By 1960, television was firmly entrenched as America’s new hearth. Close to 90% of households had a TV, making the device almost ubiquitous. The ensuing decade would see the medium grow in both importance and range.
“… And oh yeah, there were only three channels.Yet television made some groundbreaking advancements in this decade as we learned from this week’s episode of ‘The Sixties,’ and here are a few of them. 1. Television becomes a political force. By 1960, most American households had a television, and that year’s Nixon/Kennedy debate was the first televised presidential debate. For many Americans, it was their first introduction to John F. Kennedy. When Kennedy was approached about the idea of debating his political opponent on television, he agreed immediately. Kennedy was comfortable on-camera and sure he’d win. Nixon, however, began to sweat during the televised debate, and the American people began to doubt him. No one realized just how much TV mattered until after those 1960 debates. Later that election season, Kennedy appeared as a guest on NBC’s ‘The Jack Parr Tonight Show’; and when Nixon ran for president again in 1968, he made a brief appearance on the sketch comedy show ‘Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In’ and uttered the show’s famous catchphrase, ‘Sock it to me.’ It was the first time a presidential candidate had appeared on a comedy show. … 2. The rise of TV journalism. Before the Kennedy presidency, television was far behind print journalism in terms of sources audiences relied upon for news. But soon, people relied on TV news for the day’s headlines as well as information on American troops in Vietnam, particularly the numbers of those killed or wounded. When something major happened on TV, it affected the whole country at the same exact time. TV news was the polar opposite of entertainment TV. The civil rights era, the JFK assassination and the space race all unfolded on TV. As David Brinkley stated, ‘Television showed the American people TO the American people.’ During the 1968 Democratic National Convention, 83 million Americans were glued to their television sets as 10,000 antiwar protesters outside the Chicago Hilton chanted, “The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!” over and over as police pushed the crowd off Chicago’s Balbo Drive. 3. TV reaches a broader audience. … Remember, there were only three channels (CBS, NBC and ABC) during the decade, and usually only one TV set per household. There were no ‘for mature audiences only’ warnings. The syrupy sitcoms of the 1950s made way for shows such as ‘The Dick van Dyke Show’ and ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’ These showcased more realistic situations, although there were still the same idealized versions of humanity as the previous decade. …”