This will be my last trip back in time, television wise, for 2021. Hey, this gimmick got me all the way until August. I can’t complain. Television in the ‘50s was just too limited to bother going back to 1956. As such, I’m ending this journey in 1961. So what was going on 60 years ago? Don’t touch that dial and you’ll find out!
This is kind of a weirdly fitting year to end, because in 1961 the chairman of the FCC Newton Minnow (what a name) called television a “vast wasteland.” I, obviously, don’t believe that to be true. Television rules. It’s brought me so much joy and entertainment. I’ve also learned a ton from watching television. TV may be my favorite thing. I don’t know what I would do with my life if I didn’t have TV. Probably watch more movies and read more books, probably.
One true classic sitcom debuted in 1961, and that’s The Dick Van Dyke Show. It’s never been my favorite. I watched it as a kid and thought it was fine, save for the episode where Rob has a nightmare. Revisiting the show in adulthood it lacks a little punch I feel. The Dick Van Dyke Show is a bit too hammy. On the other hand, Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore! What a combo.
There are a couple of sillier sitcoms that were introduced this year as well, Car 54, Where Are You? and Mister Ed. As a child, I also watched Mister Ed. Oh, the days when a sitcom could be about a talking horse and last for five years. The thing is, both Dick Van Dyke and Mister Ed ended in 1966, which is the year I wrote about last week, so I already touched on all that. Car 54 did not last as long. I’ve only seen a smidge of it.
The first version of Password debuted in 1961. I like Password, even though I don’t like Allen Ludden as a game show host, but the ‘60s version is not particularly good. It didn’t get good until the ‘70s.
In terms of shows coming to an end, Peter Gunn is the one that is notable to me. Sure, Huckleberry Hound’s show ended, but it’s not like he didn’t stick around. Many of those Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters did. Peter Gunn basically popularized the private eye TV show, though there were plenty of movies that proceeded it. Gunn was supposed to be cool and suave, and perhaps for 1958 he was. He did listen to jazz, after all. The theme song became pretty iconic, but it definitely has the production values of early television when you watch it now.
Peter Gunn is a good show to end on, because it’s a reminder of just how much television has changed in the last 60 years. Most shows were in black-and-white, other than cartoons. The Andy Griffith Show had only been on for one year! There was good television, obviously. We were getting new stars. Like I said, Mary Tyler Moore! She would eventually become one of the icons of television. In 1961, she was a new face. Comparatively, TV was not vast in 1961 by 2021 standards. It also definitely was not a wasteland.