A Brief History of Classic Television: From Lucy Ricardo to Tony Soprano

Robert Thompson – Syracuse University

With Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, Apple TV+, and the rest, it is impossible for anyone to keep up with all the TV—even just the good TV—that is now being released on an almost daily basis.  Once upon a time, however, practically everyone was watching the same shows at the same time.  The characters, catch phrases, theme songs, and stories provided a common culture that we all shared and that both reflected and distorted our image of the national soul.

With some quick analyses of five TV shows — from the 1940s (when TV was still being broadcast live from New York) to the 1990s (when cable was providing a higher quality of programming to a lower quantity of viewers) — we’ll examine the evolution of what was once truly a mass medium in the days before streaming.