History: January 17, 1949: First Television Sitcom, The Goldbergs

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A Brief History

On January 17, 1949, American television audiences were treated to a new form of entertainment, the situation comedy, or more familiarly known as the sitcom.

Digging Deeper

The Goldbergs, a show about a New York Jewish family living in a Bronx tenement.  The main character was the matriarch, Molly Goldberg, played by actress Gertrude Berg.  The show had been a radio program from 1929 to 1946, at first weekly but due to great success becoming a daily show in 1931.  The public was already familiar with the premise of the show and the characters, so taking to the television version was more or less assured.  In fact, of radio comedies only Amos ‘n’ Andy had a longer run.

Prior to hitting television, Berg adapted the radio show as a Broadway play called Me and Molly in 1948, so a visual presentation was already accepted by the public when the television version first aired.  All the episodes were written by Berg, who won the Best Actress Emmy for 1950.  She insisted on not having a studio audience and avoided controversial subjects while maintaining the Jewish nature of show’s family.

The first seasons aired for 30 minutes per episode on CBS with Sanka coffee as a sponsor.  After the 1951 season, NBC insisted on the replacement of the leading man, Phillip Loeb who played Molly’s husband, Jake.  The show was picked up by NBC for 1952-1953,  now a 15 minute show but with a new title, Molly.  In 1954 the show once again became a half hour program, this time aired by the Dumont television network.  (No, I never heard of Dumont either.)

Despite Nielson ratings indicating 10 million viewers watched Molly, the troubled network could not afford to pay for the show, and the final seasons of 1955 and 1956 were released in syndication, picked up by local stations.

Gertrude Berg played the Molly Goldberg character on a few television appearances on other shows, and returned to television with a new show, Mrs. G Goes to College in 1961-1962.

Today our televisions boast of numerous sitcoms available all day and night of every day of the week, all of them the children and grandchildren of The Goldbergs.  Please tell us your favorite sitcoms currently playing and of all time.

If you are interested in watching this pioneering television show, it has been restored to DVD by Shout! Factory and from the UCLA Film and Television Archive. You can find the DVD’s available at Amazon.com.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.