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Ideas

Why Color TV Was the Quintessential Cold War Machine

The Technological Innovation Transformed How Americans Saw the World, and How the World Viewed America

by Susan Murray
January 24, 2019

In 1959, at the height of the space race, Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev stood together, surrounded by reporters, in the middle of RCA’s color television display at the American National Exhibition in Moscow. Nixon, speaking to Krushchev through a translator, pointed proudly to the television camera before them and addressed the technological competition between the two nations that the leaders had just been debating. “There are some instances where you may be ahead of us, …

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Identities

How Bullwinkle Helped Us Laugh Off Nuclear Annihilation

The Dim-Witted Moose and His Squirrelly Sidekick Calmed Our Cold War Fears with Subversive Humor

By Beth Daniels
September 25, 2017

“Mr. Chairman, I am against all foreign aid, especially to places like Hawaii and Alaska,” says Senator Fussmussen from the floor of a cartoon Senate in 1962. In the visitors’ gallery, Russian agents Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale are deciding whether to use their secret “Goof Gas” gun to turn the Congress stupid, as they did to all the rocket scientists and professors in the last episode of Bullwinkle.

Another senator wants to raise taxes on everyone under the age …

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Ideas

NASA’s Other Moonshot Helped Revolutionize Marketing

The Apollo Moon Landing Wasn't Supposed to Be Broadcast, Until a Team of Ex-Reporters Pushed for Live TV

By Richard Jurek
August 16, 2016

On July 20, 1969, an estimated 600 million people watched and listened in real time as astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the surface of the moon.

With the drama unfolding on their television screens, the attention of millions was focused on a single event—a single step, really—for the first time. It was one of the first grand, extended global social media events of our modern era, much bigger than a Super Bowl Sunday.

But landing on …

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Ideas

Would Brits Really Rather Watch Fussy Old Lord Grantham Than a Dashing Winston Churchill?

The Producers of 'Downton Abbey’ Want to Tell the Wartime Prime Minister's Riveting Backstory, but a Half Century of Disparagement May Have Taken Its Toll

By Michael Shelden
March 11, 2016

If you were disappointed to see Downton Abbey come to an end on PBS this past weekend, the good news is that the producers of this sensation on both sides of the Atlantic have optioned the rights to another series featuring an even more dazzling cast of Edwardian English aristocrats.

In this one, the characters are all drawn from real life. There is a fabulously wealthy heiress, a beautiful actress, a boyish cad married to a woman almost twice his …

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Identities

When Two ‘Little Rascals’ Crossed the Color Line

The Friendship Between These Young Hollywood Actors—One Black, One White—Was Ahead of Its Time, but Also an Illusion

By Julia Lee
January 19, 2016

When I was a kid, I used to watch episodes of The Little Rascals on TV in our living room in Los Angeles. My parents were Korean immigrants who had moved to the city in the 1970s, the first in a wave of Korean immigrants who would transform the city’s racial makeup. I had no idea the series had been filmed 50 years earlier, that most of the stars were dead, and that it was once unusual for black and …

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Ideas

The Great TV Debates That Forever Changed How Politics Was Covered

When ABC Brought William F. Buckley, Jr., and Gore Vidal Together, the Media Became More Interested in Heat Than Light

By George Merlis
December 1, 2015

In our defense, we were a bit desperate. It was 1968 and ABC News was starved for resources and significantly smaller than its rivals NBC and CBS. We had to do something, anything, to get noticed. I should know: I was ABC News’ director of public relations.

As the presidential nominating conventions loomed that year (Miami Beach for Republicans, Chicago for Democrats) ABC News executives came up with the novel idea of a nightly 90-minute highlight show instead of providing the …

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