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Lisa: Arnold took over the paper route from Joey, he's saving up enough money to buy a color TV.
Oliver: A color TV?
Lisa: He's tired of looking at the world in black-and-white.
Oliver: Yes, I can see where that would be a big hangup for him.

One defining moment of television history was the introduction of color broadcasting. Although experiments in color television began as early The '50s, it wouldn't be until the mid-sixties that color would become commonplace on TV sets.

The first of the major American networks to utilize color for its programs was CBS, mostly due to the employment of engineer Peter Carl Goldmark, who introduced an electro-mechanical system that had discs that included red, blue, and green filters that spun inside a television camera at 1,200 rpm. NBC, then owned by electronics company RCA, was the next to experiment with color television; however, at the time of these experiments, television sets were still built to receive black-and-white signals. The demand for color sets didn't arise until the 1960s, when color film was becoming more commonplace.

Although both CBS and NBC had some success with color systems, the overall transition from black-and-white to color for all of television was a gradual process that spanned from 1953 to 1968. The first national color broadcast was the 1954 Tournament of Roses Parade telecast on NBC, and the network also brought us the first weekly primetime series in color, starting with the sitcom The Marriage in the summer of 1954, and the anthology series Ford Theatre the following fall. The next to follow suit would be the western series Bonanza, in 1959.

Black-and-white television sets, however, were still common in most households across the country, mostly due to the high costs of color sets. Also, while NBC was enthusiastic about color due to its ownership by RCA, whose color TV system was now the NTSC standard, the other two networks were dragging their feet into color broadcasting. CBS, despite broadcasting occasional color programming in the 1950's, was more than a little bitter that their electro-mechanical system lost over RCA's and wasn't too keen to encourage them; they quit broadcasting color programs altogether by 1960. ABC, while also not too hot at the idea of supporting a rival, didn't really had the budget to do much color broadcasting, although they did air The Flintstones and The Jetsons in color beginning in 1962.

With this in mind, to help boost the demand for color sets, NBC decided that in 1965, most of its primetime lineup would switch to color ; sure enough, CBS and ABC were quick to follow NBC's lead. A year later, all three of the major networks had made the complete switch to color for the 1966-67 television season, though NET (the precursor to PBS) was still airing mostly black-and-white programs, mostly because it relies on funding from the public; their first color broadcast was not until 1968.

During this time, each of the networks would display its own color identification disclaimer at the beginning of most of its programs:

  • CBS had this logo, which featured a "jingle" by Eric Siday, who also did the music for the Screen Gems "S from Hell" and NET's final logo.
  • NBC first created their iconic peacock logo to introduce their color programs. Its earliest appearances in 1956 were as a still logo. By the next year, it received its own animation and jingle, as you can see here. In 1962, the disclaimer received a new animation and jingle; that version was nicknamed the "Laramie Peacock" after the Western Series Laramie, where that new variant premiered.
  • ABC featured this, a bunch of circles morphing into a colorful version of their famous circle logo.
  • PBS predecessor National Educational Television (NET) featured this disclaimer of a 20 circles changing colour, with the words "In Color" sliding in from the right, but this featured no voice over or station identification. NET idents of the era featured red, yellow, and blue rectangles forming on screen, then flipping into the background to become the NET logo. By the time of PBS' launch in 1970, their content was more or less in colour for good, though they maintained having their logo or name in three different colours on station IDs until 1984.

The disclaimers eventually were phased out from programs, though they wouldn't completely disappear until 1972, when sales of color sets finally exceeded black-and-white sets, and research showed that half of all households in America had a color set in at least one room. 

During this time, the only television stations that continued to broadcast in black-and-white were various local UHF markets across the country. The last station convert to color, Pittsburgh PBS affiliate WQEX, didn't do so until 1986, and only because their black-and-white transmitter broke down and the parts to fix it were no longer made.


Shows that switched to color in their original run:

1961
  • Rocky and Bullwinkle: Came with a Channel Hop (from ABC to NBC) and a title change (from Rocky and His Friends to The Bullwinkle Show)
  • Walt Disney Presents: Came with a Channel Hop (from ABC to NBC) and a title change (Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color). The first episode, "An Adventure in Color", lampshades the switch to color and the fact that only those with color TVs could see it that way.

1962

  • The Flintstones (ABC, 1960-66) - Two black-and-white seasons, four color seasons (All episodes were produced in color though).
  • Hazel (NBC, 1961-65; CBS, 1965-66) - One black-and-white season, four color seasons note 
  • The Joey Bishop Show (NBC, 1961-64; CBS, 1964-65) - Two black-and-white seasons, two color seasons note 

1963

  • Wagon Train (NBC, 1957-62; ABC, 1962-65) - Seven black-and-white seasons, one color season note 

1965

  • The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (ABC, 1952-66) - Thirteen black-and-white seasons, one color season
  • The Andy Griffith Show (CBS, 1960-68) - Five black-and-white seasons, three color seasons
  • The Beverly Hillbillies (CBS, 1962-71) - Three black-and-white seasons, six color seasons
  • The Bugs Bunny Show: (ABC, 1960-62) - Originally aired in primetime, reruns aired on Saturday mornings in black-and-white until Fall 1965.
  • Daniel Boone (NBC, 1964-70) - One black-and-white season, five color seasons
  • Dr. Kildare (NBC, 1961-66) - Four black-and-white seasons, one color season note 
  • The Ed Sullivan Show (CBS, 1948-71) - Seventeen black-and-white seasons, six color seasons note 
  • The Farmers Daughter (ABC, 1963-66) - Two black-and-white seasons, one color season
  • Get Smart (NBC, 1965-69; CBS, 1969-70) - Pilot episode in black-and-white, rest of series in color
  • Gilligan's Island (CBS, 1964-67) - One black-and-white season, two color seasons note 
  • Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (CBS, 1964-69) - One black-and-white season, four color seasons
  • Hogan's Heroes (CBS, 1965-71) - Pilot episode in black-and-white, rest of series in color
  • The Hollywood Palace (ABC, 1964-70) - Two black-and-white seasons, five color seasons
  • Lassie (CBS, 1954-71; Syndication, 1971-73) - Eleven black-and-white seasons, eight color seasons
  • The Lucy Show (CBS, 1962-68) - Three black-and-white seasons, three color seasons (though seasons 2-6 were produced in color)
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (NBC, 1964-68) - One black-and-white season, three color seasons
  • My Favorite Martian (CBS, 1963-66) - Two black-and-white seasons, one color season note 
  • My Three Sons (ABC, 1960-65; CBS, 1965-72) - Five black-and-white seasons, seven color seasons
  • Petticoat Junction (CBS, 1963-70) - Two black-and-white seasons, five color seasons
  • Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (ABC, 1964-68) - Pilot episode in color, rest of first season in black-and-white, last three seasons in color

1966

  • Bewitched (ABC, 1964-72) - Two black-and-white seasons, six color seasons
  • Combat! (ABC, 1962-67) - Four black-and-white seasons, one color season
  • Concentration (NBC, 1958-73) was produced in black and white except for the 1961 prime time series. The daytime series switched to color in November 1966.
  • F Troop (ABC, 1965-67) - One black-and-white season, one color season note 
  • The Fugitive (ABC, 1963-67) - Three black-and-white seasons, one color season
  • Gunsmoke (CBS, 1955-75) - Ten black-and-white seasons, 11 color seasons
  • I Dream of Jeannie (NBC, 1965-70) - One black-and-white season, four color seasons note 
  • I've Got a Secret (CBS, 1952-1967) 14 black-and-white seasons, one color season. note 
  • Lost in Space (CBS, 1965-68) - One black-and-white season, two color seasons
  • Password (CBS, 1962-67) - Four black-and-white seasons, one color season
  • Peyton Place (ABC, 1964-69) - Two black-and-white seasons, three color seasons
  • The Saint (ITV, 1962-1969) - Four black-and-white seasons, two color seasons.
  • Sally the Witch (the 1966-1967 series) had its first 13 episodes air in black and white before switching to color.
  • To Tell the Truth (CBS, 1956-1968) The prime-time series (1956-67) ran for 10 black-and-white seasons and one color season; the daytime series (1962-68) ran for four black-and-white seasons and two color seasons.
  • Twelve O Clock High (ABC, 1964-67) - Two black-and-white seasons, one color season
  • What's My Line? (CBS, 1950-1967) 16 black-and-white seasons, one color season. note 
  • The Wild Wild West (CBS, 1965-69) - One black-and-white season, three color seasons

1967

  • American Bandstand (ABC, 1957-1987; Syndication, 1987-88; USA Network, 1988-89) - Ten black-and-white seasons note , 22 color seasons. note 
  • The Avengers (ITV, 1961-1969) - Four black-and-white seasons, two color seasons. Notably, the switch to color was made to keep the show viable as an export to the US; British TV didn't switch to color until some years later.
  • Dark Shadows (ABC, 1966-1971) - 2 black-and-white seasons, 4 color seasons.
  • The Secret Storm (CBS, 1954-1974) - 13 black-and-white seasons, 7 color seasons.

1969

  • Coronation Street (ITV, 1960-present) - Nine black-and-white seasons, 45 and counting colour seasons note 
  • Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (PBS, 1968-2001) - One black-and-white season, 30 color seasons

1970

  • Doctor Who (BBC, the original 1963-1989 series) - Six black-and-white seasons, 20 colour seasons.
  • Crossroads (the 1964-1988 run) was originally made in black-and-white. The show switched to colour by 1970.

Exceptions:

  • The Gene Autry Show is an interesting case. In the spring of 1951, CBS experimented with testing color film, an experiment that effected this show: the last two episodes of the first season were special episodes that were presented in color. Afterward, the show returned to black-and-white film at the beginning of the following season, and remained in that format until its final season in 1954, when the show switched back to color for the rest of its run.
  • The Adventures of Superman (1952-58, syndication) was filmed in color starting in 1955, but was not broadcast as such until 1965. The earlier black-and-white episodes had Superman wear a brown suit since it looked better in monochrome; the black-and-white prints of the color episodes required adjustment of the contrast so that Superman's suit would look like it did in the earlier seasons (otherwise the red and blue would have been almost indistinguishable from one another).
  • The November 22, 1953 edition of The Colgate Comedy Hour was part of an experimental NTSC color broadcast.
  • The fifth season premiere of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show television series was broadcast in color on October 4, 1954. This was part of an experiment by their network, CBS, which had several of their shows air a special color edition that fall.
  • Science Fiction Theatre (1955-1957, syndication) was filmed in color for the first season before downgrading to black-and-white for the second season. The producers had thought that color television would have expanded faster than it did.
  • The Bill Cullen run of The Price Is Right (1956-1965) provides an inversion. The prime-time version on NBC was broadcast in color; however, when the series hopped over to ABC in 1963, it had to downgrade to black-and-white because that network didn't have the budget to convert for color broadcasting, despite Goodson and Todman's wishes to make it the first non-cartoon color show on their schedule. The daytime version was in black-and-white on both networks.
  • Perry Mason (1957-1966) had one episode produced and aired in color during its final season, probably in an attempt to boost its sagging ratings against Bonanza and The ABC Sunday Night Movie, both color offerings.
  • Wagon Train aired for most of its run in black-and-white, briefly switching to color on a few occasions:
    • During the fifth season (1961-1962), five episodes were broadcast in color at NBC's behest, to help promote RCA color sets.
    • The seventh season (1963-1964), the second on ABC, switched in color alongside an expansion to 90 minutes. Those changes were reverted the very next season; the downgrade, alongside a time slot change, was a major factor in its cancellation in 1965.
  • A 15-minute test pilot for The Munsters was filmed for CBS in 1964 to pitch the series to the network, and among the many differences between it and the series proper (including different casting choices) was that the test pilot was filmed in color. While color worked well for the Fantastic Comedy premise, the series was ultimately filmed in black and white for two reasons:
    1. Executive Meddling. Apparently, the network felt the characters were "too ugly" for color television.
    2. The producers opted not to spend the extra expense on color film. Ironically, the competition from other colored shows, such as Batman and Bewitched, is what ended up killing The Munsters in the ratings.
  • The reason The Patty Duke Show (1963-1966) was cancelled despite high ratings was that United Artists Television objected to ABC's demand for a switch to color. Patty Duke suspected that it was an unsuccessful negotiation ploy to get ABC to pay more for producing the series.
  • On the Buses (1969-1973) had its first two seasons made in black and white. The show switched to colour with its third season. The series returned to black and white for seven episodes of the fourth season due to a strike by technicians.
  • The Joker's Wild (19721975) had its 1968 pilot produced in black and white. The latter two pilots and the series were produced in color.
  • The 1965 NBC drama series Convoy was filmed and aired in black and white, as it heavily used newsreel and stock footage from the US Navy during World War II. However, airing in black and white against an increasingly colorized TV landscape didn't help in the ratings, especially going head to head with two more successful (and full color) military series on CBS (Hogan's Heroes & Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.)
  • The 1966 CBS summer replacement docu-series Wayne And Shuster Take an Affectionate Look At aired in black and white, as they taped the show at CBC in Toronto, Canada, which hadn't yet launched their color transmitter.
  • Some of the last new black and white shows on American network TV were lower budget daytime game shows on ABC, namely Everybody's Talking and the early Bob Barker-hosted series The Family Game. These are often seen as the last black and white programs on American network television, with both ending their first runs on December 29th, 1967, without ever airing in colour. Incidentally, The Family Game replaced another short-lived black and white series on ABC's fall schedule, namely the talk show Dateline Hollywood.

Other notes:

  • Several British TV series and specials were produced in color before color television was introduced there in 1967 for the benefit of the American networks that were already broadcasting in color. Examples are The Avengers (see above) and the Gerry Anderson "Supermarionation" shows from Stingray onwards.
    • 1967 was year zero for colour television in most of Europe, with the PAL and SECAM broadcasting systems finally being rolled out. Both systems were a response to the North American NTSC colour system's limitations, particularly the side effect of colour tones shifting when transmissions were affected by weather and distance. Also, Europe used 50Hz electrical transmission where North America used 60Hz.
  • Gidget originally aired at the time the switch to color was still being mandated, so although the series was a color series to begin with, Sally Field filmed opening bumpers to promote the show in color (and to this day she still remembers filming those bumpers).
  • Although PBS didn't necessarily have impressive or extravagant budgets to speak of, from the get-go, the producers of Sesame Street insisted not only that the show be videotaped (to give it the look of a live broadcast), but also that it be in color, to take advantage of all of the (then) latest technology at their disposal to make the show as interesting, eye-catching, and alluring as possible. Its very first episode opens with an "In color" disclaimer.

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