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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MAY 23, 1954: A perfect bookend to his retirement in yesterday's fact, twenty-eight year old Johnny Carson makes his national television debut as host of the CBS summer replacement quiz series, Earn Your Vacation. Carson had hosted local shows in Omaha and Los Angeles, before being given his network shot. Earn Your Vacation had been heard on radio before Carson emceed the television version in which contestants competed for special trips. During its run, Carson also substituted for an injured Red Skelton, for whom he had worked as a writer. A year later, Carson was given a prime-time variety series from Hollywood, which struggled in the ratings; the Tonight Show was still seven years away.

What are your favorite Johnny Carson memories? Discuss…


A clip from The Johnny Carson Show. Come to the Paley Center in NY and LA to explore the Johnny Carson Collection, the largest collection of Carson's programs in the world.

MAY 22, 1992: One of America's most beloved comedians, Johnny Carson, ends his thirty-year reign as the host of the Tonight Show. On his 4,531st show he declared, "I found something I wanted to do and I have enjoyed every minute of it." Carson first hosted the Tonight Show on October 1, 1962, where he was introduced by Groucho Marx and welcomed Tony Bennett, Mel Brooks, Rudy Vallee, and Joan Crawford. On the final show he screened many clips of his favorite moments, without any live guests. Approximately fifty million people watched this farewell show, taped before a specially invited audience.

What are your favorite Johnny Carson memories? Discuss…


A clip from Carson's final episode, with clips from his first episode! Come to the Paley Center in NY and LA to explore the Johnny Carson Collection, the largest collection of Carson's programs in the world.

MAY 21, 1990: Bob Newhart's second hit situation comedy, Newhart, comes to an end after eight successful seasons with a finale that becomes the gold standard for last episodes. The highly publicized episode promised viewers a twist ending, which was a closely guarded secret. A rumor spread that Newhart's character, innkeeper Dick Loudon, would die after getting hit in the head with a golf ball. Instead, after Dick is hit in the head, the scene fades to black. When the show resumes, the bedroom set from The Bob Newhart Show, Newhart's beloved 1972-78 sitcom, is revealed and Bob awakens his wife, Emily (Suzanne Pleshette), to explain the crazy dream he had. "The Last Newhart" ranked number one in the Nielsen ratings for the week and became an instant classic.

What is your favorite twist ending from TV history? Discuss...



A clip from "The Last Newhart." Come to the Paley Center to watch our Bob Newhart Show reunion from 2007!

MAY 20, 1993 and 2003: May brings not only flowers, but finales to favorite series. Ninety-three million Americans tune in to the final episode of Cheers, making it the second highest rated television program ever up to that time. The eighty-nine minute special episode featured the much-anticipated return of Diane Chambers played by Shelley Long. Boston, where the series was set, declared May 20, 1993, "Cheers Day." Ten years later, Buffy and her associates engage in the final battle with the First Evil as Buffy the Vampire Slayer bows out. This 2003 episode "Chosen," written and directed by series creator Joss Whedon, brings a very emotional conclusion to the Buffyverse with the collapse of Hellmouth and Sunnydale. Not close to Cheers magnitude, the Buffy finale was seen by approximately five million people. Which finale matters more in television history?

Which finale matters more to you? Discuss…


A clip from the Cheers finale. Come to Paley Center in NY or LA to watch our Cheers evening from PaleyFest 1990.

A clip from the Buffy finale. Watch our 2009 Buffy reunion on DVD!

MAY 21, 1990: The conclusion of the two-part, second season Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Becoming" airs. A favorite installment of series star Sarah Michelle Gellar, "Becoming" finds our eponymous ghoul dispatcher "coming out" to her mother as the mythical slayer and killing her evil vampire boyfriend…typical teenage girl stuff, in other words. The story was pitched to such an emotional extreme that the Mutant Enemy production title card capping the end credits replaced the customary "Aaarrghh" sound effect with a plaintive "I need a hug."

What is your favorite Buffy episode? Discuss…


Joss Whedon talks about "Becoming." Watch our PaleyFest2008 Buffy reunion on DVD!

MAY 18, 1992: The season four finale of the popular sitcom Murphy Brown finds the titular journalist—an unattached professional woman—giving birth and resolving to raise the child as a single mother. This sentiment did not sit well with then Vice President Dan Quayle, who publicly excoriated the comedy for its subversion of traditional family values. His words proved prophetic, as the episode directly precipitated a bloody apocalypse scored to the cries of fatherless children. Oh, wait, no it didn't.

What other TV shows have created controversies like this? Discuss...


VH1's I Love the '90s' segment on Murphy Brown. Come to the Paley Center in NY & LA to watch our 1989 PaleyFest Murphy Brown panel.

MAY 17, 1985: Viewers were shocked when, during the eighth season finale of the wildly popular nighttime soap Dallas, Patrick Duffy's character, the noble oil scion Bobby Ewing, died after being run over by his sister-in-law. They were even more shocked when Bobby turned up in the shower when the show returned; his death, it transpired, had only been a dream…along with the totality of the previous season. The stunt was widely derided as one of the most ludicrous developments in the history of a medium not exactly heralded for its verisimilitude.

What other TV shows have made similarly head-scratching moves like this? Discuss…


The infamous shower scene from Dallas. Come to the Paley Center in NY & LA to watch our 1994 PaleyFest Dallas reunion.

MAY 16, 1983: The television special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today and Forever airs. Michael Jackson steals the show, unveiling his trademark "moonwalk" dance move. After the broadcast, Jackson received a congratulatory phone call from no less a terpsichorean eminence than Fred Astaire . . . the torch had been passed. Only now it was a glove.

What is your favorite Michael Jackson song? Discuss…


Jackson doing the moonwalk on the Motown 25 special. Come to the Paley Center to see our collection of Michael Jackson performances.

MAY 15, 1975: The Star Trek franchise wins its first Emmy Award . . . for the spin-off animated series. Various Star Trek series would go on to win a total of thirty-one Emmy Awards, and the 2009 film version won the sci-fi evergreen's first Academy Award, for Best Makeup. Those forehead ridges don't just happen, you know.

Does the Star Trek animated series hold up against the other ST series? Discuss…




An animated Star Trek PSA. Come to the Paley Center to watch our collection of PaleyFest Star Trek panels (Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager), including a 1988 talk with Gene Roddenberry!

MAY 14, 1998: Seinfeld ends its nine-year run as television's preeminent sitcom with an audaciously bleak finale that pleases few, aside from congenital contrarians and fans hoping for more screen time for Johnnie Cochran manqué Jackie Chiles. On the other hand, considering the pettiness, mean-spiritedness, and futility on display, coupled with that alienating, Waiting for Godot coda, one can't help but feel awed by the sheer perversity of ending a broadly mainstream commercial entity on this note.

Did you like the way that Seinfeld ended? What is your favorite series finale? Discuss…


The puzzling and controversial ending of Seinfeld. Come to the Paley Center in NY and LA to watch our extensive collection of TV series finales.

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