Artifacts Galleries

At the heart of our mission is the Comisar Collection of over 5,000 original television artifacts, which will be exhibited at the Museum of Television. We present a small selection to help you visualize the variety of colorful and cultural objects in our care.

The 1950s

Television became available nationwide in the early 1950s and during these formative years it addressed family issues in this era of economic prosperity and political paranoia.  Americans believed in the integrity of government and left them the task of hunting “pinkos” and “commies.” Countless Americans moved to the suburbs and “planned communities” which were built immediately after the war. By the beginning of the decade, suburban life complete with house, trimmed lawn, bread-winning father, homemaker mother and family of three was the American ideal. In due time, however, the Cold War was to loom, and the country was on the brink of a new era.

 

Family-based comedies like Ozzie and Harriet,

The Honeymooners, and I Love Lucy found humor in what we accepted as the typical family dynamic: father came home from work, greeted his stay-at-home wife and discussed the daily crises. Shows such as Lassie presented small-town family life in the form of a children’s adventure series starring the brave and loyal collie. One of the very first sitcoms, The Burns and Allen Show, featured George in the dual role of on-screen narrator and straight man to Gracie’s scatter-brained antics.

 

Burns and Allen were headliners in vaudeville in the 1920s, on radio in the 1930s and 1940s and ruled evening television once a week during the 1950s.  While George and Gracie brought there brand of vaudeville to primetime TV, other programs with a similar theatrical feel popped up in the 1950s; and Saturday nights brought Imogene Coca, Sid Caesar & Carl Reiner into our living rooms in Your Show of Shows. Variety shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show showcased the talents of promising performer, comedians and musicians; and all subsequent sketch-comedy, variety and talk shows grew out of this brave and innovative programming.

 

 

In the mid-1950s, television production moved from the small, indoor studios of New York to the wide expanse of Hollywood with its advanced production technology and glorious weather, and outdoor action-packed shows thrived. The genre of choice became the Western as America was infatuated with its wild individualistic past and the myth that in America good always triumphs over evil. This sentiment was clearly reflected in the early action shows such as Gunsmoke and The Lone Ranger. As TV moved into the next decade, the airwaves were still jam-packed with the Western action series, and the Cartwrights and Daniel Boone were always fighting on the side of justice, while Bret Maverick and James West lived by there own morality.

The 1960s

Throughout the late 1950s and well into the 1960s, the mood of the cold war and a sense of intrigue hung over America, seeping into the cultural and TV landscape. Superheroes like Superman were concerned with “truth, justice & the American way,” and they were there to protect us…but from whom? While current events were featured in news programming, the serious, adventurous side of spy culture was explored on show like Mission: Impossible. Programs such as Get Smart and Batman offered comic relief, while I Spy featured the first African-American actor, Bill Cosby, to be given a starring role in a TV series.

 

By the beginning of the 1960’s, the first baby boomers were reaching their teen years, and the decade was underscored by political and cultural expressiveness, restlessness, and change. Ironically TV programming from that time is best remembered for fluffy, fantasy situation comedies like Mister Ed and The Beverly Hillbillies. Shows such as I Dream of Jeannie, in which a master keeps the powerful leading female character in a bottle, raised the ire of the growing feminist movement. And in the midst of the race riots, The Munsters and The Addams Family gave viewers a safe glimpse at how challenging life can be when one’s family acts or looks “different.”

 

The public’s growing fascination with space and technology was clearly reflected in early 1950s shows like Captain Video and his Video Rangers and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.  In the 1960s, Star Trek became a metaphor for America’s dealings during the Cold War with the Federation and the Enterprise became a stand-in for America and the forces of good. Its enemies –like America’s perceived enemies at the time – were surrogates for communism and the growing threat of Soviet influence. The show boldly went where no man had gone before, including the airing of the first inter-racial screen kiss between Caucasian Captain Kirk and African-American Uhura, which was so controversial some sponsors and stations would only air the episode sans kiss. Later, in the 1970s and 1980s, Mork and Mindy brought an alien (actor Robin Williams) to Colorado, to live as a human, with nightly reports back to his planet.

The 1970s

The crime fighting programs became more intense and explosive as inner-city issues came to the forefront of American life in the 1970s. Whether in Honolulu, San Francisco, New York or Los Angeles, TV criminals weren’t safe from the police detectives, Zen wanderers, or female action heroes who patrolled TV land during this decade of political unrest and confusion. The Mod Squad’s trio of young crime fighters – one white, one black and one blonde – summed up the diversity and consciousness of the era. As in the 1960s, serious concerns about illegal drugs, murder, and corruption were met head on by TV writers in the 1970s, which featured strong woman characters such as Charlie’s Angeles and Wonder Woman.

The 1980s

In the 1980s and into the 1990s, Thomas Magnum and Michael Knight found themselves embroiled in preposterous situations that involved fast action, quirky criminals and beautiful women. The camaraderie of the four slightly crazed Vietnam vets of The A-Team and the good ole’ boy cousins of The Dukes of Hazzard gave TV viewers some of their favorite car crashes and fiery explosions; and like Bret Maverick and James West before them, with justice in mind, they often operated just outside the scope of the law. In the midst of the slick, improbable world of these crime fighters came a cop show that would forever change the look of television dramas, Hill Street Blues, with its steady stream of sleazy drug dealers, prostitutes and thieves, attempted to convey the real-life experience of a ghetto police precinct. Set in a non-specific, gritty, urban reality, this could have been Any City, U.S.A. With its innovative, on-going storylines, crimes were not solved in 48 minutes of show time. In fact, reflecting true life, some crimes were not solved at all, and justice was not always served. Like Hill Street Blues, LA Law was written by well-educated young writers for their peer audience, establishing a higher mark for television. Following in their path were shows like Moonlighting, Twin Peaks and The X-Files, quirky in their respective concept and design and serial in their structure.

The 1990s

As the century came to a close, America was more prosperous, more permissive and more populated than ever before. On television, dysfunction ran the economic gamut from the wealthy family on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and the middle class clan of The Simpsons, to the lower middle class families on Roseanne and Married…with Children.  The decade’s longest running and highest rated shows were Seinfeld and Friends, and as the characters examined the minutiae of their lives they touched a chord with the viewing public. As insignificant or preposterous as the issues seemed, they often truthfully reflected moments of modern life. Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place, nighttime soaps for the college crowd, dealt with the sobering side of being single. Serious issues that confronted the younger audiences, such as drug addition, HIV-AIDS, sexual freedom, and suicide were dealt with more openly than ever before. Though the characters were the children of privilege, their concerns were the same as young people across America that had grown up in the post sixties environment of excess and shattered morals. The television taboo about sex was blown out of the water during this decade. Whether it was Baywatch, which will always be remembered for its well endowed, scantily clad characters or Sex and the City, with its obsession clearly reflected in its title, sex came out of the bedroom and was paraded across TV screens.

The 2000s

Reality TV takes our longing for the authentic to the next level. With shows like Survivor, American Idol, Dancing with The Stars, and Fear Factor we vicariously experience the trill of mastering extreme circumstances or challenges. These programs offer the ultimate in audience identity. Real people just like us volunteering to test their mettle in insane situations, motivated by the surefire motivators of our time, fame and money. Shows offering equally menacing and difficult mental challenges such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and The Weakest Link shot rapid-fire questions – not projectiles – at us, and dared us not to blink. Candid Camera was the good-natured show that slaked our hunger for voyeurism starting 1948. More recently, The Osbournes, Big Brother, Jersey Shore, and Keeping up with The Kardasians kicked it up to the extreme with 24/7 access to those living in homes wired with cameras or otherwise tracked by video crews who broadcast their every movement. A brave cable network boasted, "It's not TV, its HBO" and featured programming thought to be too intense for network television and the general public. However, their shows like Six Feet Under and The Sopranos and cabler Showtime’s Dexter and Weeds continue to redefine expectations for authentic television storytelling and garner as many or more accolades than their traditional network

counterparts.

 

We are at the close of television’s first long era. We've come a long way from Lucy being "expecting" – not pregnant – as the word was not used in polite 1950s company, network censors making certain Jeannie’s belly button was never revealed, or the Brady's bathroom being outfitted with everything but a toilet as not to offend the perceived delicate sensibilities of viewers.   Television has wrapped its first half-century, and what was a bright, new medium only 50 years ago has grown into one of the strongest, most powerful influences in the world.

TV is now on the brink of a new phase, being forced to share its dominion with the next innovative technologies, and with the expansion of cable, DVRs, On Demand, SmartPhones and tablets, one thing is for certain: the next fifty years will look nothing like the first. The days of us sitting in front of the same television programs at the same time as our neighbors are over, and the incredible power of this medium will continue to change. How will this ultimately affect the character of television programming or our shared popular culture?  Stay tuned.