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100 Greatest Moments in Television: Timeline

A comprehensive look at some noteworthy events in the history of the small screen

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April 30: The opening of the World’s Fair in New York is the first program televised, but only in N.Y., the nation’s ”TV capital.”

The World Series attracts the first mass audience in N.Y., Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. (3.9 million watch).

Nov. 20: Meet the Press debuts, eventually becoming TV’s longest-running series.

Jan. 11: NBC links the East Coast with its new stations in the Midwest. Nation wide TV is born in September 1951, when the West Coast is finally connected.

Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theatre is watched by 75 percent of the TV audience — a figure no other entertainment show will ever surpass. Then again, barely 9 percent of Americans have sets.

News-program footage of the Korean War makes it the first ”living-room war.”

The DuMont network pays $75,000 to air the NFL championships for the first time.

March 14: Jerry Lewis kicks off his annual telethon, this one for the construction of New York Cardiac Hospital.

Don Hewitt coins the phrase ”anchorman.”

April 3: TV Guide‘s first issue features an infant Desi Arnaz Jr.

Reruns begin when CBS puts repeats of ABC’s prime-time hit The Lone Ranger on Saturday afternoons. But Desi Arnaz is the first producer to realize the potential profits of selling reruns in syndication; he cleans up in 1957 when CBS repeats I Love Lucy five times a week during the day.

Nov. 22: RCA tests its new color system on the air, with a telecast of NBC’s Colgate Comedy Hour. The first color series, NBC’s short-lived The Marriage (starring Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn), debuts July 8, 1954.

TV revenue finally surpasses radio’s.

Sept. 11: Miss America becomes a TV staple, courtesy of ABC.

The $64,000 Question goes No.1, making it the only game show ever to do so.

Nov. 5: Nat ”King” Cole is the first black man to host a series with his NBC variety show.

Nov. 30: CBS replaces kinescope with videotape.

Eighty-six percent of American households now own TV sets.

Sept. 26: The first debate between presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon is seen by 75 million people, the single largest TV audience to date.

Sept. 30: TV’s first prime-time cartoon series, The Flintstones debuts on ABC.

One out of every 79 American homes now has a color TV, but only one network broadcasts regularly in color: NBC, whose parent company, RCA, is the country’s leading manufacturer of the sets.

April 29: ABC’s Wide World of Sports debuts.

Feb. 14-15: First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s tour of the White House is broadcast on all three nets.

April 16: Walter Cronkite replaces Douglas Edwards as the CBS news anchor.

July 10: AT&T launches Telstar I, the first communications satellite. In its maiden test, TV programs are sent from the U.S. to Europe, and back again.

June 11: News cameras transmit the image of Gov. George Wallace attempting to block two black students from entering the University of Alabama.

April 30: Congress requires manufacturers to produce TVs that receive UHF signals as well as VHF.

Dec. 19: ABC introduces the first blimp shot during the Liberty Bowl.

Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media, in which he asserts ”the medium is the message,” is published.

April 28: Barbra Streisand’s first TV special, My Name Is Barbra, airs on CBS.

First appearance of the term ”boob tube”

Jan. 15: The Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10, in Super Bowl I on both NBC and CBS.

Aug. 25-28: News shows air scenes of police beating rioters at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, as the crowd chants, ”The whole world is watching!”

March 17: CBS cancels The Ed Sullivan Show after a legendary 23-year run.

June 7: J.I. Rodale, publisher of the health-oriented magazine Prevention, has a heart attack and dies on The Dick Cavett Show — after stating ”I am so healthy, I expect to live on and on.”

Aug. 8: In a live television broadcast, Richard Milhous Nixon resigns as President of the United States.

Sept. 20: The ABC premiere of Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell (not to be confused with Lorne Michaels’ creation, which appeared the following month) finds the baron of bombast hosting his very own variety hour.

April: According to a Nielsen survey, 71 million homes now have at least one TV.

Jan. 15: The Super Bowl is televised at night for the first time; it becomes the second-most-watched TV event to date.

Sept. 19: Archie and Edith Bunker’s chairs are presented to the Smithsonian Institution.

First use of the term couch potato, though it takes the publication of 1983’s The Official Couch Potato Handbook (by Jack Mingo) to make the term ubiquitous.

March 16: The TeleCaption decoder, which provides closed captioning for deaf viewers, is introduced.

Jan. 20: Millions watch as Ronald Reagan is sworn in as President and, simultaneously, American hostages in Iran are freed.

March 9: Dan Rather replaces Walter Cronkite as anchor of CBS Evening News.

March 19: Antidrug-promoting First Lady Nancy Reagan guest-stars on NBC’s Diff’rent Strokes.

Nov. 20: The Day After, ABC’s nuclear-holocaust parable, becomes the most-watched TV movie in history.

Aug. 3: Millions of viewers watch as Mary Lou Retton becomes the first American to win the all-around gymnastics gold at the L.A. Olympics.

Sept. 14: Wearing a tight white-lace bustier, Madonna descends from a giant wedding cake to perform ”Like a Virgin” at the first annual MTV Video Music Awards.

Sept. 16: The glory of razor stubble, pastels, and espadrilles sparks a fashion trend as Miami Vice premieres.

Nov. 11: NBC airs An Early Frost, the first significant TV movie to deal with AIDS.

June 1: TV cameras enter the chambers of the U.S. Senate for the first time.

Oct. 16: Eighteen-month-old Jessica McClure is rescued after 58 hours of being trapped in a well in Midland, Tex. All three networks interrupt their prime-time programming to televise the tot’s retrieval.

Jan. 3: The Arsenio Hall Show debuts; Hall becomes the first African American to successfully host a late-night talk show.

As of this year, the number of U.S. homes with TV sets reaches 93.1 million — 98 percent have a color TV, 64 percent have two or more sets, and 60.3 percent have cable.

May 21: The Real World premieres on MTV.

May 22: Johnny Carson leaves NBC’s The Tonight Show. Three days later, Jay Leno (who was chosen over David Letterman to be Carson’s successor) begins his reign, causing Letterman to move to CBS.

September: NBC introduces the slogan ”Must See TV” to promote its Thursday-night lineup (Mad About You, Friends, Seinfeld, Madman of the People, ER).

Jan. 11: The WB network launches with The Wayans Bros. and Unhappily Ever After.

Jan. 16: UPN launches with Star Trek: Voyager, which wins its time slot.

July: Zenith, the last U.S.-owned firm still making TV sets, agrees to become a subsidiary of South Korea’s LG Electronics.

July 15: Microsoft and NBC launch MSNBC, a 24-hour cable channel/website.

Sept. 20: Late Show With David Letterman airs sans commercials in a successful effort to attract more viewers.

April 1: The Cartoon Network airs the same Screwy Squirrel cartoon for 12 hours straight as an April Fools’ prank.

April 26: ABC’s U2: A Year in Pop special becomes the lowest-rated Big Three non-political prime-time program ever.

Jan. 1: The networks implement a motion pictures-style ratings system.

April 9: The Price is Right host Bob Barker celebrates his 5000th show.

June 22-28: For the first time ever, more television households tune in to basic cable during prime time than to the Big Four networks combined.