1957: Hit Television Shows

By Jake Verterano
October 4, 2007

I Love Lucy, Mr. Ed, Rin Tin Tin, Sam and Lassie. These television shows are just a tiny fraction of the most popular during the 1950s. Television in the ’50s was vastly different to what is seen today.

“Television was aimed towards families in the ’50s. We would all sit around on Saturday nights and watch it together,” said Dr. Kathleen McKinley, sociology professor.

The shows of the ’50s followed simple plots where there was a problem which was solved within a half hour. It wasn’t like television today where people have to tune in every week to find out what’s next for their favorite characters.

Jack Benny and Ed Sullivan brought a fun variety show to television. They had a variety of different characters and sketches to keep people entertained.

“Last Comic Standing and Comedy Central do a lot of what we used to see on prime time,” McKinley said. “Stand up comedy on the radio and television was part of everyone’s weekend.”

Animal shows were huge during the ’50s. “Lassie,” “Mr. Ed” and “My Friend Flicka” were some of the biggest shows of this time period. In the shows, animals were depicted as being able to perform extraordinary acts such as talking or rescuing small children from wells. Today, children look up to talking sponges and high school students who sing every five seconds.

“There have always been bad guys on television, but today they’re more likely to be criminals. It used to be ‘evil doers’ and outlaws doing all the dirty work,” McKinley said.

The reason for this change is that television has to change to become more believable. People aren’t going to tune in to see something unrealistic to them. They like seeing shows where they can actually be afraid of something. On a show like “Law & Order,” criminals come off as being realistic and actually being capable of harming someone.

The most popular form of television comes in a sitcom. The iconic “I Love Lucy” was one of the most watched shows in history. The show skyrocketed Lucille Ball into the limelight. People will never forget some of her hilarious sketches that have withstood the test of time. Today, people tune in to see their favorite characters on “The Office” and “Friends” take place in bizarre situations.

Teenagers now retreat to MTV when they need an escape from the real world, no pun intended. There they can watch “Laguna Beach,” “TRL” and “Next.” These shows keep them entertained with current mainstream music and various celebrities. “American Bandstand” was the big hit of the ’50s amongst teenagers. “It helped to define a generation..a generation that was growing out of the Mickey Mouse Club and wanted to be identified as teenagers,” McKinley said.

While the faces, language, content and much more have changed about television, one thing has remained a constant. People are still tuning in to their favorite shows to stay entertained, and it doesn’t seem as though that will end anytime soon.

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Jake Verterano

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