Even though Television had been invented and experimental regular public broadcasts started by the BBC as early as 1929, the Great Depression and World War II prevented TV from becoming an everyday household appliance until the late 1940s. But Television became a great mass produced product as the economy turned from Guns to Butter in the post war years. And the American Public served as a great consumer base the Baby boom shifted populations away from the cities and into surburbia. TV was an easy and free delivery tool of entertainment straight into the home.

Britain's First TV

Britain's First TV

Movie theater attendance plummeted dropping 50% from 1946 to 1955. At first the movie studios tried to get in on the TV action but the FCC was hesitant to hand broadcasting licenses to movie companies that had just lost a Supreme Court anti-trust lawsuit in 1948 over their anti-competition practices in dealing with theaters. Instead, it was the radio broadcasters, CBS, NBC, ABC, who got in on the Television game.

So immediately Hollywood saw TV as head on competition and they responded by entrenching themselves and refusing to sell rights for movies for broadcast and forbidding their stars to appear on the new electronic medium. The numbers were grim, tickets sales were down, productions slowed to a crawl and the studios levied heavy layoffs. At the close of the 40s, it looked like Hollywood was about to implode with TV laying down the final straw.

But out of challenge comes innovation. To compete with Television, the clever filmmakers changed tack and focused on what they could do better - spectacle. Widescreen aspect ratios, first popularized by Cinerama in 1952 and Cinemascope in 1953, Stereo and multichannel sound, Larger screens going from 30 foot to 50 foot screens, Full Adoption of color, and even the first wave of 3D - many of the aspects of our modern film experience began as a way to get people away from their homes and into the theatre.

Cinerama Schematic

Diagrama of Cinemerama Projection

But Film’s little brother of Television had grander aspirations and still wanted to be in the movies. Broadcasters had a lot of time to fill - why not show an old movie and sell ad space. And for the newer, leaner Hollywood which grew out of the devastation of the late 40s, TV wasn’t seen so much as competition but a new revenue stream, with studios beginning to sell rights to television as early 1956. Then On September 23, 1961, NBC premiered Saturday Night at the Movies - featuring the 1953 film How to Marry a Millionaire starring Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, and Betty Grable.

Broadcast in “Living Color” How To Marry A Millionaire was the second film to be made in widescreen Cinemascope. Unfortunately for viewers at the time, the film was severely panned and scanned - the process of zooming in and lopping off the sides of the image in order to fill a 4:3 screen with a portion of the original 2.35 image - this wrecks havoc of the original compositions - often losing actors who are positioned on the edges of the screen. Regardless, Saturday Night at the Movies led to countless spinoffs from all the broadcasters - practically one for each night of the week.

The studios had found value in their old catalogs and Television had found relatively cheap content to fill time. But most importantly, a major social shift was occurring - the idea that now you could stay home and catch a movie - an idea that would cement itself in the world’s conscious with the introduction of tape.