As a new medium, television introduced many innovative programming concepts, and prime time television drama showcased both original and classic productions, including the first telecasts of Walt Disney programs, as well as the first telecasts of Mary Martin in Peter Pan, MGM's classic The Wizard of Oz and Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. Critics and viewers looked forward to new teleplays by Paddy Chayefsky, Horton Foote, Tad Mosel, Reginald Rose, Rod Serling, Gore Vidal and others.
Most of these programs were produced as installments of live dramatic anthologies such as The Philco Television Playhouse, Kraft Television Theatre and Playhouse 90. As television filmed series such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone began to dominate during the late 1950s and early 1960s, the period of live TV dramas was viewed as the Golden Age. Although producer David Susskind, in a 1960s roundtable discussion with leading 1950s TV dramatists, defined TV's Golden Age as 1949 to 1954, the final shows of Playhouse 90 in 1961 and the departure of leading director John Frankenheimer brought the era to an end.
TV stations did not broadcast 24 hours per day, as has been customary in North America since the 1990s - technical limitations in the design of TV transmitters at the time forced broadcasters to use a 12-hour to 18-hour-per-day broadcast schedule.
Television did not quite play the role in people's lives in the 1950s that it does now. However, by about 1958, it had become the dominant form of home entertainment, depleting audiences in movie theaters. It was the fear of this that drove movie studios to begin using widescreen processes in 1952, an effort to lure audiences back with something they could not see at home.
High culture dominated commercial network television programming in the 1950s and 1960s more than it does now.
Many programs of this era evolved from successful radio shows that brought polished concepts, casts and writing staffs to TV. This is one reason why quality was so consistently high during this period.
Even an original show like I Love Lucy drew heavily from radio as many of those scripts were rewrites from Lucille Ball's late-1940s radio show My Favorite Husband. Shows like Our Miss Brooks, The Burns and Allen Show and The Jack Benny Show ran concurrently on both radio and TV until television reception reached beyond the major metropolitan areas in the mid-1950s. By the early 1960s about 90% of American households had a television set. At that point sitcoms and dramas dropped out of radio and became wholly the domain of television. At the same time, shows such as Playhouse 90 ended their run.
Australia did not start television broadcasting until 1956, unlike 1946 in the USA. It took about five years (until the early-1960s) for TV in Australia to become a mass media phenomenon. Australia's "Golden Era of Television" is said to date roughly from 1960 to 1985.