Boomers (Mostly) Had One TV

The Boomer Generation is synonymous with the TV Generation. Television came into its own after the war, and boomers had a front row seat to its evolution. Throughout the boomer era and into the early 2000s, the sales of television sets continued to climb higher every year. A good part of those sales in the past three decades can be attributed to the purchase of additional TV sets for a single home. However, since the early 2010s, the reverse is true; less TVs are being sold compared to each previous year. The reason is obvious as streaming on other devices grabs a younger generation. Many younger people look at TV in the same way they might a cassette tape.

Let’s recap our shared TV history and see how we got here. Television has been around in practical terms since the mid-1930s, but the number of homes owning a TV was relatively small. In fact, by 1945, only 10,000 TV sets were purchased for home use in the United States. Yet, at the dawn of the Boomer Generation, things were about to change.

Development on TV technology was delayed during the war years as materials and factories were dedicated to the war effort. Now, after the war, it was full steam ahead for innovation and especially, manufacturing capabilities. These advancements helped greatly in selling TVs in a number of ways, perhaps the most important being a dramatic drop in price. A TV could cost upward of $500 before 1949, which was equivalent to a month or more salary for the average worker. In one year alone — between 1949 and 1950 — the price of a TV was cut by half or more. As a result, by 1950, nine percent of U.S. households owned a television. Ten years later, in 1960, that number jumped to 90 percent.

Westinghouse TV commercial, 1956:

Still, Mister Boomer wondered about the phenomena of families owning more than one TV. Mister B did not know anyone who had more than one. As such, TV watching was a family affair, much as radio listening was in the previous decades. In Mister B’s research, he discovered that some households did begin to own more than one TV as far back as the 1950s. From Mister Boomer’s point of view, these households probably had not only a higher income level, but houses that could accommodate an extra TV.

In Mister B’s estimation, there would be only two practical places for a second TV: a family room or a basement rec room. Mister Boomer only knew one person who had both a living room and a family room, and in that family’s case, their one TV was in the family room. Mister B did know several people who had finished basements, but in that era, most were described as rec rooms. They were intended for recreation, so they might have a ping pong table or all-purpose folding table where jigsaw puzzles could be assembled, card or board games played, and the like. No one Mister B knew had a TV in their basement. Boomers will recall that TV reception in a lower level was also a challenge. An extra antenna wire would be necessary to run outside the house to the antenna on the roof, and even then, rabbit ears on top of the TV set with molded wads of aluminum foil attached would certainly be a possibility.

What about the bedroom, you say? The idea that a bedroom is a sanctuary, a place to relax and unwind, is a relatively new one. In the boomer era, bedrooms were for sleeping. Boomers themselves often had desks to do homework in their rooms, however, Mister Boomer knew no one who had a second TV in their bedroom.

There is another consideration about bedrooms and second TVs that relates entirely to the evolution of TV and the Boomer Generation, and that is, late night TV. The Tonight Show first aired in 1952, initially with Steve Allen, then with Jack Paar as hosts. This may have contributed to the eight percent of U.S. households owning a second TV by 1959. Johnny Carson took over hosting duties in 1962, and by the mid-60s, color TVs began replacing black-and-white models. Johnny Carson joked about being in people’s bedrooms, so there was probably a correlation to late night TV that may have influenced buying habits.

In Mister Boomer’s experience, it was the early 1970s before he heard of anyone having more than one TV. Today it is reported that the average American household has four TVs. That number continues to drop as younger people, unaccustomed to TV viewing in the same manner boomers did, start families of their own.

How about you, boomers? When did your family first get a second TV? Did you ever have a TV in your own room before attending college?

Boomers Knew Hans Conried

It was sixty years ago, in January of 1963, that Fractured Flickers appeared on TV. The show only lasted one season, but its host, Hans Conried, appeared time and again in movies, TV shows and cartoons watched by boomers for decades.

The premise of Fractured Flickers was a crazy mash-up of old movie footage that was re-captioned, with a new storyline that had little, if anything, to do with what was appearing on screen. In addition to the flicker footage, the show featured often tongue-in-cheek interviews by Conried with popular TV personalities of the time, such as Barbara Eden, Bob Denver and Rod Serling.

Classically trained in theater, Conried started out performing in Shakespeare productions and Broadway shows before lending his voice to characters in radio shows in the 1930s. His huge range as both a dramatic and comedic actor, coupled with his ability to perform a multitude of accents, made him a most-sought-after actor for all types of productions. By the 1940s, he was voicing cartoon characters; he was the voice of Wally Walrus on The Woody Woodpecker Show (1944-48). Watching the cartoon in syndication may be the first time many boomers heard Hans Conried’s distinctive voice.

In 1953, Conried appeared in the Disney classic film, Peter Pan, as the voice of Captain Hook. That began an association with Disney that lasted through the 1970s. This led to roles in segments of The Magical World of Disney (starting in 1954), like the riverboat gambler named Thimblerig in Davey Crockett at the Alamo (1955).

Other cartoons where boomers heard his voice include his characterization of Snidely Whiplash on both The Dudley Do-Right Show (1959-61) and The Bullwinkle Show (1960-63). He was also the narrator on George of the Jungle (1967), and voiced several Dr. Seuss characters in animated TV specials like Horton Hears a Who! (1970).

Here is a not-so-thinly disguised version of Snidely Whiplash (still voiced by Hans Conried) repurposed for a breakfast cereal series of commercials:

Boomers also saw Hans Conried in movies, including the title role of Doctor Terwilliker in the now cult-classic, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953), which happens to be the only live-action movie written by Dr. Seuss.

Conried appeared in recurring roles on several TV shows during the boomer years, most notably as Uncle Tonoose on Danny Thomas’ show, Make Room for Daddy (1953-64). His guest starring roles on a huge number of popular TV shows is also where boomers witnessed the huge talent of Hans Conried. Here is a partial list of TV shows on which he appeared:

I Love Lucy (multiple roles, 1952)
Maverick (1958)
Dragnet (1957)
The Donna Reed Show (1959)
Mister Ed (1962)
Gilligan’s Island (1964-65)
Burke’s Law (1964-65, recurring role)
Ben Casey (1965)
Lost in Space (1967)
Hogan’s Heroes (1968)
The Monkees (1968)
The Beverly Hillbillies (1968)
Daniel Boone (1968)
The Brady Bunch (1969)
Love American Style (multiple roles: 1969, 71, 72, 73)

Despite being born in 1917, Hans Conried had a ubiquitous influence in the formation of boomers’ expectations for cartoon voiceovers and comedic scenes throughout the boomer years. He passed away in 1982.

Where do you remember seeing or hearing Hans Conried, boomers?