By Mellisa Gillies | October 06, 2009
If you think you’re witnessing a new media juggernaut with megashows like American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance and Survivor, you’re too young to remember the Golden Age of Television, where Texaco Star Theatre, The Buick Circus Hour, The Colgate Comedy Hour, Pabst Blue Ribbon Bouts, and the Ford Television Theatre dominated the TV screen with exactly the same type of programming as today’s shows. How did the content and advertising industries come full circle?
In the early 1950’s, at the dawn of the broadcast television age, nearly every primetime media show was headlined by a big star, underwritten by an advertiser, and filled with advertising from sponsors whose brand messages were shamelessly trumpeted throughout the sixty or ninety minutes of drama, comedy or music content. Television was a new medium for actors, directors and advertisers. The ad agencies played a role as both brand manager and creative director for the programs, just as they had done for the previous forty years on radio.
In fact, no one knew how to treat this new TV audience, because no one really knew what audience was tuning in to watch. Were they radio listeners (older viewers), moviegoers (younger viewers) or a new hybrid of post World War II entertainment seekers made up of young families who were staying at home, raising families and looking for cheap entertainment? In reality, the audiences turned out to be made up of a broad cross section of age, race and gender. The advertisers had hit the mother lode thus the introduction of the Golden Age of TV.
And then came Cable TV. Initially cursed by the TV networks who saw their audiences fragment and show profits decline; and embraced by advertisers who found cheaper and better ways to reach their target audiences on niche shows, cable underwent its own metamorphosis over the next thirty years.