arrival of TV after world war and its effect


At the end of World War II, audiences for American newsreels, estimated at some 200
million worldwide, were at their peak. But in the United States and Britain, the film
industry itself was about to enter a period of steep decline. In 1945, U.S. Census figures
showed that 85 million Americans went to the movies each week. By 1960 the number
had dropped to 40 million. By 1980 it had dropped again to under 20 million. British
surveys gave comparable figures as approximately 32 million in 1945, under 10 million
in 1960, and 1 million in 1980. Television is usually blamed for this decline and the new
medium probably contributed to it. But more significant were demographic changes to
America’s poorer inner cities. The demolition of the old neighborhood movie theaters
ended a way of life. 

The cinema newsreels disappeared with them: March of Time and
This is America in 1951, Pathé News, owned by Warner Brothers, in 1956, Paramount
News in 1957, Fox-Movietone News in 1963, MGM-Hearst News of the Day and
Universal News in 1967 (Barnouw, 1993).
Regular television services began in Britain in 1936 and in the United States in
1939 but were suspended during the war. When they resumed after the war, the medium
grew rapidly, soon establishing itself as the most popular leisure activity for most
Television transformed the documentary landscape. Broadcasting networks
provided the finance and the distribution outlets, two obstacles that all documentary
filmmakers had difficulty surmounting. Holding the airwaves as trustees for the public
the networks offered documentaries as a public service.
Television also transformed the public’s perception of reality. “The medium itself
insists on the actual,” Grierson had written of the cinema. Television, however, brought
the actual world live directly into the home. The studio became a setting for live
broadcasts on all kinds of information-based subjects while outside broadcast cameras
turned public events into dramatic spectacles that could be watched in more detail at
home than in the crowd at the event itself. Announcers, news readers and commentators
spoke directly out at the audience from the television screen, updating the lecturer model
of public address.
The psychological effect of the new medium challenged cinematic representations
of the actual world. Current affairs redefined the documentary arena with subjects that
bore on public concerns and the human condition. This television genre habituated
viewers of documentaries to close-ups of human faces speaking on camera, a style that
was derided by some filmmakers as “talking heads” and “sound bites,” but which has
remained the medium’s most common audio-visual form.
A. News Related Documentaries
The networks’ commitment to public service determined the news-related content of
early television documentaries. The lead came from radio and print journalists with the
program See It Now, featuring the distinguished broadcaster, Edward R. Murrow, and
jointly produced by Murrow and Fred Friendly. See It Now was a studio-based program,
with Murrow speaking live to the audience and introducing live or film material in the
course of his half hour time slot. In the opening broadcast on November 18, 1951
Murrow switched between live cameras in New York and San Francisco, the first use of
the two-way coast to coast link. It was a display of television’s technological progress.
See It Now, announced a voice over opening shots of the studio control room, was: “a
document for television based on the week’s news and told in the voices and faces that
made the news. ... A public service of the CBS Television Network.” See It Now ran
through the middle of 1958 and is best known for a broadcast in March 1954 that
questioned the motives and methods of Senator McCarthy’s anticommunist campaign.
In 1959 CBS followed See It Now with CBS Reports, a one-hour news based
documentary that appeared every two weeks each season for 4 years and then every
month for the next 20 years. NBC White Paper, which ran less frequently, began in 1960
and NBC Reports in 1972, while ABC, a relative newcomer to the network business,
introduced the monthly ABC Close-Up in 1973. CBS’ 60 Minutes, the brainchild of Don
Hewitt, was first broadcast in September 1968.

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