous civil rights address, referencing the situation in Alabama and urging all Americans to examine their conscience, and calling for legislation to prohibit discrimination, empower the federal power to initiate school-desegregation suits, and grant greater protection on the right to vote, which became part of the landmark Civil Rights Acts of 1964.
Read a transcript of Kennedy's famous speech.

How do you think television affected the Civil Rights Movement? Discuss…


Clips from Drew's Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment.
Come to the Paley Center in NY & LA to watch our vast collection of cinema verité documentaries.

JUNE 10, 1991 and 2007: Two of television's most artistically ambitious drama series end their runs on this day, albeit sixteen years apart. In 1991, ABC's Twin Peaks, the Pacific Northwest–set metaphysical mystery from avant-garde filmmaker David Lynch and Hill Street Blues veteran Mark Frost, concludes its second and final season with an extended, fittingly surreal sequence in which FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) descends into the hellish Black Lodge to rescue the virtuous Annie Blackburn (Heather Graham), and emerges possessed by an evil spirit known as BOB. TP had burst on the scene in 1990 partly in response to viewer encroachment by original cable programming, and in 2007, perhaps the most acclaimed cable drama of all time, David Chase's The Sopranos, concludes its run on HBO after six seasons and twenty-one Emmys with possibly the most inscrutable finale of all time, ending midscene with an abrupt cut to ten seconds of black as Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and his family meet at a local restaurant for dinner.
Look at Richard Beymer's photos from the filming of Twin Peaks's last episode.
Read this "definitive explanation" of The Sopranos finale.

What did the Sopranos ending mean to you? Discuss…


A scene from the final episode of Twin Peaks.

The final scene from The Sopranos.
Come to the Paley Center in NY & LA to watch our collection of series finales.

JUNE 9, 1954: "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?" These immortal words are spoken on June 9, 1954, by Boston attorney Joseph Welch on the thirtieth day of the Army-McCarthy hearings, in response to red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy's accusation that a junior attorney at Welch's firm himself had Communist leanings. The gallery, pretty fed up with McCarthy by this point, erupted in applause. The hearings, covered live by ABC and DuMont (the better-established NBC and CBC had both backed out, wary of abandoning their lucrative daytime lineups), launched on April 22, about six weeks after CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow had boldly confronted McCarthy on See It Now, and the upshot was that television—which had not only lent McCarthy legitimacy and power with the American public, but had itself been stained by loyalty oaths and blacklists adopted in the grip of hysteria—became a key player in the McCarthy's downfall. Democratic Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri underscored this point toward the end of the hearings, telling McCarthy: "The American people have had a look at you for six weeks. You are not fooling anyone." Read the New York Times original write-up of these hearings.

Did television help or hinder Senator McCarthy's case? Discuss…


A clip from the Army-McCarthy hearings.
Come to the Paley Center in NY & LA to watch all the coverage of the Army-McCarthy hearings.

JUNE 8, 2004: To celebrate its first quarter-century, ESPN (which launched in 1979 but didn't go twenty-four hours until the follow year), bows an ambitious slate of ESPN 25 programming in 2004, comprising thirty-two hours exploring the evolution of sports from almost every conceivable angle, including salaries, sponsorships, technology, and the impact of media. The premiere program, a documentary titled Then and Now, wins praise from critics for examining—not uncritically—the channel's own role in creating a "highlights culture" in sports. The programming initiative would go on to comprise numerous countdown shows, identifying the top teams, athletes, sports stories, etc., of the era, and former ESPN personalities like Craig Kilborn, Greg Gumbel, and Gayle Gardner were invited back to anchor the nighttime SportsCenter.

How has ESPN affected the world of sports? Discuss…


ESPN 1979-2004 25 Years Montage
Come to the Paley Center in NY & LA to check out our collection of ESPN programming!

JUNE 7, 1969: The growing significance of country music was evident with the 1969 debut of Johnny Cash's summer replacement series. Taped at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, then home to the Grand Ole Opry, The Johnny Cash Show combined traditional country with more mainstream popular music. On this inaugural show, Cash welcomed two stalwarts of folk music: Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. Dylan had recently surprised his audience with Nashville Skyline. Friends since the 1964 Newport Folk Festival, Dylan and Cash reprise a duet from that album, "Girl from the North County." Cash and his wife June Carter close the show with a Dylan tribute, singing their version of "It Ain't Me Babe."

Dylan or Cash? Discuss...


Bob Dylan playing "I Threw It All Away" on The Johnny Cash Show.
Come to the Paley Center in NY & LA to check out our great collection of Johnny Cash programs!

JUNE 6, 2008: A momentous day in the narrative arc of the Sci Fi Channel's Peabody Award–winning reimagining of Battlestar Galactica, which was about halfway into its final season when the morally malleable Gaius Baltar (James Callis), injured and under the influence of morphine, finally admits to (unwittingly) having helped the Cylons nearly annihilate the human race by providing them with secret defense codes. The episode, titled "The Hub" and written by Buffy vet Jane Espenson, also includes President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell), suffering from cancer and having envisioned her own death, finally confessing her love to Admiral William Adama (Edward James Olmos), who replies that it's "about time." Read this Q&A with writer Jane Espenson about "The Hub."

What is your favorite Battlestar Galatica episode? Discuss…


A preview of "The Hub."
Come to the Paley Center in NY & LA to watch our Battlestar panels from 2006 and 2009! Here's a clip!

JUNE 5, 1954: Your Show of Shows, one of early-television's landmark programs, ends its four-year run in 1954, as stars Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca depart at the top of their game in pursuit of separate careers. The live variety show, a Saturday-night fixture since premiering in February 1950, was directed by Max Liebman and also featured Carl Reiner and Howard Morris, and is equally well-remembered for its stable of thoroughbred writers, including Mel Tolkin, Mel Brooks, the Simon brothers (Neil and Danny), and Lucille Kallen, and their famously raucous sessions. Your Show of Shows was so impactful on the lives of those who crafted it that it inspired three separate projects: TV's Dick Van Dyke Show (created by Reiner), the 1982 film My Favorite Year (produced by Brooks), and the 1993 play Laughter on the 23rd Floor (written by Neil Simon). With its ninety-minute format, guest hosts, live music, and iconic sketches, Your Show of Shows evokes another, more contemporary TV institution, which airs on the same night and the same network: Saturday Night Live. Read the Emmy TV Legends blog about Your Show of Shows and watch interviews with its stars and writers.

Did you know that Your Show of Shows was so influential? Discuss…


A sketch from Your Show of Show featuring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca.
Come to the Paley Center in NY & LA to watch our collection of Your Show of Shows.

JUNE 4, 1989: The largest pro-democracy demonstration in China's history comes to a bloody end on this day in 1989, crushed by People's Liberation Army troops descending on Tiananmen Square in Beijing (the number of dead remains uncertain to this day, with estimates ranging from 241—the official Chinese government figure—to 2,600, the initial figure released by the Chinese Red Cross). Scenes of the crackdown were telecast throughout the world, engendering international condemnation of the Chinese government and even impacting foreign policy decisions (the protests had actually begun peacefully over a month earlier, after the death of Hu Yoabang, a pro-reform Communist Party official, and the international press had begun converging on Beijing to cover not just the demonstrations, but also the historic visit of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev). The single most enduring image of the Beijing massacre, also transmitted via television, actually occurred the following day, as an unarmed young man carrying shopping bags defiantly blocked the path of an army tank, and then climbed aboard to speak to the driver. Watch PBS's remberance and analysis of the June 1989 protests and their aftermath.

Do you remember the Tiananmen Square protests? Discuss…


News coverage of the man who stopped the tanks in Tiananmen Square.
Come to the Paley Center in NY & LA to watch our collection of historic news coverage.

JUNE 3, 1985: Larry King Live—the first television talk show to feature a global phone line, allowing viewers from around the world to phone in and speak live with the show's guests—premieres on CNN in 1985, with New York Governor Mario Cuomo as the guest. Who knew King's brand of "pop journalism" would prove so appealing the show would run for twenty-five years, before the host finally hung up his suspenders on December 16, 2010? (The finale's guests included former President Bill Clinton, whose saxophone-playing performance on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1992 is another June 3 highlight in television history.) King launched his broadcasting career as a Miami DJ and sports-talk-show host in 1957, and while weathering an extremely rough patch in the seventies working in PR at a racetrack in Shreveport, Louisiana, among other jobs—he disproved F. Scott Fitzgerald's maxim that "There are no second acts in American lives" by landing a late-night radio gig with the Mutual Broadcasting Network in 1978, and the rest—as they also say—is history. Read James Wolcott's great Vanity Fair article on King.

What are your favorite Larry King moments? Discuss…


A clip from the debut of Larry King Live.
Come to the Paley Center in NY & LA to watch our collection of classic Larry King interviews.

Join the TV Countdown conversation

1 – 9       10 – 19      20 – 29       30 – 39       40 – 49       50 – 59       60 – 70