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Color Television

Television Lecture #4
by

Drew Hamilton

on 12 December 2011

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Transcript of Color Television

The Wonderful World of Color
Live Becomes "Live"
Before 1956, all TV programming had to be done "live." Until that time, the only way to record TV programs was by using the somewhat less-than-desirable kinescope recordings.
Consequently, the period from about 1948 to 1955 is referred to as the live decade of television.
The pressure of doing live television — if you made a mistake it just went out over the air for "the whole world to see" — was such good discipline that many famous TV and film stars received excellent training doing live television.
When video tape was invented…it changed TV greatly
Interestingly, when television production moved from doing everything "live" to using videotape in the late 50s, production costs increased dramatically.
Video taping shows meant that errors could be fixed, shots could be re-shot and actors and director got “lazy”
Video tape greatly increased production time; and time is $$$
Live on Tape
To save money, the approach of doing things live-on-tape has been adopted for many shows.
This means that the show is treated as if it was "live" and the recording is only stopped for very major problems.
Color
Although color film had been around since the 1930s, until the mid-1950s, all television programming was in black and white.
And, just as World War II had derailed the beginning of television in the 40s, a decade later the Korean War would delay the launch of color television, but in a very helpful way
Mechanical Television
CBS in the 40s developed a mechanical approach to color TV. It used a large color wheel not totally unlike the motor driven versions used for film
The colors in the wheel were synchronized with alternating video images behind the wheel that represented different primary colors (red, blue and green) in the original scene.
How Mechanical Color TV worked
The whole apparatus sat in front of your TV set and you looked through the rotating color sections at the TV picture behind it.
Although it worked fairly well, like the early mechanical approach to television itself, it introduced some problems:
Not the least of which was the constant sound of the motor
Also, you would have to keep the bearings on the large color wheel and electric motor oiled to keep them from squeaking or failing.
Not only that, but the CBS system was incompatible with the existing black and white NTSC system (the U.S. standard originally approved by the National Television System Committee).
How Mechanical Color worked
Not only would you have to buy a new TV set to watch color TV, but also once you got it, you couldn't use it to see any of the many existing black and white programs.
In order to serve the large base of existing black and white receivers, each TV station would have to have two transmitters one for black and white, and one for color, each operating on a different channel.
Even though it was impractical, complicated and not great…the FCC approved it and were it not for the Korean War we might still use it
New Approach to Color
The FCC had approved the CBS Color Wheel as the industry standard for colorization of television
But, RCA engineers bored because of a lack of work due to the Korean War, came up with electronic colorization of TV. Using the RGB lights on the screen rather than the black and white line by line scan process
Rather than require new TV receivers and transmitters, the all-electronic process interweaved all the color information into the existing black and white TV signal.
The fact that this system incorporated a compatible color approach was critical to its success.
Compatible color means that one basic signal can be transmitted and the black and white sets can ignore the color information.
Everyone was happy with the system, with the possible exception of a few folks over at CBS. The FCC approved the RCA system in 1953.
Delay With Color
While compatible color made color TV success, it also delayed the switch to color TV.
Why would you buy a brand new TV just to watch the same shows in color if you could still watch them perfectly fine on your B&W
Because only a handful of people had color TV…only a handful of shows were bothered to be shot in color.
Which network pushed for the new color system the hardest?

NBC
NBC….not coincidentally because its parent company RCA developed the new system
Television's first prime time network color series was "The Marriage", a situation comedy broadcast live by NBC in the summer of 1954.
NBC's anthology series "Ford Theatre" became the first network color filmed series that October.
Still….while NBC pushed for color, CBS and ABC dragged their feet.
The reason was RCA was the only company who built the new color sets, and those networks didn’t want to directly help the competition by making color shows
Delay Continues
CBS and ABC delayed creating color shows until the mid 60s.
During this time, NBC gradually introduced more and more color programs
NBC finally pushed hard enough for the other networks to get involved by announcing that its primetime lineup in 1965 would be almost entirely in color
By the 1966-67 season, all three major networks decided to broadcast almost entirely in color
Color Becomes Standard
Even though the networks were broadcasting all in color, a lot of people still didn’t have color
Because it used compatible color, people who had perfectly working B&W TVs had no reason to buy a color TV
Black and White TVs still outsold color color TVs until 1972
1972 was also the first year that more than 50% of American had a color set in their home
B&W TVs could still be used for decades to come, but they have basically been made obsolete by the recent switch to digital television
Full transcript