These Famous Firsts In TV History Helped Shape The Industry

The creation of the television was the combination of a number of individuals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, the development of the TV was somewhat stalled during the Second World War, with all-electronic methods of scanning and displaying the images becoming the norm afterward. Nevertheless, as the technology of the television increased over the years, TV and audiences experienced many of their firsts that shaped the history of television as we know it. Take a look to see what they were and when they occurred.

The First Television Drama Was In 1930

Man watching TV
The Print Collector via Getty Images
The Print Collector via Getty Images

Although drama is one of the most popular genres in television today, it didn’t used to always be that way. The first television drama was actually an adaptation of a play.

The Man With the Flower in His Mouth was originally written by Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello in 1922 but was then used by the British Broadcasting Corporation as an experiment. With just three characters and a short run time of a half-hour, the show proved to be a success and marked the beginning of scripted television.

First Television Commercial

Man standing next to sign
ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images
ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images

On July 1, 1941, the first day that advertising was allowed on television, the watch company Bulova became the first organization to air a commercial for their watches. The commercial aired during a Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies game.

It cost between what was $4 and $9 back then and said the phrase “Bulova.” This marked the beginning of the advertising phase of television, which has only increased exponentially as time has passed with no signs of slowing down.

The First Original Musical

Couple watching TV
QUINIO/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
QUINIO/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

When television was first becoming popular, networks were experimenting with a variety of genres to see which were the best, with one of the most prominent being musicals.

“The Boys from Boise” is believed to be one of the earliest examples, airing on September 28, 1944, on the New York DuMont station. The musical was considered to be ambitious with a cast of 20 and a budget of $10,000, and in recent decades, televised musicals have been making a comeback.

First Interracial Kiss

Kirk and Uhura
Paramount Domestic Television
Paramount Domestic Television

In 1968, Lt. Uhura and Captain Kirk shared the first televised interracial kiss on Star Trek. While this was far from the first sexual encounter that Captain Kirk had experienced on the show, it was the first kiss between characters of two different races.

Of course, because it was the 1960s, certain television networks in the South refused to air the episode. Nevertheless, this opened the flood gates for more interracial relationships and encounters on television.

The First Exposed Belly Button

Picture of Cher
Harry Langdon/Getty Images
Harry Langdon/Getty Images

There’s no doubt that Cher has broken quite a few records throughout her long and successful career. Yet, something surprising that she did first was wearing a revealing outfit on television that showed her belly button, becoming the first major performer on television to do so in 1971.

Prior to this, network executives forbid Barbara Eden from showing her navel on I Dream of Jeannie, and Dawn Wells and Tina Louise were required to wear shorts to cover theirs on Gilligan’s Island.

First Show With A Warning Label

Cast of the show
ABC
ABC

While Norman Lear’s shows are often wrapped in controversy, one particular show stands out, with each episode having a warning before the show, making it the first of its kind. Hot L Baltimore is an American sitcom, adapted from an off-Broadway play of the same name by Lanford Wilson.

The half-hour season series premiered on January 24, 1975, and dealt with complicated characters. This made the program particularly controversial for its time, forcing ABC to have a warning to caution viewers about the show’s mature themes.

The First Tiolet Shown

Boy working on toilet
CBS
CBS

In the 1950s, few TV executives were willing to take any chances. On top of themes such as births, deaths, and sexuality being taboo, incredibly, so were bathrooms. The first toilet to ever appear on screen in a television show happened on Leave it to Beaver in 1957, in which the boys buy a pet alligator and hide it in the toilet tank.

Initially, the network wouldn’t allow the scene to be shown although the producers insisted because it was integral to the plot. So, they agreed to just show the toilet’s tank.

First Cartoon

Picture of Crusader Rabbit
Metromedia Producers
Metromedia Producers

Although animated feature films were not unusual to be shown on television in the late 1930s and 40s, it wouldn’t be until 1950 that the first fully-animated show would air on television. This show was Crusader Rabbit which premiered on WNBC on August 1, 1950.

The show featured the character Crusader Rabbit and his sidekick Ragland T. Tiger and were four-minute-long satirical cliffhangers. One of the show’s creators, Jay Ward, would later go on to also create The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.

The First Color TV Broadcast

Children watching TV
Express/Getty Images
Express/Getty Images

By the 1960s, color television was the norm, yet some broadcast companies were experimenting with color almost an entire decade before. On Monday, June 25, 1951, CBS aired a program called Premiere, which was aired in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington.

It was also the first commercial color broadcast, with the variety show promising its viewers that color television was going to be the future, showing Faye Emerson and Ed Sullivan as presenters.

The First Talk Show

Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

The first televised talk show was hosted in 1951 by Joe Franklin, a well-known radio broadcaster. During his time on the radio, “The Joe Franklin Show” had one of the longest uninterrupted runs, beginning as a day-time talk show before graduating to a late-night show.

Eventually, Franklin became somewhat of an icon in the television world, being satirized by Billy Crystal on Saturday Night Live and even making an appearance as himself in films such as Ghostbusters. Thanks to him, we have many of the iconic talk shows we know today.

The First Live Sports Broadcast

Man next to a camera
AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images

The 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin was notable for a number of reasons, with one of them being the first Olympic Games to be broadcast on television, as well as the first live televised sporting event in the world.

More than 70 hours of the games were captured and shown in special rooms throughout Berlin. Just three years later, the United States would have its first local televised sporting event which was a college baseball game between the Columbia Lions and the Princeton Tigers.

The First Laugh Track

Title card for show
NBC
NBC

While laugh tracks might be an essential part of many sitcoms today, they got their start in radio. Referenced as “canned laughter,” this technique was used to recreate the environment of a comedy show, and supposedly started from Bing Crosby’s radio show in order to “save the laughs.”

For television, this was used for shows that were filmed from different angles with one camera and the laughing would differ each take. The Hank McCune Show was the first program to utilize a laugh track.

The First Pregnancy And Birth Storyline

Lucy with a baby
CBS
CBS

When I Love Lucy Star Lucille Ball became pregnant in real life, the studio made the decision to write her pregnancy in as part of her character’s story. Of all of the Americans that owned televisions, it’s estimated that 72% of them tuned in to watch the episode in which “Little Ricky” is born.

This had a major impact on ratings, with more viewers than President Dwight Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. However, there still were some restrictions, as the word “pregnancy” was still too much for television so they had to say “expecting.”

First Major TV Character Death

Jean Hagen and Danny Thomas
Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

While the death of television characters is the norm today, that wasn’t necessarily the case in the early days of television. Many believe that the first true major character death in television happened on The Danny Thomas Show, which was in the process of being rebranded from Make Room For Daddy.

During this transition, actress Jean Hagen left the show due to her dislike of her character’s direction. Because writing that she had a divorce would be too much, the writers killed off the character instead.

The First Presidential Debate

Presidential debate
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Although televised presidential debates are some of the biggest events during modern presidential elections, they weren’t the norm until the 1960 election between Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon. The debate helped people decide on their candidate easier since seeing them on the TV was more personal.

Some recall remembering Kennedy looking particularly handsome and confident, whereas Nixon appeared nervous and sweaty. Conversely, many people that only listened to the debate on the radio claimed that Nixon won the debate.

The First Super Bowl

Filming the Super Bowl
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

The game wasn’t referred to as the “Super Bowl,” but rather the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. In 1967, American football fans were thrilled to finally be able to watch the big game on television. The game featured the Kansas City Chiefs representing the AFL and the Green Bay Packers from the NFL.

The program was aired simultaneously on CBS, which had NFL broadcast rights and NBC, which had the AFL broadcast rights. Little did anyone know how big this yearly broadcast would become.

The First Marriage Bed

Mary Kay and Johnny
DuMont
DuMont

While today, a lot of television programs are pushing the boundaries in regards to what they can show. At one point in time, couples weren’t even allowed to be seen sharing the same bed on TV.

In 1947, the show Mary Kay and Johnny became the first sitcom of its kind to have a married couple share a bed on the small screen. Incredibly, it would still take until the 1960s for this concept to be normalized on television.

First Evening News Show

Man looking at screens
REPORTERS ASSOCIES/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
REPORTERS ASSOCIES/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

By many, The Walter Compton News is considered to be the first evening news show, first broadcast on the DuMont Television Network in 1947. The 15-minute newscast was filmed in Washington DC with minimal production and featured movie publicist Walter Compton whose news was occasionally accompanied by a slide.

The program only aired for a mere six months before it was canceled. On top of that, none of the recorded episodes have been known to survive.

First Reality Television Show

Contestants on Queen for a Day
NBC
NBC

Although reality television is a staple in today’s society, it had to start somewhere, and that program was Queen for a Day. Beginning as a radio program, and airing on television in 1956, Queen for a Day was hosted by Jack Bailey, who would ask individual women about their past, financial struggles, and relationships in order to gain sympathy from the audience.

The winner, who would be chosen by applause from the audience, would then be seated on a throne and awarded gifts.

The First Black Television Star

Cosby wearing an I Spy hat
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The secret agent show I Spy was most notable for being the first American television drama to feature a black actor in a leading role. Bill Cosby played Alexander Scott in I Spy, opposite to the white actor Robert Culp as Kelly Robinson.

Incredibly, even though the show aired in 1965, Cosby’s race was rarely mentioned in the show which has been described as making a “non-statement statement.” In the end, the show turned out to be successful because of the on-screen chemistry between Culp and Cosby.