Category: Color TV

When history looks back on advances in media technology, it tends to focus more on new inventions and platforms rather than incremental improvements to existing technology. Doubtless, the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web will be talked about more than the age of social media. Likewise, the adoption of television itself made a far bigger impact on the world, but the adjustment from black & white to color had a smaller, but not negligible, impact.

When color TV technology came about in the middle of the 1950s, adoption was slow at first. TV stations had to change their equipment to broadcast in color, and studios had to adapt to producing in color. All-in-all, it was our old medium game of people not upgrading because not enough content supported it, and content providers not upgrading because not enough people would appreciate it. One by one, stations, networks, and studios began adopting color production. You can tag an old TV show from the mid-century era by noting when it proclaims "in color" at the beginning of the credits.

It wasn't until the mid-1960s that color adoption fully rolled out. It changed a lot of the methods studios used to use to produce shows; for example, a special-effects trick to make an object levitate was to suspend it from black string on a black background, but updating to color made this more difficult. Sets, costumes, and make-up had to be updated, because they had relied on a palette of exact hues which would make things show up as the correct shade of gray in black-and-white productions. For instance, most lipstick shades show up as solid black in black-and-white filming, so a lighter pink had to be used then.

The advent of color TV was politicized, amazingly enough. The Smithsonian reports that an RCA president at the dedication of the first all-color station in Washington, D.C., proudly assured President Dwight D. Eisenhower that this was a tool of freedom, to show those grungy Soviet Block countries how glorious our democracy was.

Another demographic impacted was the medical field. Recordings of surgery displayed on color had far more punch in showing the grisly details. CBS lab reports that at medical conventions, showing live color images of surgeries were so vivid that even some doctors fainted at the sight.

Speaking of blood, you could also argue that color TV made news of war, riots, and violence more true to life. When news footage showed these stories on color TV, they seemed to get through to viewers more than they had on black and white TV.