I bet you hadn’t heard anything about it. And it’s not exactly the anniversary of the cable, but when the cable made Network television possible coast to coast. If you’re a fan of TV at all, you’re going to want to read this wonderful piece by Terry Teachout about how profoundly things changed in that late summer of 1951, not only for the reach of a television signal, but also for programming. Here is his introductory paragraph about the former:
In our present-tense culture, diamond anniversaries tend to get swept away by the whirlwind of current events. Here’s an example: Network television as we know it came into being on Sept. 4, 1951, when AT&T threw the switch on the first transcontinental coaxial cable. Up to that time, TV had been an essentially regional phenomenon. The most important network shows were all performed live in New York, and the only way for West Coast viewers to see them was for fuzzy-looking film copies called “kinescopes” to be shipped to Los Angeles and broadcast a week later. The coaxial cable changed that by making it possible to transmit live video signals from coast to coast—in both directions. Within a matter of months, Hollywood had become a major center of TV production.
It is amazing that no one has taken notice of such a profound popular culture moment in American history, or how it made possible three shows whose formulas are reflected on TV even today: “I Love Lucy,” first TV situation comedy; Edward R. Murrow’s “See It Now,” TV’s first news magazine; and “Dragnet,” TV’s first crime drama. The more things change . . . .