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

TV Facts You Will Want to Know! 

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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.

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JUNE 2, 1953: American television's technical ingenuity is on display with the broadcast of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation. Both CBS and NBC hired planes to fly kinescopes of the BBC coverage back to America for broadcast to the states. CBS converted a British plane into a flying laboratory, developing the film in flight. Both networks raced to Boston to be the first to air the event. Variety reported the next day that "claims and counter-claims of who was first with what will echo in network circles." But everyone agreed that television's potential to connect the viewer to history-in-the-making was dramatically on display.

How has having instant access to the world's news affected modern culture? Discuss…


A clip from the Paley Center Collection of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation.
Come to the Paley Center in NY & LA to watch our collection of BBC programming.

JUNE 1, 1980: An all-news network seemed like folly as Ted Turner debuts CNN from Atlanta. Back in 1980 only thirty percent of the public had cable. With little background in the news, Turner lost millions the first two years, and his network was derided as the Chicken Noodle Network. In the beginning CNN had to compete with the Satellite News Channel, which Turner eventually bought in October 1983. CNN gained widespread recognition for its continual coverage of the Democratic and Republican conventions in 1984. A year later, it was reaching more than thirty million homes and turning a profit.

Was Ted Turner a visionary in founding CNN? Discuss…


CNN's first broadcast with David Walker and Lois Hart on June 1, 1980.
Come to the Paley Center in NY & LA to watch our collection of Ted Turner interviews.

MAY 31, 1955: See It Now is the first television program to investigate whether cigarette smoking is a major cause of lung cancer. In the first of two parts, Ed Murrow talked to doctors, scientists, and tobacco representatives to examine the evidence and the dangers of smoking. Although this broadcast is nine years before the Surgeon General's report showing a definitive link, studies from England had been circulating since the early fifties documenting the deleterious effects of smoking. Television was loath to explore the dangers since cigarettes were a major sponsor of all types of programming in the fifties, including news and public affairs. Murrow himself was an ardent smoker and concluded after the programs that the case was not yet proven.

Do you think Murrow was an objective journalist? Discuss…


A rare clip of the legendary Edward R. Murrow investigating the effects of smoking.
Come to the Paley Center in NY & LA to watch our collection of Edward Murrow programming.

MAY 30, 1953: Baseball becomes a Saturday afternoon ritual as ABC brings the Game of the Week to network television. In this inaugural game, the Cleveland Indians defeated the Chicago White Sox as announced by one of baseball’s best pitchers ever, Dizzy Dean, along with Buddy Blattner, who also played professional ball. Although there was great skepticism whether baseball could generate a national audience, the games proved popular, and the series has continued, almost uninterrupted, through today. All four major commercial networks have broadcast the Saturday games over the years, with NBC having the longest span, 1966-89. Fox has been broadcasting Saturday baseball since 1996.

What are your favorite Game of the Week memories? Discuss…


The opening from a 1984 game on NBC, hosted by the legendary Vin Scully.
Come to the Paley Center in NY & LA to watch our gigantic collection of classic sports!

MAY 29, 1949: The first wave of reality programming begins with the network launch of Candid Camera. Host Allen Funt [pictured right] and his crew used hidden cameras to spy on unsuspecting people to see how they would react to unusual situations. The reactions of ordinary people to Funt's stunts often produced hilarious results, and the series ran successfully in different incarnations until 2004. The idea began in the early forties when Funt in the Army Signal Corps recorded the complaining of servicemen using surreptitious equipment. He later adapted the idea for network radio with Candid Microphone, which was spun off to TV in 1948. Funt's catchphrase, "Smile, you're on Candid Camera," became part of the popular vernacular.

What is your favorite reality show? Discuss…


A rare 1949 Candid Camera clip from the Paley Center Collection.
Come to the Paley Center in NY & LA to watch our large collection of Candid Camera epsiodes!

MAY 28, 1974: Soap operas and afternoon talk shows finally received recognition with the telecast of the First Daytime Emmys. Barbara Walters and Peter Marshall hosted the outside ceremony from Rockefeller Center in New York City. A few soap opera awards had been given out during previous prime-time Emmy events, but the daytime community demanded their own ceremony. Among the winners are The Merv Griffin Show (Outstanding Talk Series), Password (Outstanding Game Show), Peter Marshall (Outstanding Game Show Host), Zoom (Outstanding Children's Series), The Doctors (Outstanding Drama Series), and Sesame Street [pictured right] (Outstanding Individual Achievement in Children's Programming). The Daytime Emmys were broadcast at noon; the Prime Time Awards were handed out later that evening in a ceremony hosted by Johnny Carson from Hollywood.

Should the daytime shows be included in the regular Emmy Award ceremony? Discuss…


The opening of the first Daytime Emmys.
Come to the Paley Center in NY & LA to watch our large collection of Emmy Awards ceremonies going back to the 1950s!

MAY 27, 1950: Frank Sinatra makes his television debut and revives his flagging career on The Star Spangled Revue, starring Bob Hope. He performed a song that he had not recorded, "Come Rain or Come Shine," as well as appearing in comic sketches, which made fun of his skinny frame. Sinatra's career was in quite a downward spiral: he had left MGM, hemorrhaged his vocal cords, and garnered negative publicity for his affair with Ava Gardner. This special was a godsend, as Sinatra praised Hope for arranging "me to have all the laughs." Sinatra proved he still had it and was given his own variety show the following fall.

What is your favorite Sinatra song? Discuss…


Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra poke fun at each other on The Star Spangled Revue.
Come to the Paley Center in NY & LA to watch our vast collection of Frank Sinatra programs!

MAY 26, 1977: Barbara Walters conducts one of her most significant interviews when she talks with Fidel Castro in an hour-long special. Walters had spent two years trying to land Castro, who had not conducted a major interview with an American network for sixteen years. As Fidel Castro Speaks begins, the Cuban leader and Walters are seen riding a patrol boat in the Bay of Pigs, where the infamous invasion took place in 1961. She spoke with him for five hours and Castro wrote that this session was "the most difficult interview I had in all the days of my life." The success of the special was also a turning point for Walters, who became a roving anchor for ABC News, free to travel anywhere for a story.

Which Barbara Walters interview is your favorite? Discuss…


A rare clip from the Paley Center Collection that you won't find anywhere else! Barbara Walters interviews Fidel Castro on a boat in the Bay of Pigs in 1977.
Come to the Paley Center in NY & LA to watch our collection of Barbara Walters programs!

MAY 25, 1988: St. Elsewhere presents one of the controversial final episodes in the history of television, revealing the entire run of the series had been the fantasy of an autistic child. During its six years on NBC, St. Elsewhere was very naturalistic, portraying doctors as fallible and science often powerless against the absurdities of life. But producers wanted the finale to remind devastated viewers that no matter how much they had loved the show and its characters, none of it was real. Internet media enthusiasts have since devised The Tommy Westphall Universe Hypothesis, arguing that spin-offs and character crossovers of more than two-hundred other series are also figments of the autistic boy's imagination…

What do you think of The Tommy Westphall Universe Hypothesis? Discuss…


The humorous end credits from St. Elsewhere's finale.
Come to the Paley Center in NY & LA to watch our two St. Elsewhere reunion panels from PaleyFest1993 and PaleyFest2002!

MAY 24, 2006: The fifth season of American Idol comes to a close with the largest audience ever for its finale. More than thirty-six million people watched as Taylor Hicks of Alabama was crowned the new Idol over Katharine McPhee from California. Hicks's renditions of Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City," Elton John's "Levon," and his own "Do I Make You Proud?" the night before secured his victory with more than sixty-three million votes cast. The season was noteworthy for the number of finalists who received recording contracts, including Elliot Yamin, Kellie Pickler, and Chris Daughtry. Daughtry finished fourth, but has had the most commercial success, including a CD that has sold more than five million copies.

Who is your favorite Idol? Discuss…


The announcement of the American Idol Season Five winner. Watch our American Idol panel from PaleyFest07 on DVD!

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