What were the best shows to watch in the 1950s?

Entertainment | January 23, 2019

Console TV
Vintage photograph of a console television in a living room in the 1950s. (Photo by Found Image Holdings/Corbis via Getty Images)

The “Golden Age of Television” refers to the era of live television production in the United States. This time was roughly from the late 1940’s to the early 1960’s. Nestled in between was the decade of the 1950’s.

The 1950’s are among the decades considered to be the golden age of television.

By the 1950’s, watching TV had become a new form of entertainment and pastime. It wasn’t just a way to get information. TV had become so much more! By turning on the TV, it was just like having the entire world (as it was then known) all in a small box right there in the family living room.

In the 1950’s, television was still just a source of information.

This decade marks an exciting time when many were watching TV for the first time. Television was considered to be an expensive treat, rather than a “given” as it is now. A lucky family would own one “television set.” These days, most Americans have a TV almost every room of the house.

Pop Music/Rock n’ Roll, Comedy and Westerns were just some of the programming that became popular.

As TV became more popular and attainable, programing took on a theme other than the news and current events. Sitcom and comedy television programing were counted among the best television episodes. Shows depicting the ideal American family were very popular.

The 1950’s were an exciting decade of TV that helped pave the way for future programing.

Some of the most popular shows were:


• The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet

“The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” was a sitcom about an American family that starred the real-life Nelson family. After a long run on radio, the show was introduced to television, where it continued its success. The program initially ran simultaneously on radio and TV. The show starred Ozzie Nelson, his wife, who was a singer, Harriet Nelson, and their sons, David and Eric “Ricky” Nelson.

Don DeFore was the Nelsons’ friendly neighbor “Thorny.”

• Father Knows Best

“Father Knows Best” starred Robert Young, Jane Wyatt, Elinor Donahue, Billy Gray, and Lauren Chapin. The program followed the lives of the Anderson family; a middle-class family from the town of, Springfield. This series’ first aired on radio in 1949 and aired for six seasons with a total of 203 episodes. The epic show first aired on CBS in October 1954. It ran for one season and was canceled the following year. The iconic series was then picked up by NBC and remained on TV for three seasons. After a second cancellation in 1958, the series was picked up, yet again, by CBS, where it aired until May 1960.


• I Love Lucy

“I Love Lucy” is an American television sitcom that starred the iconic Lucille Ball, along with her much loved husband, Desi Arnaz. Co-stars. Vivian Vance, and William Frawley were supporting actors and staples on the show. The black-and-white version of the program ran from October 15, 1951 to May 6, 1957 on CBS. After the series ended in 1957, a modified version continued for three more seasons with 13 one-hour specials that ran from 1957 to 1960. This classic TV show was first known as “The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show,” and later in reruns as “The Lucy–Desi Comedy Hour.” The show won five Emmy Awards and received numerous nominations and the first show ever to feature an ensemble cast.

“I Love Lucy” was the most watched show in the United States in four of its six seasons, and it was the first to end its run at the top of the Nielsen ratings.


• The Honeymooners

“The Honeymooners” was one of the first American television shows to portray working class, married couples in a non-idyllic manner. The show was the epitome of the “real” married couple. It was mostly set in the Kramden’s kitchen.


• Lassie

Lassie was a beloved, female Collie dog who was smarter than the average dog. Timmy was Lassie’s boy. Despite popular belief, Timmy never really did fall down in a well.


• Leave it to Beaver

“Leave It to Beaver” was an American television sitcom about an inquisitive and often, painfully naive boy named, Theodore, “The Beaver,” Cleaver. Beaver Cleaver was portrayed by Jerry Mathers. The show also starred Barbara Billingsley and Hugh Beaumont as Beaver’s parents, June and Ward Cleaver, and Tony Dow as Beaver’s brother Wally. The show has attained an iconic status in the United States, with the Cleavers exemplifying the idealized suburban family of the mid-20th century.


• The Twilight Zone

“The Twilight Zone” was an American classic based on the anthology created by Rod Serling. The episodes are in various genres, including fantasy, science fiction, suspense, and psychological thriller, often ending with an unexpected twist with some sort of a moral.


• Dragnet

“Dragnet” was a program known for the tagline, “The facts, Ma’am, Just the Facts.”

• Make Room for Daddy

• The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis

• I Married Joan

Westerns were in a class all their own!

• Have Gun – Will Travel

• The Rifleman

“The Rifleman” was a western sitcom that captured many viewers. Chuck Connors starred in the series with Johnny Crawford as his son, Mark. The father and son pair shared a strong, father/son relationship after the woman (wife and mother) in their lives died.


• Bonanza

“Bonanza” was an NBC TV western genre series that began in 1959. The program lasted 14 seasons, with 431 episodes. “Bonanza” is NBC’s longest-running western TV show and boasts the rank, overall, as the second-longest-running western series on American network television and within the top 10 longest-running, live-action American series.

• Gunsmoke

“Gunsmoke” was an American radio and television western drama series created by Norman Macdonnell and John Meston. The stories in the epic series took place in and around Dodge City, Kansas, during the settlement of the American West. The main character was the competent lawman, Marshal Matt Dillon.

The series began in 1952 and aired for more than 20 years. “Gunsmoke” is often referred to as “the best shows of any kind and any time.” The epic TV program boasts an epic 635 episodes.


• The Lone Ranger

Who was that masked man?

The fictional story line of “The Lone Ranger” tells the story of a patrol of six Texas Rangers that was massacred, with only one surviving member. The “lone” survivor, thereafter, disguised himself with a black mask and traveled with his trusted compadre, Tonto, throughout the state of Texas and the American West. Their mission was to assist people that were challenged by the lawless elements. A silver mine supplies The Lone Ranger with the name of his horse as well as the funds required to finance his wandering life-style and the raw material for his signature bullets.


• Rawhide

Rawhide was a western TV series starring Eric Fleming and Clint Eastwood. The show aired for eight seasons on the CBS network on Friday nights, from January 9, 1959, to September 3, 1965, before moving to Tuesday nights from September 14, 1965, until January 4, 1966, with a total of 217 black-and-white episodes. The series was produced and sometimes directed by Charles Marquis Warren, who also produced early episodes of Gunsmoke.

Rawhide was the 6th longest running American television Western, which spanned seven and a half years.  Wagon train ran for eight years, The Virginian ran for nine years, Bonanza has a fourteen year run, Death Valley Days ran for eighteen years and Gunsmoke ran for twenty years.

Clint Eastwood got his breakout role on the television program Rawhide starring as “Rowdy Yates.” He then moved on portraying tough characters in a string of Sergio Leone movie Westerns and the Dirty Harry franchise

NEXT: Gnarly Cars from the 1960s

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Jackson Hall

Jackson Hall

Jackson Hall is one of the best writers of our generation. He has been on the New York Times Bestsellers list three different times and nominated multiple time for best Memoir on Goodreads. He studied history at Yale and became obsessed with the 70s. Now he focuses on digging up stories nobody has written about to help grow our extensive knowledge of the past. He is the glue to our company and we are so lucky to have him on the team.

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