TV Shows in the 1950s


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, 8 of the top 10 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 1950s TV!

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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

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

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

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

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

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 Millionnaire (CBS)
10. I’ve Got a Secret (CBS)

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

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.

Captain Kangaroo

Captain Kangaroo

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!

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.

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)0
8. The Real McCoys (ABC)
9. I’ve Got a Secret (CBS)
10. The Life & Legend of Wyatt Earp (ABC)

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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3 thoughts on “TV Shows in the 1950s

  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.

  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”


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