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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

7 - Make Room for TV


On October 20, 1952, Frank P. Walsh, who ground out a living as an industrial plant guard and worked the night shift, shot and killed his television set with a .38 caliber revolver. He complained that the noise from the set, in constant use by his wife, mother-in-law, and five children, disturbed his sleep in his small West Hempstead, Long Island, house. His wife reacted to the assault on the family entertainment center with shock and dismay. She called the police, who investigated the matter and determined that there was no law against shooting one’s own television set.

It took a surprisingly long time for the diffusion of television to occur, but when it did, television predominated over the movies and the radio in the Walsh household and in other American homes. This reordering of entertainment priorities posed little problem for the radio networks because they simply transformed themselves into the dominant television networks. As for the movie industry, worries that television would take away its audience produced both the high art described in the previous chapter and the ultimate realization that the movie companies could make TV shows in the same way they had once churned out feature films, short subjects, and other products. Breakout hits, in particular I Love Lucy, showed television executives that telefilms could be as profitable as the live broadcasts that had characterized radio and the early years of television.