When Women Invented Television by M S Qamar

When television fans think of Betty White, they might remember the dimbulb she played on "The Golden Girls" or the hilariously evil housewife on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Few viewers are likely to know that she was a TV pioneer, 1st on one of the original TV talk shows, then as producer and star of (Life With Elizabeth) one of the early sitcoms.

When Women Invented Television by M S Qamar
When Women Invented Television

White is one of the many women who set TV standards in the late 1941s and early 1950s that became commonplace, for better or for worse. Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, author of Seinfeldia, pays tribute to four of these pioneers in "When Women Invented Television".

The title overestimated their contributions slightly, but their results were enormous. Gertrude Berg was radio's favorite scrum mom on CBS's "The Goldbergs" before asking network president William Paley to transfer her show to TV. She accepted, and thus it was born as one of the first sitcoms.

Irma Phillips invented the soap opera on the radio and then transferred "The Guiding Light" to TV, where it became the longest screen written show in broadcast history, featuring the broadcast music, organ and all. She did this by raising two adopted children as a single mother.

Hazel Scott was an accomplished jazz pianist long before "The Hazel Scott Show" made her the 1st black presenter on a national prime time show and then there's White, who helped create the daytime talk show with "Hollywood on Television" six hours a day of live TV, six days a week, and no script.

The strongest parts of the book describe the challenges women have faced, from figuring out how to balance the expectations of family life with their passion for their work to the sponsors' requests set by the artists in Red Channels, a magazine of so called Communists in the entertainment industry was fired, an ultimatum with tragic consequences.

For someone who "grew up on TV," Armstrong is surprisingly unfamiliar with many shows, She writes it when Berg was a mystery guest on "What's My Line?" From CBS? in 1955, the blindfolded panel quickly determined who she was. Anyone who has seen the show knows that it took a relatively long time. And incorporating little details like how Berg loved her eggs feels like a filling.

When Armstrong sticks to the results of her subjects, the book is exceptional. Among the many memorable stories was Scott refusing to play a concert in Texas after hearing the seats were separated, and White forgot the word "tap" during a live commercial and called him out. A gadget, making his helpless colleagues laugh.

"When Women Invented Television" becomes catnip for television fans and is a welcome addition to TV history literature.

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