The Evolution of TV: cultural shifts provide new perspectives throughout the years


Family watching television, c. 1958, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As humanity progresses, our taste in entertainment changes alongside us, and nothing is a clearer example of this than the evolution of television.

   The wide-spread use of television did not occur until after World War II in the 1950s. Black and white programs took off into popularity and seemingly every American home had a TV installed and used cable. The 50s were full of comedic dramas meant to entertain the viewers. Shows such as “I Love Lucy” and “The Twilight Zone” dominated television for years and multiple seasons. However, as time went on and the American culture changed, so did the media that we experienced. 

Family watching television, c. 1958, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

   Really, the 50s were very idealistic. America was coming out of a war and wanted to settle down with lively and entertaining programs to remind them of the “pure American lifestyle.” The shows of that time reflected that dream with many of them following the same formula of a  dreamy, romantic girl falling in love with a stolid, stubborn man and making him a better person. Throw in some light choreography and singing and you have a standard mid-20th-century film. While this formula would prove to be successful in the coming years, television viewers would soon grow tired of it and crave for something new. The hype for family sitcoms was coming to an end and a new era of the anti-hero was taking place.

   While the 20th century thrived on light comedies and sitcoms, the new generation was not going to settle for them. Family shows like “Father Knows Best” no longer seemed like fun, family sitcoms. Instead, they seemed like old propaganda telling families how they should behave and act in society. The late 90s and early 2000s started breaking the mold by having shows like “Friends” and “The Office” portray imperfect characters with questionable morals going about their day-to-day life. The shows resonated with people because they showed flawed humans instead of idealistic characters.

   Even now, modern shows like “The Good Place” and “On My Block” purposely follow not-so-great people and explore their actions and reasoning. Viewers may not agree with what they do, but they can certainly understand and resonate with why they do it. Their three-dimensional personalities help them to relate to modern audiences everywhere.

   Alongside having fleshed-out characters with interesting motivations, modern television is far more adept at handling diversity and equality. In a famous episode of “I Love Lucy,” the character of Ricky Ricardo mispronounces English words with his thick Spanish accent. The bit is played for laughs and he is shown as unintelligent. This is something that simply would not happen in modern television. Media has become far more aware and culturally sensitive nowadays than it used to be. Diverse shows are raved about because they include a multitude of characters and pander to a larger audience. Even equality has significantly changed. The gentle housewife of the 50s is outdated, modern television women are headstrong and have their own larger-than-life personalities that make them far more interesting than their predecessors.

   While television shows are just as popular as they were since the medium of television became official, the type of content we prefer nowadays is far from what TV was originally made for. Still, relatability plays a huge part in the modern television audience, and the old molds will not cut it anymore.