Sunday, May 29, 2016

Book Review: Who Was On First?

I've been researching, and reading about, television history, for a good many years. I know who played Mrs. Trumbull on I Love Lucy, who taught the lessons in Ding Dong School, and which CBS soap opera was interrupted when Walter Cronkite went on the air live in 1963 to tell us our president had been shot. But I still learned plenty -- and enjoyed doing it -- from Garry Berman's new book For the First Time on Television (BearManor Media).

This concise, thoroughly researched, and readable volume devotes itself to answering practically any question you could have about pioneering shows, stars, and technical innovations in broadcast history. Topics include sports, news, soap operas, and pretty much everything else the tube has to offer. Events both in front of, and behind, the cameras are covered. Berman is a meticulous researcher who sorts out the facts from the fallacies. Thought I Love Lucy was the first sitcom ever shot using a multi-camera technique? Not so. When the answer to a "first" question is open to debate, or difficult to clarify many years later, the author gives us all the available data and lets the reader draw his own conclusions.

Years ago, the great Groucho Marx (who had quite a successful video career himself) cracked that he found television very educational -- whenever someone turned it on, he went into the other room and opened a book. If you follow his example, you might try reading For the First Time on Television. There won't even be any commercial interruptions -- but you will learn about the first-ever TV commercial.

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