Articles, activities for boomers & seniors
Although the shows were in black-and-white, the 1950s are considered TV's Golden Age. The quality of the shows may have been uneven, but we knew we were in for good, clean entertainment — something for everyone. Let's take a look back at those pre-peacock days when TV sets had the little screens and phones did not. Family Shows Mayberry, NC, was where everyone wanted to live, especially after watching the creepy
and cop shows. Andy Griffith and Don Knotts were the affable sheriff and deputy, and Aunt Bee's "Oh, fiddle faddle!" was as rude as it got.
Dick Van Dyke was more sophisticated but still portrayed a family at work and at play. If you liked Capri pants, this was the family unit for you. The Honeymooners was a louder version of the Van Dyke show, with poor but no less crazy characters and more robust conflicts, but love and friendship always won out in the end, and Alice never made it to the moon. If Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, and Leave it to Beaver were too normal for you, you could join The Addams Family or The Munsters. NOTE: The Munsters had the cooler rides — the Munster Coach and the Dragula! If you were saddled with funny relatives, you could feel better by comparing them to Lucy, Danny Thomas, Riley, Darren, Samantha, and Endora, and the Clampetts.
Action / Adventure
Route 66 followed the adventures of Martin Milner (Tod) and George Maharis (Buz) as they tried to find themselves by traveling the famed Route 66 in Tod's red Corvette convertible. Instead, they usually found trouble. Lassie was a (male!) Rough Collie (one of six) collies who was passed from family to family over the course of the show. She never tired of pulling someone from a well or alerting the family to danger. Superman was born in the planet Krypton, but actually was born as a comic book character, the all-American answer to Hitler's Ubermensch. How he could don a simple pair of glasses as mild-mannered Clark Kent and not be recognized by Lois, Jimmy, and Chief, was a super-feat in itself.
The Twilight Zone, with its totally-recognizable theme song and scrawny host with the slender tie — Rod Serling — took fans on journeys to places that bent fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and psychological thriller into a mold that only existed in the minds of its brilliant writers. We think. One Step Beyond had an appropriate theme song: "Fear." Host John Newland took us "around the unturned corner" to experience paranormal events that were supposedly real. Or were they? The thought was enough to scare the Cheerios out of us. Outer Limits took control of the vertical, horizontal, and focus (remember them?) of our TVs to show us sci-fi answers to serious contemporary social issues, like racism, cloning, nuclear war, and Big Brother. And rocks that turned into spiders that ate your face.
Legal and Cop Dramas
Dragnet began with the famous "Dragnet" theme song: "Dum de dum dum," which has become synonymous with, "You're in trouble!" Jack Webb, who literally owned the show, popularized "cop jargon" to promote realism ("Just the facts, Ma'am") in this genre. Joe Friday was all-business and all-monotone.
Naked City was not as racy as it sounds, but it was gritty. It would pick out one of "eight million stories in the naked city" and present it in documentary style. If New York City really could catch the bad guys in half an hour . . . Once the suspects were caught, it took a Perry Mason to sort things out. Erle Stanley Gardner, Perry's creator, had script approval and stacked the production team with lawyers to guarantee authenticity — if you believe lawyers never lose a case!
Westerns Shows like The Lone Ranger and Gunsmoke made a Bonanza for their networks.
Variety and Entertainment
Major Bowes' / Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour featured amateur performers for whom the audience voted with post cards. Most of the performers fizzled. In contrast, on The Ed Sullivan Show, most performers were big names who sizzled. From Elvis's shaking hips to Jackie Mason's acerbic quips, elephants, dogs, dancers, and acrobats, had their "really big shew." "Champagne and bubbles" described The Lawrence Welk Show, still on the air after almost 70 years. Those "lufly ladies" never seem to grow old!
McHale's Navy and Hogan's Heroes were about as realistic portrayals of military life as was F Troop, but they were entertaining.
Ernie Kovacs was one of the crazy comedy pioneers. Other notables, many from vaudeville and radio, soon followed: Steve Allen, Sid Caesar, "Uncle Miltie" Berle, Burns and Allen, Abbot and Costello, Red Skelton and Red Buttons (no relation), and Jack Benny had their own shows.
Despite the game show scandals of the 1950s, most game shows were honest and the contestants were — well, either very intelligent, somewhat baffled, or easily humiliated. Grouch Marx preferred the latter in his quiz show, You Bet Your Life. Sometimes, George Fenneman would forget to duck when the duck came down with the "secret woid." I've Got a Secret featured Garry Moore hosting a panel of celebrities, including Bill Cullen, Jayne Meadows, Henry Morgan, Kitty Carlisle, and Betsy Palmer, who all played the game for laughs as they tried to guess the secret of the contestant. The host and audience knew the secret, which made the panelists' fumbling attempts all the funnier. On occasion, the contestant was a celebrity. What's My Line? was the precursor to I've Got a Secret, and was played in a similar fashion. Panelists had to guess the guest's occupation. There would often be a celebrity guest, and blindfolded panelists had to figure out who he or she was.
Many more shows could be listed, but this is just a sampling of shows that launched the careers of many celebrities (including game show hosts), brought visual connections with radio stars, and allowed strangers into our homes for a night of entertainment, terror, and drama. Every show that exists today owes its start to one or more of these pioneering programs.