1950s TV Shows: What Did People Watch?


1950s TV was led by sitcoms and game shows. Obviously specials were still a big deal and color TV was starting to gain some traction.


I Love Lucy enjoyed a magical three year run at the top of the ratings. Game shows like $64,000 Question and The Price is Right were very popular too.

But in the late 50s, westerns completely took over. In 1958, eight of the top ten TV shows were westerns.

Obviously many people were beginning to make the switch from radio to TV for their news. TV specials were very important to spreading the message back then and they attracted huge audiences.

Let’s have a year-by-year breakdown on the most popular 1950s-era television shows.

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Top 10 1950s TV Shows

What were the most popular TV shows in the 1950s?

The most-watched television shows, from 1950 to 1959, were:

  • Texaco Star Theatre (1950)
  • Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts (1951)
  • I Love Lucy (1952)
  • I Love Lucy (1953)
  • I Love Lucy (1954)
  • The $64,000 Question (1955)
  • I Love Lucy (1956)
  • Gunsmoke (1957)
  • Gunsmoke (1958)
  • Gunsmoke (1959)

TV Shows in 1950

What were the most popular TV shows in 1950?

The Top Ten TV Shows in 1950 were:

  1. Texaco Star Theatre (NBC)
  2. Fireside Theatre (NBC)
  3. Philco TV Playhouse (NBC)
  4. Your Show of Shows (NBC)
  5. The Colgate Comedy Hour (NBC)
  6. Gillette Cavalcade of Sports (NBC)
  7. The Lone Ranger (ABC)
  8. Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts (CBS)
  9. Hopalong Cassidy (NBC)
  10. Mama (CBS)

TV Shows in 1951

What were the most popular TV shows in 1951?

The Top Ten TV Shows in 1951 were:

  1. Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts (CBS)
  2. Texaco Star Theater (NBC)
  3. I Love Lucy (CBS)
  4. The Red Skelton Show (NBC)
  5. The Colgate Comedy Hour (NBC)
  6. Arthur Godfrey and His Friends (CBS)
  7. Fireside Theatre (NBC)
  8. Your Show of Shows (NBC)
  9. The Jack Benny Show (CBS)
  10. You Bet Your Life (NBC)

TV Shows in 1952

What were the most popular TV shows in 1952?

The Top Ten TV Shows in 1952 were:

  1. I Love Lucy (CBS)
  2. Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts (CBS)
  3. Arthur Godfrey and His Friends (CBS)
  4. Dragnet (NBC)
  5. Texaco Star Theater (NBC)
  6. The Buick Circus Hour (NBC)
  7. The Colgate Comedy Hour (NBC)
  8. Gangbusters (NBC)
  9. You Bet Your Life (NBC)
  10. Fireside Theatre (NBC)

TV Shows in 1953

What were the most popular TV shows in 1953?

The Top Ten TV Shows in 1953 were:

  1. I Love Lucy (CBS)
  2. Dragnet (NBC)
  3. Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts (CBS)
  4. You Bet Your Life (NBC)
  5. The Milton Berle Show (NBC)
  6. Arthur Godfrey and His Friends (CBS)
  7. Ford Theatre (NBC)
  8. The Jackie Gleason Show (CBS)
  9. Fireside Theatre (NBC)
  10. The Colgate Comedy Hour (NBC)

TV Shows in 1954

What were the most popular TV shows in 1954?

The Top Ten TV Shows in 1954 were:

  1. I Love Lucy (CBS)
  2. The Jackie Gleason Show (CBS)
  3. Dragnet (NBC)
  4. You Bet Your Life (NBC)
  5. The Toast of the Town (CBS)
  6. Disneyland (ABC)
  7. The Jack Benny Show (CBS)
  8. The George Gobel Show (NBC)
  9. Ford Theatre (NBC)
  10. December Bride (CBS)

TV Shows in 1955

What were the most popular TV shows in 1955?

The Top Ten TV Shows in 1955 were:

  1. The $64,000 Question (CBS)
  2. I Love Lucy (CBS)
  3. The Ed Sullivan Show (CBS)
  4. Disneyland (ABC)
  5. The Jack Benny Show (CBS)
  6. December Bride (CBS)
  7. You Bet Your Life (NBC)
  8. Dragnet (NBC)
  9. The Millionaire (CBS)
  10.  I’ve Got a Secret (CBS)

TV Shows in 1956

What were the most popular TV shows in 1956?

The Top Ten TV Shows in 1956 were:

  1. I Love Lucy (CBS)
  2. The Ed Sullivan Show (CBS)
  3. General Electric Theatre (CBS)
  4. The $64,000 Question (CBS)
  5. December Bride (CBS)
  6. Alfred Hitchcock Presents (CBS)
  7. I’ve Got a Secret (CBS)
  8. Gunsmoke (CBS)
  9. The Perry Como Show (NBC)
  10. The Jack Benny Show (CBS)

TV Shows in 1957

Captain Kangaroo

Captain Kangaroo

TV reached a plateau in 1957. Its quality neither improved nor deteriorated to any marked degree. There were no revolutionary technical developments, no really significant new programs, and no big new stars.

In their own defense, network spokesmen said TV programmers were giving the public what they wanted.

The soaring costs of TV advertising made it impossible for most network sponsors to take any kind of gamble.

The half-hour sitcom that had cost $30,000 a season before cost $40,000 or more in 1957. Performers, particularly big names, were demanding larger fees (for example, Harry Belafonte, $40,000 for a single appearance; Elvis Presley, $50,000).

Experts estimated that two thirds of all 1957 shows were being transmitted on film instead of live. Since costly mistakes could be edited out, TV films were far safer economically than live shows.

The TV market was larger than ever, with 544 commercial stations in operation at year’s end.

Comedy and drama shows declined in popularity while musicals and western adventure series boomed during the fall season. ll new western series appeared, bringing the weekly total to 20. Most popular of the cowboy series were “adult” westerns, aimed directly at both men and women.

The new western heroes, in an obvious bid for feminine support, were all tall, two-fisted, ruggedly handsome young men. The adult westerns differed from the old-fashioned kid westerns by having, by and large, more mature story lines and more realistic characters.

But there was just as much slugging and shooting going on in the new westerns as in the old. Among the most popular of the adult western series were Gunsmoke, Wyatt Earp and Maverick, and Wagon Train. Gunsmoke, one of the pioneer adult westerns, topped the audience rating lists several times during the year.

If a viewer switched on his set and heard no shooting, he most likely heard singing. Numerous big-name male and female vocalists invaded TV and a nationally known singer who did not have his own TV show on one network or another was a forlorn soul indeed (the semiretired Bing Crosby excepted).

Among lady vocalists who had new network shows were Polly Bergen, Patti Page, Gisele MacKenzie, and opera star Patrice Munsel. Male newcomers included Pat Boone, Guy Mitchell, Dean Martin, Nat “King” Cole and Frank Sinatra.

Not all of the new singers could double as master of ceremonies, interviewer, or comic (in the manner of Perry Como) and it was evident that there would be many casualties in this field.

Those who did become casualties would find themselves in stellar company. Departing from the medium in 1957 were such one-time top favorites as Jackie Gleason, Sid Caesar, and Robert Montgomery.

1957 was a noticeably bad one for comedians. A sizable number of comics fell by the video wayside, including Gleason and Caesar, Ernie Kovacs, Wally Cox, and Jonathan Winters.

Sitcoms went into a partial eclipse as several comedy shows that had started with a bang the previous season died an ignominious death. Even I Love Lucy was yanked as a weekly half-hour show and changed to an hour-long once per month format.

Loretta and Robert Young won Emmy awards for best actress and actor respectively.

Disneyland continued its run, with the Mickey Mouse Club not far behind. Captain Kangaroo, an imaginative new offering, won considerable acclaim.

Sports were huge on TV. What was the new sports TV craze in 1957? Bowling!

What were the most popular TV shows in 1957?

The Top Ten TV Shows in 1957 were:

  1. Gunsmoke (CBS)
  2. The Danny Thomas Show (CBS)
  3. Tales of Wells Fargo (NBC)
  4. Have Gun Will Travel (CBS)
  5. I’ve Got a Secret (CBS)
  6. The Life & Legend of Wyatt Earp (ABC)
  7. General Electric Theatre (CBS)
  8. The Restless Gun (NBC)
  9. December Bride (CBS)
  10. You Bet Your Life (NBC)

TV Shows in 1958

1958 was known as the “Year of the Western.” If your show wasn’t a western, it didn’t have a chance.

What were the most popular TV shows in 1958?

The Top Ten TV Shows in 1958 were:

  1. Gunsmoke (CBS)
  2. Wagon Train (NBC)
  3. Have Gun Will Travel (CBS)
  4. The Rifleman (ABC)
  5. The Danny Thomas Show (CBS)
  6. Maverick (ABC)
  7. Tales of Wells Fargo (NBC)
  8. The Real McCoys (ABC)
  9. I’ve Got a Secret (CBS)
  10. The Life & Legend of Wyatt Earp (ABC)

TV Shows in 1959

What were the most popular TV shows in 1959?

The Top Ten TV Shows in 1959 were:

  1. Gunsmoke (CBS)
  2. Wagon Train (NBC)
  3. Have Gun Will Travel (CBS)
  4. The Danny Thomas Show (CBS)
  5. The Red Skelton Show (CBS)
  6. Father Knows Best (CBS)
  7. 77 Sunset Strip (ABC)
  8. The Price is Right (NBC)
  9. Wanted: Dead or Alive (CBS)
  10. Perry Mason (CBS)

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49 thoughts on “1950s TV Shows: What Did People Watch?

  1. Bonnie Heath

    When I was. A little girl one of my favorite shows was that if a family that had as their children three chimpanzees that the dressed and raised as there children. I always wanted a pet chimp as a result of that show but I dint remember the name or year it aired.

    1. Cathy

      The Hathaways is a 26-episode situation comedy, which aired on ABC from October 6, 1961, to March 30, 1962, starring Peggy Cass and Jack Weston as suburban Los Angeles “parents” to a trio of performing chimpanzees. Weston portrayed Walter Hathaway, a flabby real estate agent. Cass is his zany bride Elinore, “mother” and booking agent to the Marquis Chimps, named Candy, Charlie, and Enoch. The chimps had earlier appeared on CBS’s The Ed Sullivan Show, a Jack Benny special in 1959 and several commercials in 1960.[1]

      The Hathaways

  2. Jessica daniels

    Looking for the name of a game show from the early to mid 1950’s where the contestants had to answer a question after running and ringing a bell. I think it had something to do with music however it was not name that tune. Hope you can help with this inquiry and thank you

  3. Linda Hernandez

    I remember sitting in front of the TV, watching the test pattern while waiting for TV to begin. I was born in 1952 and I remember Howdy Doody and the commercials like Alka seltzer and “Speedy” singing “with Alka Seltzer you’re sure to say, relief is just a swallow away”

  4. Delores Dix

    I remember a sitcom that came on in the 50’s or 60’s. It involved a married couple. It was a comedy, but at the end of each show, the wife danced in leotards. It was some type of modern dancing. I wish I could remember the name of the show. Hope you canhelp

  5. Ellis

    There was a show on in the 1950;s where this man traveled to far off lands and reported about his adventures and travels. I cannot remember his name or the show he was on.

    1. Stephen Snell

      I can’t be certain about this, but I want to suggest that it was Frank Buck. The show (and book) was called “Bring Them Back Alive.”

    2. Stephen Snell

      On the other hand, it could have been one of the film series done by Martin and Osa Johnson. You can find more about them via Wikipedia.

  6. Erick Starren

    I was born in 1949 in San Diego, CA. In the mid-50’s one of my favorite TV shows was a local kids show named – and hosted by – “Johnny Downs”. Initially, their opening and closing sequences depicted Johnny as a train engineer (driver) arriving at our Santa Fe station in downtown San Diego. The camera first showed the locomotive pulling slowly into the station with the driver waving to the camera. Then it cut to the driver climbing down from the cab, then to Johnny walking toward the camera, smiling and waving, wearing the distinctive blue-and-white striped engineers coveralls. Then it cut to Johnny walking into the studio, cheerfully greeting the audience. He then invited us to watch (either an ad or a cartoon) while he changed clothes. The rest of the show was done in his normal street clothes.

    Sometime in the mid-50’s they switched from trains to planes. Same scenario, but using a Navy F11F Tiger fighter jet at a local air station. My dad was a maintenance chief then and I was pretty familiar with most of the Navy’s planes of the day, so I recognized it instantly.

    I really enjoyed his show.

  7. Marsha D Damme

    My mother won a set of pearls on a TV show in the early 50’s Channel Five Club Program in Memphis Tennessee. I am trying to find that show so I can see my now deceased mother.

  8. Gary J Wallner

    I am trying to recall the name of a adventure show that was centered around a seaplne in the South
    Pacific .

  9. Elliot F Nieves

    I remember a jump horse tv series with a nice looking young girl as the rider. Late 50s or early 60s. I would like to find out about it to tell my grand daughter, who is now into show horse competition.


    I am not certain but I think that it is either “Black Beauty
    ” or “The Adventures of Champion”.

  11. Lori

    Ted’s talented teenie I was on this show when I was 17 . Our school was in ited and my partner and I won.
    I won a bracelet and we won a dinner for 2 in a very nice restaurant. Ted the host called me little ms.
    Marilyn monroe . I can not find any footage of this show..

  12. Carl

    Early 1960s show that started with pictures of a wind vane and had menacing music, talked about severe weather, etc.
    Cannot remember name of show, thus can’t research it.

  13. Kate

    I was born in 1953 and remember a movie or TV series from the late 50’s or early 60’s about a family that took place around 1916 and there were six daughters who all wore Middy blouses. It seems like the father was a dentist or medical doctor and I remember he had to remove his daughter’s tonsils or appendix. I believe the family became very poor for some reason.

    1. Lenore

      It was a movie called Cheaper By The Dozen. Based on a true story of an efficiency expert doctor who had 9 or 10 children and they lived in Montclair NJ. The Gilbreath Family.

  14. Bob

    Trying to remember the actress and the program that had as part of its opening, a Latin woman who played a nightclub singer, and who sang “ I don’t like men. Women I don’t like too”. She was not a main character but she was part of the opening credits.

  15. Linda Bruce

    It was in the 1950-60’s & I home was from school that day (sick?) watching an afternoon show about a couple who were returning home, from vacation , I think, and they noticed that the upstairs window covering was not in the position that they had let it. The couple goes into the house & up the stairs & into the bathroom. There is an intruder in there behind the door. He attacks the homeowner. It scared me So much I could not watch any more of it to see how it ended. I always wanted to know.. To this day ( I am 71 yrs. old) I have never wanted to live in a two-story house.
    Can anyone recall seeing this? it was probably on an afternoon playhouse show of some sort.

  16. Claire

    What were the COOKING SHOWS in the 1950’s.
    Besides Julia Child’s show????
    A cook and a you girl who helped set the food on the table???

  17. Pauline Daniels

    In the fifties a sort of puzzle programme not a quiz show. I think on Wednesday nights. I thought it was called Kaleidoscope and had different parts to it. Can anyone else remember it?

  18. Rick from Australia

    G’day !
    I’m TRYING to find the name of an American TV series / comedy that was probably made in the 1050s ( or possibly even the 1960s ) …. but not having much luck, as yet

    The show was set in the 50s / 60s – because I remember seeing the lead male actor playing and electric guitar at an outdoor event ……. and I also remember them talking about a “Cadillac Sedan”

    The lead male was a white guy – about 30ish years old – and he was possibly an architect or a politician perhaps – a nice character with good manners
    Another male character – was that of a local Indian Chief – who was always in the classic Indian feathered headdress …. a wise old guy – and very savvy
    The chief had a beautiful daughter ( aged around 25 at a guess ) – who was rather “high maintenance” from memory …… and the lead male ( the young white guy ) was madly in love with her
    I remember one episode where the young white guy was playing his electric guitar at a civic function – standing outside on a stage – and it started to rain ……
    The next thing, the guitar has sparks flying all over the place as it supposedly “shorts out” from the rainwater on it ( a total fallacy BTW )
    In another episode – the chief’s daughter wants her beau to perform some arduous “Indian tribal show of courage” of some description – “a TEST to show his LOVE for her”
    The white guy is talking with the chief ( the father ) and he mentions that the girl wanted him to do this REALLY stressful and dangerous “trial” to show that he loved her
    The chief asks him IF he actually DID IT …. and the young guys says “No” ……
    The chief ( being old and wise – plus KNOWING what a pain his daughter can be ) says to the young white guy “GOOD – I wouldn’t have done it either !”

    Does ANYBODY remember this show ??? … ( and can tell me the name of it – please )

    Many Thanks
    Rick in Oz ( Australia )

  19. Jeff Cutler

    There was a short lived series about young actors signed or waiting to be signed by a studio and I think they were being trained for voice, acting, etc. It was either in late ’50’s or early ’60’s. I thought Dennis Cole was one of the actors, but I didn’t see the show in his IMDB profile. Does anyone remember the show and name?

  20. Deena Singer

    I remember watching the tv in the 1950’s and watching an old white-haired woman, hair in a bun, who was extremely nervous. She talked very quickly, perhaps gibberish, but she was so funny with what she said.
    Anyone remember who I mean please??

  21. Neville Curzon

    I was born in December 1942, we had our first TV (A 17” Vidor) in 1954. One of the programs we watched was on the BBC called “In Town to Night” on a Saturday night. It was hosted by MacDoald Holly who wore an evening suit. He interviewed celebrities like Dianna Doors who were visiting London for one reason or another. We used to be rivited to it, does anyone remember it.


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