COMMENTARY: Changes in TV that led to Changes in Television Broadcast History

Jun 12, 2023 at 11:17 pm by WGNS News

Between 1939 and 1948, there were changes that took place on TV that changed television broadcast history. With an interesting commentary on those changes that had an impact on today’s flat screens, here’s MTSU Professor of Journalism, Dr. Larry Burriss…


Commentary - Verbatim (of above audio): This week marks the anniversary of two little-remembered events in television history: First, in 1939, was the initial broadcast of a musical program on N-B-C, "The Pirates of Penzance." Then, nine years later, in 1948, was the first televised appearance of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, both of whom appeared on Ed Sullivan's "Talk of the Town."

Now "The Pirates of Penzance" is hardly high opera, but what is interesting is the change that occurred between 1939 and 1948, not only in programming, but also in the audience.

In 1939, television sets were a scarce commodity. Only a few were in existence, and those were owned by what we might call the "upper crust" of society. And that audience wanted what might with equal accuracy be called "upper crust" programming.

By 1948, television was in full-swing, and the medium had become popularized. Everyone was buying television sets, and someone had to pay for all of the programming. And that someone was advertisers.

Advertising, of course, is based on a fairly simple principle: pitch your product to the group that has the most money. In America, the largest group with the most money is the middle class. True, any one rich person has more money than any one middle class person, but all-in-all, the middle class has more total money. Thus, if you are an advertiser, that's the group you want to target.

And generally, audiences prefer Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis to the "Pirates of Penzance." True, individual members of the audience may like opera, but generally, most members don't.

And since most of the audience preferred Ed Sullivan, that's where the advertisers went. And with the advertisers is going to come more programming that audience wants. The next time you are decrying the lack of high culture on television, don't blame the producers, or even the advertisers. Generally speaking, both programmers and advertisers give the audience what it wants.

If a majority of the audience wants bread and circuses, that what it's going to get. And in a lot of ways, that's too bad. - I'm Larry Burriss.”

About Dr. Burriss - Larry Burriss, professor of journalism, teaches introductory and media law courses. At the graduate level he teaches quantitative research methods and media law. He holds degrees from The Ohio State University (B.A. in broadcast journalism, M.A. in journalism), the University of Oklahoma (M.A. in human relations), Ohio University (Ph.D. in journalism) and Concord Law School (J.D.). He has worked in print and broadcast news and public relations, and has published extensively in both academic and popular publications. He has won first place in the Tennessee Associated Press Radio Contest nine times. Dr. Burriss' publications and presentations include studies of presidential press conferences, NASA photography, radio news, legal issues related to adolescent use of social networking sites, legal research, and Middle Earth.

Dr. Burriss has served as director of the School of Journalism, dean of the College of Mass Communication and president of the MTSU Faculty Senate. He was appointed by Gov. Phil Bredesen to serve on the Tennessee Board of Regents. He was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force and served on active duty in Mali, Somalia, Bosnia, Central America, Europe and the Pentagon.

Sections: News