By Devin Malone
The television became a household object by the early 1960s, broadcasting to nearly 44 million Americans every day and making about 3.6 billion dollars in ad revenue according to Living History Farm and Advertising Age.
In its beginning, television ran until midnight and signed-off with the National Anthem until it came back “on air” in the early morning with shows such as “I Love Lucy” or “The Beverly Hillbillies.” As of now, the television industry is worth $60 billion in ad revenue, runs 24/7 and airs some of the most action-packed and humorous television shows to date. In a span of 50 years, there has been a dramatic shift in entertainment.
To get a better understanding of what differences have accumulated in half a century, it is best to compare the most popular shows now versus the past. In the 1960’s, the most viewed TV shows ranged from sitcoms like “The Andy Griffith Show,” which starred the titular Andy Griffith and Don Knotts as sheriff and deputy duo in a small town, to crime thrillers like “Columbo” where Peter Falk played a homicide detective in Los Angeles.
When it comes to modern TV shows, the most watched broadcasts, according to Entertainment Weekly, are comedies like “The Big Bang Theory,” a long running show about a group of physicists who share an apartment, and “NCIS”, a crime thriller that focuses on police work and forensics.
It does not take much to see that what people enjoy has not drastically changed in 50 years. People still watch comedies and thrillers, which remain the most watched genres to this day. However, what shows can get away with broadcasting has definitely changed.
According to the Parents Television Council, violence on American television is commonplace within the entertainment industry now.
“The most violent shows on broadcast TV have essentially similar levels of violence as the most violent cable TV shows, rendering untrue the popular assumption that broadcast TV is a ‘safer’ media environment for children,” according to the Parents Television Council.
Despite the same types of shows being broadcast throughout television history, the evolution of television has made sitcoms darker, using themes such as death, sex and drugs.
The same can be said about crime shows like “Hannibal,” in which violence ranges from gruesome dismemberment to acts of cannibalism.
This recurring dark theme often shadows society’s inner mood from current issues. For instance, in the 1960’s, with massive cultural movements such as the Civil Rights Movement, television tended to follow suit. At the time, many people struggled against inequality, and in 1964, “The Twilight Zone” aired the episode “I am the Night – Color Me Black,” which dealt heavily with the subject of racism that still lingered within America just after the civil rights movement. The first interracial kiss happened during an episode of “Star Trek” in 1968.
Shows dealing with such subject matter would not even been dreamt of in the 1940’s or the 1950’s. For better or worse, this form of media will continue to persist throughout multiple generations and will change as society progresses.