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Television

How luck, television, and a saintly lurker on the Internet combined to let the author visit 1953 for half an hour.

IT’S ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO TELL OUR NATIONAL STORY ON TELEVISION, EVEN IF YOU’VE GOT 13 HOURS AT YOUR DISPOSAL. THREE PEOPLE WHO DID IT EXPLAIN HOW—AND WHY.

DURING THE FALL OF 1997, our production team at WGBH-TV, Boston’s Public Broadcasting System station, began developing a television project that would capture the sweep of American history with, we hoped, real rigor and drama. Read more >>

What you don’t remember about the day JFK was shot

It was a series of sounds and images that had monumental impact and will always remain in the minds of those who watched: the bloodstained suit, the child saluting the coffin, the funeral procession to the muffled drums, the riderless horse. Read more >>

THE IMPERIUM OF modern television advertising was born in desperate improvisation

It was 1945, and everybody needed everything. If you knew how to build a car, a house, or a washing machine, you could sell it faster than you could make it. Read more >>

An Interview With Walter Cronkite

As the editors discovered right at the outset of planning this issue, it is all but impossible to think about the course of the past forty years without also thinking about Walter Cronkite. Read more >>

In the infancy of television (but not of American royalty-worship) the networks fought their first all-out battle for supremacy over who would get to show Queen Elizabeth II being crowned

When American television was very young, but American royalty-worship was not, the biggest, loudest, most pointless battle for supremacy among the networks was over which would be first—by mere minutes, if necessary—to show pictures of the coronation of the B Read more >>

The maker of a fine new documentary on the Civil War tells how the medium of film can evoke the emotional reality of history

Ken Burns is no stranger to me. We first met in 1983 at a party that the historian David McCullough gave at the Yale Club to wish a happy hundredth birthday to the Brooklyn Bridge. Read more >>

Stempel’s winning technique was simplicity itself: He got all the questions in advance.

In October 1956 the twenty-nine-year-old scion of an illustrious American literary family took up a suggestion that countless Americans were then making to their more erudite friends and relations. Read more >>

The early critics of television predicted the new medium would make Americans passively obedient to the powers that be. But they badly underestimated us.

Way back when I was a teenager, it was common knowledge that the mass media—newly reinforced by television—were generating mass conformity, mass passivity, and mass “loss of autonomy.” They were even producing a new kind of dismal American, a truly ominous being, grimly referre Read more >>

The dour radio comedian regarded his work as totally ephemeral, but a new generation of comics has built upon his foundations

Satire, according to the playwright George S. Kaufman, “is what closes Saturday night,” but for seventeen years Fred Allen used his satiric brand of humor to create some of the nation’s most popular radio comedy. Read more >>
One Sunday afternoon thirty-six years ago, in Chicago, I sat with my parents in front of the family’s brand-new television set, with its small, round-cornered screen, and watched the first of a new kind of program on CBS. Read more >>

Robert Benchley, a woebegone chronicler of his own inadequacies, was the humorist’s humorist, a man beloved by practically everyone but himself

Early in 1939 Robert Charles Benchley—Phillips Exeter Academy, 1908; Harvard, 1912—put on a paper hat and hoisted himself up onto a set of phony telephone wires strung between mock utility poles on a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer sound stage in Hollywood. Read more >>

A little-known ancestor of the nightly news comes to light

The Colorado farmer opened the barn door for me. There, hanging from a nail on the back wall, was an empty 35-mm reel. With that excitement peculiar to collectors, I asked if there were any films left. “I reckon so. Read more >>

A noted historian argues that television, a relative newcomer, has nearly destroyed old—and valuable—political traditions

TELEVISION HAS BEEN accused of many things: vulgarizing tastes; trivializing public affairs; sensationalizing news; corrupting the young; pandering to profits; undermining traditional values. Read more >>