While TV didn't begin in the Fifties, practically no one had a set before then, there were few shows, and people looked to radio and newspapers for entertainment and news. In 1947 RCA mass produced a 7 inch TV and 170,000 of them sold. By 1949, 1 million sets had been sold. As the Fifties progressed the post-war boom included both babies and TV. In 1950 there are about 10 million sets in the U.S.
As TV became more commonly available, people were enthralled. This was much better than radio. You became very popular, very quickly if your family had a TV. And people would linger outside the windows of stores that sold this new wonder - hoping to catch a glimpse of the future.
The first thing you need to know about the early days of TV is that there wasn't much of it. Mostly, in the afternoons and evenings. Only a handful of stations were on the air, mostly in big cities across the country. The second thing you need to know is that it was black and white. Actually, it was various shades of gray. Dithered, sort of. Even if color TV had been offered, your black and white set wouldn't have known the difference. And, remote controls had yet to be invented.
You received your TV shows via an antenna. A big ugly thing that stuck up way above the roof line of your house. The thing had to be pointed correctly to receive your local stations. Customarily this directional adjustment was accomplished by Dad going outside to manually turn the antenna while someone with an eye on the TV yelled out an open window, "no, too far, come back a little."
The earliest TV shows were really radio and vaudeville moving to a new medium. Some of these were quite successful. I Love Lucy and Gunsmoke come to mind. Variety Shows populated the early years which gave many a vaudevillian comedian a chance to show off sight gags that radio wouldn't permit.
1953 the FCC had settled on the technical specifications for color standards, but broadcasting in color was expensive and few people had replaced those black and white sets with color ones. After all, they had just bought the B&W. This would quickly change. By 1962 a million color sets had sold, by 1965, 5 million and the networks had gone to color, by 1970 there were 37 million color sets in the U.S.
Among the first TV shows included about 120 Westerns. Mostly in black and white, cowboys set the standards of right and wrong and taught us about heroes. A few went to color. Bonanza, the Virginian and Wagon Train, the latter two experimenting with 90 minute formats.
But as Bob Dylan said, "the times they are a changin" and TV would reflect that for better or for worse. Playhouse 90 and Howdy Doody end in 1960 but we have doctor shows to replace them, Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare. Adapting to changing times, Ed Sullivan brought us the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. In mid Sixties you have the secret agents - Man From U.N.C.L.E. , Mission Impossible, I Spy, the Avengers. The latter half of the decade gave us our hippies, The Mod Squad and the Monkees.
As a reflection of changing social sensibilities, Bill Cosby becomes the first black lead on prime time TV in 1965 on "I Spy". This paved the way for Greg Morris on Mission Impossible Clarence Williams in Mod Squad and Don Mitchell in Ironside.
We watched Nixon lose a debate to Kennedy and then in despair over four days, watched Kennedy assassinated and buried.
Maybe the Viet Nam War so confused our notion of good guys and bad, or maybe we had evolved socially to the place where white guys wearing red makeup to pass as "injuns" was uncomfortable. I leave that for social historians. The fact remains that by 1970 the Western had gone thataway.
Variety shows are no longer with us either. The sitcom thrives and every one of those million dollar per episode Friend's actors owe respect to Lucille Ball and Dick Van Dyke who paved the way.
The Alliance U-100 was the most popular TV antenna rotor and control box in the 50's and 60's. The few TV stations on the air transmitted from various locations, usually mountain tops, which required outside antennas that could be rotated in the direction of the desired station signal.