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 13, 1973: Tennis player Bobby Riggs, who made a cottage industry of boasting about male players' superiority over females, defeats challenger Margaret Smith Court before a worldwide television audience. Later that year, he was defeated by Billie Jean King, so . . . ha ha.

Do you remember this match? Should men and women play each other in pro tennis? Discuss…


A profile of the great tennis player Margaret Court Smith. Come to the Paley Center in NY and LA to watch our extensive classic sports collection.

MAY 12, 1960: When Frank Sinatra welcomed Elvis Presley back from the Army with this television special (The Frank Sinatra Timex Show: Welcome Home Elvis), the gesture was freighted with significance; traditional show business at the time was being rudely shoved aside by the revolutionary youth movement's insistence on entertainment that held significance for them: namely, rock 'n' roll. Presley is polite and deferential to elder statesman Sinatra, and their performances of each other's songs (Frank assayed "Love Me Tender" while Elvis crooned "Witchcraft") were charming…but the writing was on the wall: anarchic, iconoclastic rock music would prove to be the only possible soundtrack for the tumultuous decade just beginning.

In this duet, who gives the better performance, Frank or Elvis? Discuss…


Come to the Paley Center and explore our vast collection of music performances, from Frank and Dean to Elvis and the Beatles and more.

MAY 11, 1972: John Lennon appears on The Dick Cavett Show to discuss the deportation case against him and claims that his phone has been tapped by the FBI. Lennon's deportation case was eventually overturned by the New York Supreme Court in 1975.

Do you think John Lennon was unjustly persecuted in the '70s? Discuss…


John Lennon and Yoko Ono discuss John's legal troubles on The Dick Cavett Show. Come to the Paley Center to see our collection of John Lennon TV appearances.

MAY 10, 1982: After making some thirty films, iconoclastic movie star Elliott Gould—who redefined notions of the Hollywood leading man playing signature bleary hipsters and muzzy neurotics—makes his dramatic television debut, starring in The Rules of Marriage on CBS. Fellow Robert Altman alumnus Michael Murphy costarred. We assume Barbra Streisand was not consulted.

Who are your favorite film stars that have made the transition to TV? Discuss…


A promo for The Rules of Marriage. Come to the Paley Center in NY or LA to watch this rare TV movie, which has never been released on video.

MAY 9, 1958: Richard Burton makes his U.S. network television debut in The DuPont Show of the Month presentation of Wuthering Heights on CBS, playing the tormented Heathcliff. Burton would soon become a major film star as his soulful intensity, his resonant Welsh brogue, and his famously fractious love affair with Elizabeth Taylor fascinated American audiences.

What is your favorite Richard Burton role? Discuss…


A look at Burton in another brooding, tormented-man role, in John Osborne's Look Back in Anger from 1959. Come to the Paley Center to see Richard Burton TV appearances on such programs as 60 Minutes, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show, and much more.

MAY 8, 1984: The nostalgic hit sitcom Happy Days airs what was intended to be its final episode, titled "Passages": Joanie marries Chachi, Richie pursues his writing dreams in Los Angeles, and the Fonz, like Alexander, weeps, as he has no more sharks to jump. A handful of episodes would air after this epochal two-parter, but the thrill was gone.

Who was your favorite character on Happy Days? Did the show REALLY jump the shark? Discuss…


The ending of the Happy Days finale, "Passages." Come to the Paley Center to see our 2005 Happy Days reunion.

MAY 7, 1998: Friends airs "The One With Ross's Wedding." Big wedding episodes are a staple TV trope, and fans were on tenterhooks wondering whether Ross would really forsake Rachel for some English lady . . . but this supersized episode is best remembered as the one in which fusspot Chandler and retentive Monica shockingly—though in retrospect, fittingly—wind up in bed together, wresting the "Best Friends Couple" title from Mopey and The Haircut.

Did you see this episode? Who is your favorite character on Friends? Discuss…


An early scene from Chandler and Monica's romance. Come to the Paley Center to see our Friends panel from PaleyFest 1996 and other Friends episodes.

MAY 6, 1960: The Twilight Zone airs the classic episode "A Stop at Willoughby," in which embattled businessman James Daly makes an unexpected stop on his regular commute. The installment epitomizes a certain strain of Twilight Zone episodes: an empathetic, melancholy look at a "regular" man in a strange situation, with an unforgettably poignant and faintly chilling twist at the end. Thirty-one years later, thirtysomething paid tribute in an identically named episode, which found stressed ad man Michael Steadman questioning his priorities . . . and hallucinating.

Did you ever make the connection between these two episodes? Discuss…


The ending of The Twilight Zone's "A Stop at Willoughby." Come to the Paley Center to see our collection of programs written by Rod Serling.

MAY 5, 1977: Outspoken comedian Richard Pryor appears on his first network special, entitled The Richard Pryor Special? Within satirical sketches on Idi Amin and phony evangelists, Pryor was able to slip in some commentary on the need for racial equality, as emphasized by a dramatic monologue by poet Maya Angelou. So pleased was NBC with the response to the special that they signed the comedian to do a weekly series that fall. Pryor's edgy, often foul-mouthed style of comedy was hardly an ideal match for prime-time television, however, and the constant battles between the performer and the powers-that-be brought the series to an end after only four episodes.

Did you watch Pryor's short-lived series? What are your favorite Richard Pryor characters and/or jokes? Discuss…


A sketch from The Richard Pryor Special? where Pryor plays two roles. Come to the Paley Center to see our extensive collection of Richard Pryor performances going back to 1965!

MAY 4, 1964: Another World, the latest creation by the queen of the daytime serial, Irna Phillips, premieres. Set in the fictional town of Bay City with the Matthews family serving as the initial focus, the show's goal, according to its opening lines, was to explore "the world of events we live in and the world of feelings and dreams that we strive for." It became the first soap to give birth to a spin-off (Somerset), the first to expand to a full hour (in January of 1975), and even the first to go to ninety minutes (in March 1979), albeit for a brief period of time. It came to an end in June of 1999 after a thirty-five-year run.

What are your favorite Another World moments? Discuss…


A clip from Another World's first season. Come to the Paley Center in NY or LA to explore our collection of classic soap operas.

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