New programs, new audiences

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"Television cameras." Courtesy Brigham Young University-Idaho, via Mountain West Digital Library. 

By the beginning of the 1950s, a host of newscasts and programs aired on TV network stations—most of which were the same big name networks from radio. Beyond the familiar NBC, CBS, and ABC call letters, in its early days television borrowed heavily from radio. Some of the staple radio dramas and serials made their way to television. Even the fifteen-minute format of news programs in television’s early days was modeled after radio newscasts.

As the decade progressed, the medium changed, moving away from radio-style programming to the start of some of television’s most enduring programs: NBC’s Today debuted in 1952, and The Tonight Show in 1953. Sitcoms, which featured recurring characters, became hugely successful. Beyond that, a new and profitable market emerged—children’s television. While there were radio programs aimed at children before, now shows like ABC’s The Mickey Mouse Club gained immense popularity. It was an advertising boon for networks, too, who created blocks of scheduling just for children. Children became a new mass market. They saw, for example, Disney’s Davy Crockett on television and got their parents to buy $300 million dollars worth of merchandise, including the iconic coonskin cap.

More than television just being a way to advertise new products to children, it was marketing the very medium itself. A 1950 study gauging the opinions of children, parents, and teachers saw a growing segment of children who wanted to pursue careers in new video-related fields. Indeed, television opened up a completely new job landscape for Americans looking to tap into the country’s next big communication medium.