Pioneers of Television


THIRTEEN salutes 1950s and 60s TV legends with Pioneers of Television, airing Thursdays at 8 p.m. in August. To celebrate, we’ve created an interactive slide show highlighting memorable moments in TV history and notable recent events. Satisfy your thirst for TV trivia and let us know what you think: Has television changed dramatically throughout the years or is everything old new again?

And don’t miss season two of Pioneers of Television – coming to THIRTEEN in Winter 2011!
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Mad Men and the Women Who Love Them

Bewitched, 1967

While ad man Darrin Stevens (Dick York) is at McMann and Tate trying to land the Madame Marushka lipstick account, his wife Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) keeps the home fires burning with a witchy twitch of her nose and some not-so-divine intervention from her meddlesome mother Endora.

Mad Men, 2007:
While Sterling Cooper’s dreamy Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is at the office wowing the Belle Jolie lipstick honchos, his wife Betty (January Jones) is at home in the burbs shooting birds and singing The Feminine Mystique blues.
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Baby Love

I Love Lucy, 1952

When Lucy and Ricky Ricardo (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) are expecting their first child, network censors won’t permit the writers to use the word “pregnant” in the scripts. Instead, Lucy announces that she’s “having a baby.” The “P” word is never uttered.

Murphy Brown, 1992:
The hit CBS comedy achieves political notoriety when Murphy (Candice Bergen) becomes a single mother and Vice President Dan Quayle criticizes the character for “ignoring the importance of fathers by birthing a child alone.” The show responds with an episode celebrating the diversity of the modern American family – and mocking Quayle’s widely-reported “potatoe” faux pas at a New Jersey spelling bee.
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You’ve Come a Long Way, Betty

Betty White, 1973

Betty debuts on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, playing Sue Ann Nivens, the sugary sweet, man-hungry host of The Happy Homemaker.

Betty White, 2010:
At age 88, after an unlikely but determined Facebook campaign, Betty becomes the oldest host in Saturday Night Live history, generating big laughs and big ratings in skits teeming with sexual innuendo and double entendres.
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Late Night Wars

Leno vs. Letterman, 1991-93

When Johnny Carson retires, Jay Leno seizes the Tonight Show throne and David Letterman leaves NBC to host his own show on rival CBS. A ratings war ensues.

Leno vs. Conan, 2009-10:
In May 2009, NBC announces a fall lineup that includes a new Jay Leno show at 10pm. Conan O’Brien becomes the new host of The Tonight Show at 11:35 p.m. Months later, due to lackluster ratings, NBC decides to move Leno back to 11:35 p.m. and bump O’Brien to 12:05 a.m. O’Brien says thanks but no thanks and exits NBC, garnering universal adoration from fans and a $32 million severance deal. In March 2010, Leno reclaims the Tonight Show and the Leno-Letterman ratings war resumes.
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Can We Tawk?

Joan Rivers, 1983

Joan Rivers makes television history as the first permanent guest host for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. When FOX offers Joan her own late-night talk show in 1986, Johnny Carson excommunicates her and she is blacklisted from late-night television.

Joan Rivers, 2009:
Joan Rivers wins Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice, beating out other celebs on the popular NBC reality show including poker champ Annie Duke, country superstar Clint Black, basketball great Dennis Rodman – and her own daughter Melissa.

Joan discusses her unique brand of comic chutzpah in THIRTEEN's Make ‘Em Laugh
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Goin’ Gaga

The Ed Sullivan Show, 1964

On February 9, 1964, The Beatles make their historic American television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, singing “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” and more. Thousands of teenagers scream in the streets, 73 million viewers watch on TV, and Beatlemania is born.

The Today Show, 2010:
On July 9, 2010, a record-breaking 20,000 fans pack Rockefeller Plaza to watch Lady Gaga’s free live performance on The Today Show. Some fans wait in line for days, sleeping on the street, and many are decked out in their best Gaga costumes (cue the blond wigs, cigarette eyeglasses, soda can hair rollers, and glam bustiers). Despite a mid-concert rainstorm, the show goes on. Fabulously.
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This Quiz Will Count as 10% of Your Final Grade

Quiz Show Scandals, 1959

Charles Van Doren, a handsome Columbia English professor, is cast on the quiz show Twenty-One in 1956 to boost faltering ratings. Coached by the producer, he wins $138,000 and becomes an instant celebrity. When the rigging is uncovered, ratings plummet and Van Doren goes down faster than you can say, “I’d like to buy a vowel.”

Jeopardy! Winning Streak, 2004:
Software engineer Ken Jennings enjoys a 74-game winning streak on Jeopardy!, amassing $2.5 million – an unprecedented victory that leads to more good fortune and fame.
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One Small Step for Man, One Giant Waltz for Mankind

Television Sets Everywhere, 1969

On July 20, 1969, astronaut Buzz Aldrin makes history during the Apollo 11 mission as the second human to set foot on the moon – an extraordinary event that is witnessed by the largest worldwide television audience in history.

Dancing With the Stars, 2010:
At age 80, Aldrin hoofs it up with dance pro Ashley Costa on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars. He’s eliminated during the third week of the competition, earning 13 out of 30 points for his waltz.
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  • Michael Bauch

    Has television changed that much? It’s too bad you didn’t ask this question in the early 1980s, when it became clear that cable networks and programming were going to irrevocably fragment the TV audience, permanently changing the composition and dynamics for network TV.

    Network TV has not changed that much because it continues to be bound by the “programming standards” and rules of a bygone era – a time when we believed that there was actually a cultural consensus on what should or should not be shown on TV: no overly realistic depictions of sex or violence, no four-letter words (you know the ones), no content or subject matter that, in its portrayal, would offend or traumatize a mass audience, and, eventually, no advertising of cigarettes or alcoholic beverages.

    That consensus, if it really ever existed, is long gone, because of cable. Cable has become the equivalent of the “back room” of the video store — the place where they keep the adult entertainment. We can watch Don Draper commit all the infidelities he wants, Walter White “cook” all the crystal meth that his market can handle (with all of the attendant carnage), Tony Soprano and his friends behave and talk like mafiosi, and all the (mostly) uncensored movies we want. It’s OK. — It’s all available now, for a nominal fee. It’s the American way. Just pay up and you can have all the cultural democracy you can stand.

    Chacon a son gout (to each his own).

    Michael Bauch
    Fresh Meadows, New York

  • terry g werntz

    I enjoy everything Chanel 13 shows. It is always exciting and interesting as well as educational. Thank you.

  • Audrey

    The Betty White Show was the funniest show I ever saw on TV. I had never laughed so hard in my life. Just remembering her laughter can start me laughing all over again. Her laughter was contagious. It still is!!!

  • BenInBrooklyn

    Who woulda thought there was a similarity between Mad Men and Bewitched! Huh!

  • Peggie Foushee

    Everyone’s sampling these days.
    It seems that no one can come up with any shows that are nearly as qualified as the old shows.

  • Frances Saykaly

    It says Betty White “debuts” on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”. Haven’t “we” forgotten “Life With Elizabeth”, back in the 50s???

  • Kevin Butler

    I’m glad that WNET TV Ch.13 is rerunning”The Pioneers Of Television”minni series again.


    Why isn’t the heads of Ch.13 doing more documentaries about the other aspects of tv history?

    Why isn’t there a documentary about TV Commercials,tv broadcasts of news and sports and local

    NYC Children’s tv shows..these are important parts of TV History and they should be covered in

    new,complete and meaningful documentaries?

  • Pozycjonowanie Poznan

    Funky site. I’d really like to add it to my rss feed but I don’t know how.

  • Gina Frucelli

    Funky site. I’d really like to add it to my rss feed but I don’t know how.