Among the most popular television programs of the 1950s and 60s were sitcoms (I Love Lucy, Gilligan’s Island), westerns (Bonanza, Gunsmoke), mysteries (Twilight Zone) and science fiction (Star Trek). Some of the clips below are among the best that television produced during the era (which is not saying all that much.)
I Love Lucy — A very popular sitcom (situation – comedy) that ran from 1951 – 1957. This “Chocolate Episode” is often compared to the scene from Modern Times when Charlie Chaplin can’t keep up with the assembly line. Notice the laugh track in the background which became standard in the 1950s and 60s. The show occasionally attempted to portray women in independent roles but more frequently fell back on stereotypes.
Bonanza — Also very popular, 1959 – 1973, the word “bonanza” refers to a rich mining claim. The show often dealt with themes of justice and reconciliation between different ethnic groups. Many of the eccentric characters of the American West are on display here, but in milder forms suitable for family audiences.
Gilligan’s Island — A sitcom running from 1964 to 1967, the idea was that a group of tourists was stranded on a deserted island. Usually the joke was on the show’s bumbling but loveable star, Gilligan.
Twilight Zone — Mystery / sci-fi program that ran from 1959 – 1964, a relative popular and critical success, was for many people an introduction to science fiction and to social commentary dressed up as drama.
Star Trek — Star Trek was far more popular in later years than during its original run 1966 – 1969, and was canceled only three years into its mission “to boldly go where no man has gone before” — a classic example of the obtuse television network bureaucracy failing to understand its audience. Like formula westerns and sci-fi shows, Star Trek was a way to deal with contemporary themes by placing them in novel settings.