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Expanding Diversity in American Television

by Christine Peppler

In the US, the average American bought their first TV set and began to experience television entertainment via antennae in the 1950's. Cable followed soon thereafter for those in rural areas who had no reception and gradually expanded over the next 40 years. Comedies, westerns, and later variety and spy shows filled the airwaves. Shows in the 1950's were mostly conservative, representing an ideal average American family which was "nuclear", complete with mom, dad, and the kids. An occasional minority had a supporting role and the lifestyles were generally middle class with a stay-at-home mom. This ideal-based programming is part of the charm of 1950's television for many people.

In the 1960's, this began to change as representation of African Americans began to increase and roles became more substantive; Bill Cosby's starring role in I Spy being one example. Women's presence in TV also increased and started to stray away from the typical housewife. By the 60's and 70's, women had far more leading roles such as in Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. The Mary Tyler Moore show was an example of the emergence of the single, capable, working woman as an acceptable figure on television. In the 70's and 80's, social issues and different lifestyles began to penetrate television programming. Divorce and single motherhood was presented in shows such as One Day at a Time. Women and occasionally minorities began to be shown in positions of power. Issues such as homosexuality and abortion began to be discussed. From Cagney and Lacey to Murphy Brown some women began to have a purpose beyond their beauty. Even age barriers began to fall as shows such as The Golden Girls became popular. Inter-racial issues were more evident in shows such as All in the Family. By the 90's, shows with African Americans in lead roles and in positions of authority were becoming established. Bill Cosby as the successful obstetrician and ideal father was married to a successful lawyer, Felicia Rashad while Oprah Winfrey acted, directed, and began to take over the world of talk shows. The types of programming had changed over the years as well. Dramas, investigative news programs, sports, and reality based shows were gaining popularity.

A major step in diversification was the emergence of niche programming. From MTV directed toward the younger, male audience, to ESPN, Fox Sports for men, and Lifetime cable network for women (just to name a few) the trend to recognize a wider audience was marching forward. Today, the representation of many minority groups on American television remains small for the population and representation of all groups remains somewhat inaccurate or restricted but strides continue. Channels specific to the gay/lesbian population and to Asian Americans are examples that demonstrate recognition of our diverse population.

With satellite, television has been able to branch out and become even more global however. Dish Network, as an example, now offers 110 International Channels in over 25 languages. African, Arabic, South Asian, and Russian programming are just a few examples. They also offer Latino packages and a Great Wall package directed toward the Chinese market. Increasingly, satellites allow us to listen in to radio and television programming from around the world allowing television to continue it's evolution as a diversified and global media.

About the Author

Christine Peppler offers information and resources for consumers regarding home entertainment and home electronics on her website at www.homemedias.info.

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