There are three general sections to these lecture notes. The first focuses on the technology and early broadcasting history of tv. The second explores the history of us tv. The third provides glimpses into tv outside the us

The Idiot Box?:

A History of Fiction Television

Caveat emptor: These lectures are a work in progress and are continually being added to and revised and are undoubtedly in need or revision now (if I only had the time). Forgive me for the infelicities of language. Let me know if you find any of these. As to the links you don’t have to look at them all, pick and choose—as long as you choose one we don’t watch in class. On the other hand, feel free to explore any that interest you.

A word about reading these lecture notes. First, the lecture notes are meant to be the main text book for the class and are organised like a textbook. They are also meant to be read like a book from beginning to end. Within these lecture notes you will also, by the way, find the essays you will need to read for this course placed at the points you will need to read them.

There are three general sections to these lecture notes. The first focuses on the technology and early broadcasting history of TV. The second explores the history of US TV. The third provides glimpses into TV outside the US.

The US section is subdivided into several sections itself. It is divided into ten year periods—1945-1955, 1955-1965, 1965-1975, 1975-1985, 1985-1995, 1995-2005, 2005-2015 (these serve as chapters in the US section). Each of these subsections are further divided into several other subsections--broader historical contexts, institutional history and relations with governmental entities, programming, and TV criticism. At the end of each of these subsections is a "bibliography" with viewing and oral history options. I have used bold and italics to emphasise these sections, subsections, and sub-subsections.

There is a lot of redundancy in the text. There is even redundancy in the sub-subsections themselves. The programming sections spend a lot of time on genre, for instance. This redundancy is, of course, intentional and meant to help you as you navigate through the text.

One thing that I have found helpful in navigating the text is the FIND option. The FIND option is your friend. For instance, if you are looking for Programming for 1975-1985 type in 1975-1985 and you will eventually get there. If you are looking for Dekalog type in Dekalog or type in Poland and then scroll down to the show. If you are looking for Have Gun-Will Travel type that into the find option. FIND should help you get to where you are going. Another option is to simply eyeball the text. Since the viewing options are at the end of each section and since these sections stand out when you look at the text—a lot of hyperlinks—you should be able to find your way there by simply paging up or paging down.

Finally, a word about the links. You will find a lot of links in the text below. Treat them as buried treasures to search through. Remember you must explore three links per section and touch on them in your journals. Also, remember that many of them are links to Youtube and that given copyright issues they may disappear overnight. Let me know if a link is no longer active asap.

Useful Links:

Here are some great online sites that are worth checking out…

Here is a site that will link you to TV stations around the world


Here is a link that links you to TV channels and shows around the world


Here is an excellent search database for TV… .uk/searches.php

Here is a link to the Internet Media Database… /

Here is a link to the Museum of Broadcast Communications… /

Here is a link to the excellent Encyclopedia of Television edited by Horace Newcomb under the auspices of the Museum of Broadcast Communications… /Archive/etv/

Here is a link to Archive at the Museum of Broadcast Communications… /exhibitionssection.php?page=21

Here is a link to the Museum of the Moving Image… /site/site.php

Here is a link to the Museum of Television and Radio… /

Here is a link to the wonderful Archive of Television where you can find interviews with the people who made TV… /

Here is a link to the BFI television page


Here is a link to what is in essence a stargate to a variety of sites that allow you to watch TV shows… /

Here is a link to a site that contains a variety of TV materials—commercials, shows, sports, and newsreels… / . Go to the Google Download section on the right of the screen

Watch international television on the web here


Here are links that will allow you to watch TV programmes from the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia



Here is a link to TV programmes at Joost


Here is a link to PopMatters where you can find reviews of hundreds of TV shows


Here is the link to Flow, the online journal published by the University of Texas Radio, Television, and Film Department


Here is the link to Flak, an online journal of art including film and television


Here is a link to Sitcoms Online, a site that has information and links on US sitcoms


Here is a link to the Guardian Media section…

Here is a link to the Guardian Arts section…

Here is a link the the NY Times Arts section… /pages/arts/index.html

Here is a link to the film series at Page Hall on the downtown campus of the University at Albany…

Want to blog about TV? Here is a fun site



There are broad opportunities for TV viewing out there. On cable, of course, there is TVLand (/tvlhome.jhtml), Nick at Night, the SciFi Channel, FX, TNT, USA, and TBS all of which show reruns of American TV shows from earlier years. Locally Channel 17.1 (PBS) shows a variety of British programmes on occasion, and 17.3 shows a host of documentaries every day. You can find reruns of US TV programmes locally on channels 15.1 45.1 shows, channel 23.1 (Fox), and channels 10.3 and 19.3, RetroTV (RTN), 10.3 or 19.3.

If you want to watch TV on DVD check out the collection at the Albany Public Library central branch. They have I Love Lucy, Twilight Zone, The Beverly Hillbillies, Bewitched, Hogan’s Heroes, The Monkees, I Spy, All in the Family, M*A*S*H*, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Barney Miller, Dallas, Northern Exposure, Sports Night, Friends, Seinfeld, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Popular, and Sex and the City among others. On the British front the library has Doctor Who, The Prisoner, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, I Claudius, Absolutely Fabulous, Allo Allo. The library is located on Washington Avenue near Lark Street and the Armory—161 Washington Avenue.

I have noted a number of websites where you can watch TV shows on the web and I have placed a goodly number of links to a variety of TV programmes on these lesson pages. It probably doesn’t need to be said but I will say it anyway, the quality of these links to TV programmes leaves much to be desired and that any close analysis of shows that play in visual language should be viewed on DVD.

Happy viewing.

Media Studies is not, in my perhaps not so humble opinion, a hard or positivistic science (though we can get them closer to or further away from “hard science”). That doesn’t mean that there aren’t facts, however. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was on the WB network. It came on the air on 10 March 1997. But the question of what the show means is a harder nut to crack. Scholars have praised the show as postmodernist, feminist, social ethical, girl empowering, “undemonising”, liberal, radical, and conservative themes and damned it as liberal, conservative, manichean, paternalist, racist, sexist, and classist. Which is it? And what are its themes?

Media Studies is then are interpretive disciplines, perhaps even art forms. Students of media studies do not agree on every aspect of media studies. And media studies analysts have long been impacted by their own social and cultural contexts both of which influence how they read or interpret the media.

One more thing about doing media studies history, media studies history always involves selectivity. Neither I nor anyone else can tell you everything—and history is about everything from sports to fashion to the everyday lives of human beings to the TV programmes we watch—about everything. Neither I nor anyone else can tell you everything that happened during every single minute of every single day during every single year.

Finally, there are two issues that my “reviewers” on RateMyProfessors bring up that I want to address because I find them, to put it bluntly, rather “bizarre”. Let me explain why.

One of my “reviewers” claims that I will insult you if I don’t agree with you. Not true. One of these individual who I “insulted” had the audacity to claim that he hated Buffy the Vampire Slayer though he had never seen it (this reminds me of a young woman who I once met and had a discussion with who claimed to hate Coen Brothers films but had never seen one). Another “reviewer” claimed I wasn’t sensitive to his/her views. There might be some truth to this latter since I do not take fully seriously feelings that aren’t backed up with empirical data. I suspect that this student is upset about my reaction to his/her take on college towns, specifically that they are any town (Albany, New York City, LA, Boston, Louisville, Iowa City, Bloomington, Indiana, Ithaca) that has a college in it. Such a position is, of course, meaningless. (and meaningless categorizations are not what the humanities and social sciences are all about). Anyone who has ever been in Ithaca knows that there is a difference between Ithaca and Albany. Ithaca is a college town. Cornell University dominates the city economically (Cornell employs one out of every three persons in Tompkins County), culturally (Cornell’s concerts, talks, exhibits dominate the city’s cultural life), demographically (those who go to Cornell and work there comprise a significant segment of the population of Ithaca and Tompkins County), geographically (Cornell constitutes a significant proportion of the geography of Ithaca), and politically (Cornell plays an important role in Ithaca politics). Albany, of course, is not a college town. Albany is not dominated geographically, demographically, politically, economically, or culturally by the University at Albany, Saint Rose, or the professional schools near Albany Med. It is a political town (the state is the city’s largest employer), a regional medical centre (Albany Med is the hospital for this region of upstate New York), and a regional shopping centre (people come from all around to shop at Crossgates Mall and Colonie Center). This is a class in which history is important. History is grounded in an empirical analysis of the empirical evidence. History (and Anthropology, Sociology, and the Humanities) focuses on factors intellectuals and academics have long regarded as of causal importance in human life—geography, demography, economics, politics, and culture—the very factors I utilized to explore whether Ithaca or Albany are college towns or not. Fundamental to all university subjects is the fact that if you haven’t seen something you simply cannot validly analyse it. If you haven’t seen and closely analysed all of Buffy or all of any TV show (or works by a particular director or author) you cannot trulyanalyse them.

Now despite the total lack of validity in what this young man said about Buffy what he said is historically and culturally important though not in the way he thought when he said it. Humanities scholars and social scientists not only need to explore how and in what contexts TV (film, literature, and so on) are produced but also how they are consumed. The fact that this individual hates Buffy without ever having seen it tells us something about him (and about humans in general). The young woman who hated Coen Brothers films who hated the Coen Brothers actually hated Coen Brothers films because they did not fit into her definition of “independent film”. This is, of course, ideological rather empirical analysis. It is “analysis” guided by normative prejudices rather than by descriptive analysis. In the final analysis these reactions tell us more about the consumer (the person making the statement) than the product (the object the consumer is making the statement about).

While I find it important to analyse how humans consume products in this class I want us to closely analyse products before we make normative (whether ideological, theological, metaphysical, or aesthetic) claims about them. In order to analyse Buffy as a product of specific historical, social, cultural, and economic moments and longer historical, social, cultural, and economic factors we have to explore the institutional and economic contexts in which Buffy was made, what those people who made Buffy thought they were doing, whether there were conflicts or consensus or both between these two groups, and whether there was conflicts or consensus within these two groups. Saying “I don’t like it because” simply will not do in an academic class. Personally I don’t think such statements should play in intellectual culture in general.

Let me repeat something, I am not one of those people who thinks that anything any student says is worthy of compliment. I expect every student in this class to be analytical and systematic in their comments and writings. I expect you, in other words, to be academics and intellectuals. I expect you to look at all of human history through those prisms through which all social scientists and teachers of the humanities use to explore human life—economics, politics, culture, demographics, and geography. An expression of feelings or thoughts without empirical backup is not acceptable in this class.

Now for the second matter. Another of my “reviewers” claims that a Canadian (I am a Canadian though I have lived in the US for most of my life) should not be teaching American media history. The assumption here, I guess, is that only Americans can and should teach American history because only they can fully comprehend it. Let’s take this statement at face value for the moment. If it is correct this means that only Europeans can write European history, that only Spanish can write Spanish history and that only Catalonians can write Catalonian history. But let’s push this further. If my “reviewer” is accurate can we say that only women can write women’s history? That only Spanish women can write Spanish women’s history? That only Spanish bourgeois women can write Spanish bourgeois women’s history. That only bourgeois Catalonian women can write bourgeois Catalonian women’s history. Well, you get my drift. Pushed to its furthest extent I suppose this means that only a single individual can write a single individuals history. But let’s pull back from this nihilistic edge for a moment and pose some questions to my (not so) anonymous “reviewer”. Would my “reviewer” assert that only Europeans can study and teach European history? Would he urge any American engaged in the study of Europe in colleges all across the nation to find something else to do, something that is consistent with their “nationality”?

We can critique such a “position” from a number of perspectives—my “reviewer” fetishises nationality (a phenomenon that is a social and cultural construct and which has only “existed” for a relatively short period of time in human history) and my “reviewer” assumes that all Americans think the same way (patently false). But let’s get real here. My “reviewer” is not upset because I am a Canadian. He is upset because my empirically grounded approach to US history is not congruent with his ideologically determined myth of US history. Such a reaction is common among those whose notion of history is guided by ideology rather than empiricism. Nationalism, and my “reviewer” is grounding his idea of how history should be done in nationalism, is, like religion (another ideologically grounded phenomenon), a meaning system. Meaning systems are fundamentally ideological (metaphysical, aesthetic, ethical). The question you have to ask and answer is whether you prefer a meaning system grounded in empirical evidence or whether you prefer one grounded in ideological myth, whether you prefer a nationalist myth or an analysis grounded in the facts. Take your pick. By the way, for those of you with a healthy sense of irony you might recognize that it is here in this assertion of the need for indigenous analysis of indigenous history that the “left” and the “right” meet in their own version of (a postmodernist) heaven.

So away we go…


Douglas Kellner; “Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Spectacular Allegory: a Diagnostic


Rox Kaveney, “She Saved the World. A Lot: An Introduction to the Themes and Structures of Buffy and Angel” in Reading the Vampire Slayer, pp. 1-82

Part One: Technology

Chapter One

Television and Technology

Television, of course, is the product of technological developments, technological developments in variable resistance to electricity, photoemission, and fluorescence. TV’s pioneers, by and large saw it as an extension of previous technologies—the telephone, radio, telegraph, phonograph, and cinema.

The possibility of television was recognized as long ago as the nineteenth century. It was clear to many in the late nineteenth century that the same variable resistance used to transmit voices along telephone lines and data along telegraph lines could be used to transmit visual information as well. Beginning in the late 19th century a number of individuals in a number of different countries around the world—the United States, France, Great Britain, Germany, and Russia—attempted to develop various technologies that would do just that.

A few of the high points: In 1881 a system using selenium cells and paper impregnated with potassium iodide was developed to transmit facsimile images. In 1888 Paul Napkow patented a camera that operated with a spinning disc that could transmit an image by transforming light into a modulated electrical wave. He called it the electric 1897 Ferdinand Braun developed a photo emissive cathode ray tube (CRT). In 1906 a Napkow disc and a CRT was used to transmit written material. In 1908 Alan Campbell Swinton developed an all-electrical system using cathode ray tubes and electromagnets in transmitter and receiver. In 1911 Boris Rozing demonstrated a cathode electromagnetic system. In 1920 radio broadcasting made its appearance with Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s KDKA. Mass radio broadcasting would, however, not come until 1921 with the broadcast of the Dempsey-Carpentier fight. 1921 also saw Charles Francis Jenkins patented a system for transmitting pictures wirelessly. In 1926 Philo Farnsworth developed a camera tube with a photoelectric plate upon which light from a scene was converted into electricity. In 1927 American Telegraph and Telephone, Western Electric, and Bell Labs gave a public demonstration of a TV system—a programme was transmitted by land line wires from Whippany, New Jersey to New York City. In 1929 General Electric’s John Logie Baird made improvements in mechanical scanning systems at the company’s headquarters in Schenectady, New York. 1929 also saw Manfred von Ardenne demonstrate a 60 line electronically scanned image and Philo Farnsworth of Philco build an all-electric scanning and synchronizing pulse generator. Linking this to an “image dissector” Farmsworth had constructed had the first all electric TV system in the world. 1929 also saw Vladimir Zworkin successfully test an electric receiver with no moving parts. This made television as we know it today possible. In 1932 Zworkin developed a electronic iconoscope camera with 240 lines of resolution at RCA. In 1936 a mechanical system running at 440 rotations per minute using CRTs was introduced in Germany.

Developments in television technology didn’t end with the late 1930s though World War Two put a crick in televisions development. The mid 1950s saw RCA develop a colour TV using three colour sensitive pick up tubes—red, green, and cyan. 1953 saw the National Television Standards Committee (NTSC) adopt colour TV standards for the United States. In 1956 the National Broadcasting Network (NBC) which was owned by RCA introduced a full colour schedule. 1964 saw Philips develop a colour TV tube that produced a high quality colour picture. Between 1969 and 1990 Japan’s state network, NHK, developed wide-screen high definition TV (HDTV) to match the 16 x 9 aspect ratio of widescreen film.

Technological change wasn’t solely the province of transmitters and receivers. There were also developments in recording. The ability to record TV programmes allowed TV networks and TV stations to solve some of their problems associated with the hard fact of multiple time zones particularly in larger nation-states like the United States. The first major breakthrough in recording technology occurred in Rochester, New York when Eastman-Kodak Company working in concert with the ABC, NBC, and DuMont networks developed a motion picture camera in the early 1950s that recorded what was being transmitted, kinescope. Kinescope was a technique which photographed an image from a television. Interestingly, the same technology was developed in Britain around the same time. Other developments in recording technologies soon followed. In 1951 John Mullin of Bing Crosby Enterprises altered an Ampex audio recorder and demonstrated that video signals could be recorded on magnetic tape. By 1952 CBS’s megahit I Love Lucy was being filmed rather than kinescoped. In 1956 Ampex developed a transverse recorder using magnetic tape whose recording quality was superior to that of kinescope and which allowed the instantaneous playback of recorded picture and audio. Television stations now had an alternative to broadcasting from network feeds. They could now record programmes and broadcast them later. In 1959 Toshiba introduced a helical recorder. In 1961 Ampex introduced EDITEC, the first electronic videotape assembly device which made editing as easy as pushing a button. In 1962 Mach-Tronics introduced a one inch helical recorder. In 1966 Westel developed a one inch portable television camera with a video recorder. In 1967 Ampex introduced a battery operated portable video recorder. All of these would transform how television did news.

Technological developments between the 1960s and 1970s were largely consistent with the technologies that had been developed by the 1950s. Throughout the analog era bigger and better CRT TV’s, turntables or record players, and tape players were produced virtually year in and year out. Four, eight, and then 24 track tape players were introduced. The 8-track cartridge and then cassette deck players were introduced in the 1960s through 1970s. In the 1960s FM radio finally became viable and then prominent and then commercialised.

Technological developments, of course, continue to impact TV. The 1960s saw the development of videotape. The 1970s saw the development of home video machines. The 1980s saw the development of home computers and portable audio and video equipment. The 1990s saw the development of the internet and the World Wide Web. The 2000s saw the development of digital cameras, Digital Versitle Discs (DVDs’), TiVo, MySpace, and You Tube. Today one can watch TV programmes on DVD and on the WWW. All of these developments have and will change TV as we know it today. And all of these developments have brought controversy. New technologies have enabled users to “upload”, music and TV programmes to websites and for others to “download them for “free”. The producers of music and TV programmes, of course, are not happy with this situation and want payment for use of their copyrighted material.

There were globally variations in another technology associated with television, broadcast signals. In the United States the National Television Standards Committee (NTSC) brokered an agreement among the various interested parties, the major networks in other words, and established a set of national standards for broadcasting signals in the US in 1941. The NTSC set the line standard at 525 and gave its name to this signal standard. Initially Britain adopted the NTSC standard. In 1960 they dropped the NTSC standard and adopted the 625 black and white German PAL (Phase Alternate Line) standard for its second BBC channel. PAL would soon become the standard for all British TV and for most signals throughout Europe. Only France and the USSR would opt out of PAL adopting the SECAM 819 line standard (SECAM)—the highest possible signal line standard at the time. Canada, Japan, and South America adopted the NTSC 525 line standard. Cuba adopted the 819 line standard. In 1979 Japan’s public NHK network would broadcast the first High Definition television signals of 1125 lines. Broadcasters worldwide have moved slowly into HDTV thus far. The adoption of digital signals for over the air broadcasts globally allows for a picture quality and sound quality heretofore unseen anywhere in the world even if you don’t watch it on a HDTV.

For the geography of signal line standards see /wiki/Image:NTSC-PAL-SECAM.svg

Terrestrial television signals worldwide are broadcast on the VHF (Very High Frequency) and UHF (Ultra High Frequency) electromagnetic spectrums. VHF and UHF signals were, like programming, kept within national boarders. In the US, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand TV broadcasting began on VHF. This despite the inherent quality limits of VHF. There were only 12 potential spaces available on the VHF spectrum. Usually there was space for only three TV stations on VHF given the necessity of providing spaces between stations due to possible signal interference. In the United States NBC and CBS, of course, were able to acquire prime VHF territory leaving ABC and DuMont to fight it out for what was left.

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