HomeNetwork TV Series in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s

HomeNetwork TV Series in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s

Network TV Series in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s

Les séries télévisées des « networks » américains dans les années 1950, 1960 et 1970

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Published on Thursday, January 04, 2018


À partir de 1948 avec le lancement aux États-Unis de la télévision commerciale, les trois grands « networks » (CBS, NBC et ABC) ne cessent de se concurrencer en créant des programmes et des séries des plus innovants. C’est pendant les trois premières décennies de cette « guerre » d’audimat et d’originalité que sont nés tous les modèles et formats importants du récit télévisuel qui ont perduré et évolué vers les programmes d’aujourd’hui, aussi bien pour les comédies que pour les séries dramatiques. Pour cette journée d’étude, nous invitons les participants à porter un regard nouveau sur les « vieilles séries », afin de mieux comprendre leur importance et leur impact avec le recul de plusieurs générations.


One-day conference, May 7th 2018, Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, RIRRA 21, With the support of GUEST-Normandie


With the launch of commercial television in the US in 1948, the three leading networks (CBS, NBC and ABC) would battle for the top spots in the ratings by constantly trying to outdo each other in terms of popular and innovative programming. Over the next three decades, the original templates for all of the series formats that are popular today—be they comedy or drama—were established and developed.

If comedy was the first king of network TV, dominating the top ranks in the Nielson ratings throughout the three early decades, these top-rated comedies would constantly evolve. The 1950s was dominated by politically incorrect and vaudeville-inspired early sitcoms, most of which grew out of popular New York radio programs [e.g., I Love Lucy (1951-57), The Honeymooners (1955-56), The Phil Silvers Show (1955-59)]. Then came the more escapist fare of the 1960s, which moved (along with expanding TV access itself) from urban settings of the fifties to idyllic but whitewashed suburbs [e.g., Father Knows Best (1954-60), Leave It to Beaver (1957-63)] and then to the unsophisticated but ‘wholesome’ American heartland [The Andy Griffith Show (1960-68), Gomer Pyle USMC (1964-69), etc.]. The 1970s, however, brought a renewed focus on urban audiences, notably through the ‘relevancy programming’ spearheaded by CBS, who, along with its hard-hitting war satire M*A*S*H (1972-83), would weave a web of politically incorrect sitcoms and their spin-offs, all dealing with the most sensitive social topics of the time. These included the feminist series produced by Mary Tyler Moore [The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77), Rhoda (1973-78), Phyllis (1975-77)] and Norman Lear’s many groundbreaking ‘serious comedies’ [All in the Family (1970-79), The Jeffersons (1975-85), One Day at a Time (1975-84) and so many others]—before top comedy programming again grew more nostalgic and consensual with the likes of Happy Days (1974-84) and its own spin-offs.

Though rarely taking the top-spots in the ratings, the Networks also proposed an ever-varying array of drama series that similarly developed the narrative and visual norms for modern serial television. If the most popular dramas of the 1950s were westerns (taking five of the top eight spots in 1957, for example), these would slowly be supplanted by the likes of the carefully structured crime drama [e.g., Dragnet (1951-59)] and its offspring the courtroom drama [e.g., Perry Mason (1957-66) and the medical drama [e.g., Marcus Welby, MD (1969-76)]. Similarly, new dramatic sub-genres would be explored and perfected, such as the fantasy drama, either in its weekly anthology format [e.g., The Twilight Zone (1959-64)] or in serial format for either fantasy [e.g. Wild Wild West (1965-69)] or sci-fi [e.g. Star Trek (1966-69)], or even later hybrids like the paranormal investigation series [Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-75)]. In drama as in comedy, the drive to outdo the other networks would result in a vast array of effective and innovative formats that would stand the test of time.

Today, the impact and relevance of these pioneer programs is too often forgotten when analyzing the more sophisticated contemporary series proposed by premium or basic cable channels and, yes, even these same networks. This Network conference is thus an invitation for scholars to take a ‘new’ look at these ‘old’ programs, so that their importance and impact might be analyzed from today’s vantage point. Papers may deal with any relevant aspect of these early network series (Links with other medias (Radio, literature, cinema), innovative narrative format, aesthetics, social criticism and representation of minorities, target audiences, connections to today’s series, corporate interests behind the scenes, etc.).

Submission guidelines

Please send a proposal for a 30-minute paper and a short biographical blurb to Claire Cornillon (Claire.cornillon@unimes.fr) and Dennis Tredy (dennis.tredy@wanadoo.fr) by

February 12 2018.

This one-day conference is the first event of a series of conferences on American network TV series. networktv.hypotheses.org

Scientific committee

  • Claire Cornillon,
  • Sarah Hatchuel,
  • Guillaume Soulez,
  • Dennis Tredy,
  • Shannon Wells-Lassagne


  • Montpellier, France (34)


  • Monday, February 12, 2018


  • séries télévisées, USA, networks, années 1950, années 1960, années 1970


  • Claire Cornillon
    courriel : claire [dot] cornillon [at] unimes [dot] fr

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Claire Cornillon
    courriel : claire [dot] cornillon [at] unimes [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Network TV Series in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Thursday, January 04, 2018, https://doi.org/10.58079/z79

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