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World Television Day: 8 firsts in TV history

On the occasion of World Television Day, we look at commercials, films, animated shows and others that aired on the small screen for the first time

R.U.R.
A still from a performance of the play 'R.U.R.'

The first science-fiction television show
In what could be described as a first for television, a section from the 1921 Czech science-fiction play 'R.U.R.' written by Karel Capek, was aired on February 11 in 1938 on BBC television. This 35-minute TV adaptation is considered as the first piece of television science-fiction ever to be broadcast. The play was notable for using the term 'robot' for the first time, a word derived from the Czech word robota, which means forced labor.

The story of 'R.U.R.' which stands for 'Rosumovi Univerzální Roboti', translated as 'Rossum’s Universal Robots' begins in a factory that makes artificial people, called roboti (robots), out of synthetic organic matter. These 'robots' are closer to the modern idea of cyborgs, androids or even clones, as they may be mistaken for humans and can think for themselves. Initially happy to work for humans, they turn hostile and revolt, which leads to the extinction of the human race.

TV's first soap opera
'These Are My Children' the creation of American radio writer and actress Irna Phillips, was broadcast live from Chicago, Illinois, airing fifteen minutes a day, five days a week, at 5:00 p.m. EST. It ran on NBC from January 31, 1949 to February 25, 1949.

Soap Opera
Representational picture

The show centered on an Irish widow, Mrs. Henehan and her struggles to run a boarding house as well as help her three children and new daughter-in-law Jean. Although it failed to gain popularity and was panned by critics, its creator Irna Phillips' later creations Guiding Light (1952), As the World Turns (1956) and "Days of Our Lives" (1965) are still in production today.

World's first colour television broadcast: Scottish inventor John Logie Baird demonstrated the world's first color transmission on July 3, 1928, using scanning discs at the transmitting and receiving ends with three spirals of apertures, each spiral with filters of a different primary color; and three light sources at the receiving end, with a commutator to alternate their illumination.

John Logie Baird
John Logie Baird. Pic/YouTube

Baird also made the world's first color broadcast on February 4, 1938, sending a mechanically scanned 120-line image from Baird's Crystal Palace studios to a projection screen at London's Dominion Theatre.

World's first reality TV show: American TV producer Allen Funt hosted 'Candid Camera', which first aired in 1948.

A still from 'Candid Camera'. Pic/YouTube
A still from 'Candid Camera'. Pic/YouTube

It showed unsuspecting people confronted with funny, unusual situations and filmed with a hidden camera. The show is generally considered as a prototype of reality television programming, which went on to gather mainstream popularity in the 1990s and the 2000s.

The first sports event to be broadcast live: The 1936 Summer Olympics was the first sporting event to have live television coverage.

1936 Summer Olympics
A still from the opening ceremony of the 1936 Summer Olympics. Pic/YouTube

Over 70 hours of coverage was broadcast by the German Post Office, using equipment from Telefunken to special viewing rooms throughout Berlin and Potsdam and a few private TV sets, transmitting from the Paul Nipkow TV Station. This was not without error as blackouts would occur when changing from one type to another since three different types of TV cameras were being used and the quality was generally poor.

The first-ever music video on TV: American singer Tony Bennett claims in his autobiography to have created the "first music video", which was sent to UK and US television stations and aired on shows including Dick Clark's American Bandstand.

Tony Bennett
Tony Bennett. Pic/YouTube

Bennett was filmed walking along the Serpentine in Hyde Park, London in 1956, with the resulting clip being set to his recording of the song "Stranger in Paradise". This predates the MTV era, the music TV channel which became a standard for the genre starting in 1981 and the first video that the channel aired on it's starting year was The Buggles' 1979 video "Video Killed the Radio Star".

The first television commercial: American watch and clock company Bulova aired an advert on July 1, 1941 over New York station WNBT (now WNBC) before a baseball game.

Bulova Watch Time
A still from the ad. Pic/YouTube

The ad displayed a WNBT test pattern modified to look like a clock with the hands showing the time with the firm's logo, with the phrase "Bulova Watch Time", was shown in the lower right-hand quadrant of the test pattern while the second hand swept around the dial for one minute. Bulova reportedly paid anywhere from $4.00 to $9.00 for the advertisement.

First cartoon on television: The 1949 cartoon show 'Crusader Rabbit' is the first animated series produced specifically for television. The idea was the brainchild of animator Alex Anderson, who approached his company Terrytoons with the idea but was turned down. Anderson later teamed up with Jay Ward to form "Television Arts Productions" in 1947.

Crusader Rabbit
A still from 'Crusader Rabbit'. Pic/YouTube

Each program began with a title sequence of a mounted knight galloping across the screen. The episodes then featured a short, usually satirical, adventure in the form of a movie serial, ending with a cliffhanger. 'Crusader Rabbit' was syndicated from 1950 to 1951, totaling 195 episodes (divided into ten "crusades"), and then re-aired for many years.

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