“Two emotionally charged events, forever linked in our memories. Fifty years later, they underscore the immediacy of TV, and its tremendous impact on our society. The boxes are thinner, the screens are flatter, and more portable, but television’s power to engage, inform, and unite continues to have a profound purpose as we remember the past, celebrate the present, and anticipate our future.”
Those were lines read by Don Cheadle at the 2013 Emmy Awards, during a segment spotlighting TV’s role in the culture-defining events of November 1963 and February 1964.
The Kennedy Assassination was the seminal moment of the Television Age. As Cheadle pointed out, it was the first time that more Americans got their news from TV than from newspapers. It was the event that proved television’s unique ability to bring people together with sound and sight to share in milestone moments. Newspapers delivered information and interpretation – but television also provided emotion. We were now in the moment, not just reviewing it.
People’s relationship with news suddenly changed forever. And with it, television became more than just a novelty for entertainment. It became an essential part of American households.
In February, 1964, the Beatles provided an instant relief from our rock-bottom national despair, as they reenergized the airwaves with joy and love, and a sense of fun. In that one night, they reached down, held our hand, and made us all feel younger and happier again.
As a television moment, the repercussions would be felt in many areas of our society – and one could make an argument that this gave rise to youth marketing. The hysteria created by four “Lads from Liverpool” may be the turning point of a demographic shift in American marketing. Suddenly the housewives in aprons target seemed so very “yesterday,” so very 1950’s. We’d become a youth culture, almost overnight, as a TV audience 73 million strong changed us to our core.
But these two moments weren’t just fixed points in our television landscape. They were huge boulders dropped in a large, calm body of water, which created ripples that still are being seen today. Our “shared moments” continue on television despite the rise of the online world.
Interestingly, these Emmy Awards showed just how much social media and TV intersect. Prior to the event, social buzz was stirring about the extended “In Memoriam” tributes that were to be presented. And during the broadcast, Carrie Underwood, her own star launched as a former winner of American Idol, became the biggest trend on Twitter for the night with her performance of the Beatle’s “Yesterday,” although it’s doubtful that any pointed out the historical anachronism of using a song from 1965 for their appearance in 1964. CBS might be thankful if a large segment of the audience wasn’t sure that Underwood hadn’t written the song herself.
But the online chatter illustrated the respective roles of television and the Internet. We go online to react to what we’ve seen, to get more information, to supplement our television experiences.
It is those touchstone, large-scale, society-rocking events – the Boston Marathon Bombing, Hurricane Sandy, the tragedy in Newtown, CT, or even the most potent of all, 9/11 – coverage of each that are all hallmarks of local broadcast television, that are each further reminders that television is indeed where we are engaged, informed and united.