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Television

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TELEVISION. This visual form of in home entertainment was at one time the subject of science fiction novels and fantasy cartoons, but by the 1950s, just like with radio decades before, the technology had been developed to bring both sound and pictures into living rooms across America and throughout the world. Research had begun some 30 years earlier in both a mechanical and an electronic system for producing and transmitting visual images. By the mid-1930s, there were limited test broadcasts to a controlled number of receivers using the electronic system. The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) began a regular program service to about a thousand receiver sets with a network telecast of President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the opening ceremonies of the 1939 New York World’s Fair. As interest in television dramatically increased after World War II, networks relied heavily on established radio stars for their broadcast programs, but the huge amounts of lighting required to produce an image, along with the poor quality of the transmitted signal, did not lend itself to dramatic applications. After vast improvements in broadcast technology, commercial television began in 1948 with four television networks on the air: NBC, Colombia Broadcasting System (CBS), American Broadcasting Company (ABC), and the DuMont Television Network. The first African American entertainer to host a television program was Bob Howard, with his 15 minute program on CBS, The Bob Howard Show , 1948–1950. The DuMont Network signed singer Hazel Scott to host the 15 minute, three nights a week, The Hazel Scott Show , 1950. These were both musical performance programs. Popular Hollywood actress Ethel Waters became the first African American to star in a series when she was cast in the title role of Beulah , 1950–1953. In this weekly sitcom, Waters portrayed a black maid working for a white family who operates in both worlds, maintaining the status quo in an ideal setting of wistful camaraderie with no indication of the cultural or racial dissentions that existed in the real world. Waters left the series after only one season and Louise Beavers replaced her. Many established film actors found work on the small screen, including Spencer Williams Jr., who portrayed the title role of Andy Brown in the controversial TV series Amos ‘n’ Andy , 1951–1953. Eddie Anderson became better known as Rochester on The Jack Benny Show , 1950–1965, and Willie Best appeared as Willie the Handyman on The Stu Erwin Show , 1950–1955. Ruby Dandridge, mother of famed film star Dorothy Dandridge, was cast as Delilah, a housekeeper on Father of the Bride , 1961–1962. As the popularity of television increased, opportunities for African Americans on the tube failed to keep up and the black images that did appear were often cast, created, and manipulated by white hands. Just like with Hollywood films decades before, the portrayal of black characters was often called into question and criticized for being demeaning and stereotypical.

Regardless of this, many African American actors got their start on television before transitioning into film roles. Comedian Bill Cosby was cast as a co star in I Spy , 1965, before making films and remains active in both mediums. In fact, when his hugely successful 1980s family-oriented sitcom The Cosby Show , took the network to #1, the NBC acronym jokingly became known as “Nothing B-efore C-osby.” Sidney Poitier ‘s early career included appearances in Pond’s Theater and The Philco Playhouse productions, but he has not returned to work on the small screen since his acting career soared. Neither has Denzel Washington, who was once a regular in the medical series St. Elsewhere . Many actors started on television and mostly remained there, including Don Mitchell, Ironside ; Don Marshall, Land of the Giants ; Gail Fisher, Mannix ; Lloyd Haynes, Room 222 ; Sherman Hemsley, The Jeffersons . Others, such as Vivica A. Fox, Blair Underwood, Hill Harper, and many others, work freely between the two mediums.

Television and Hollywood in the 1940s - Launching Television, 1939-1942, The War Years, 1942-1945, Conclusion [next] [back] Telethon

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