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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.
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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.

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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 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. DuMont, meanwhile, was too busy dying to care about color television, although its TV manufacturing parent did produce a few color TV experiments, including the rather fascinating Vitascan system.

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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.
  • BBC2, the first TV station in Europe to switch to colour on the PAL standard (see below), featured an ident with the word "colour" below a rotating cube with each side displaying the BBC2 logo in each of the primary colours of light. BBC1 followed suit in 1969 with the "mirror globe" logo. The various presentation devices used by both BBC channels (idents, clocks, school program countdowns) were captioned "BBC[1/2] COLOUR" until 1974.
  • The various ITV companies had their own colour idents. Many were just still idents with something along the lines of "colour presentation" mentioned somewhere, although some were more creative, such as ATV's "Colour Zoom" and Grampian's logo. White-on-blue and yellow-on-blue colour schemes were very popular, supposedly because those translated better to black-and-white.

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.

For instances in which this is done within a work as a storytelling trope (most famously in The Wizard of Oz), see Monochrome to Color.


Shows that switched to color in their original run:

1961
  • Laramie: (NBC, 1959-1963) - Two black and white seasons, two color seasons, namesake of the NBC "Laramie Peacock" signifying a color program when the peacock first appeared preceding an episode of this show on January 2, 1962.
  • 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, 1963-present) - Six black-and-white seasons, 31 and counting colour seasons.note 
  • 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 (1972–1975) 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.
  • Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, one of Australia's first globally popular TV shows, was filmed in colour, despite the fact that Australia didn't fully roll out colour television until 1975. This was for the purposes of the North American export market, which did already have colour broadcasting in the 1960s.

Other notes:

  • It wasn't difficult to buy plastic screens that allegedly "colorized" a black and white TV monitor before color television became common. These were either prismatic (to create reflective color tints on the screen), or were dyed in three color bands (typically blue for sky, sepia for flesh tones and backgrounds, and green for grass.) While not producing a true color image, they were much cheaper for curious TV owners.
  • An infamous April Fools' Day prank by Sweden's then-only TV station in 1962 saw a "technical expert" demonstrate how to simulate a color broadcast on a black & white TV by stretching a fine meshed fabric (ideally nylon stockings) over the screen. The prank fooled many Swedish viewers, and is still widely remembered today. Sweden didn't get color television broadcasts until 1966. Norway reportedly saw a similar hoax around this time, with viewers told to turn off all of their household electronics but the television to free up enough power to generate a color image.
  • The oldest surviving color videotape in the U.S. is of the dedication of the WRC-TV studios in Washington, D.C. on May 22, 1958. The footage begins in black-and-white as President Eisenhower's car arrives at the studio, then David Sarnoff of RCA begins his speech with a live switch to color. His speech is followed by one from Eisenhower, making him the first president to appear on color TV.
  • The oldest surviving color videotape of an U.S. entertainment network program is of the TV special "An Evening with Fred Astaire", broadcast on NBC on October 17, 1958. Said videotape was used to rerun the special on January 26, 1959 and on CBS on December 20, 1964.
  • 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.
    • That same year, France and Germany visibly promoted the switch to colour live.
    • The TV special "Aunty Jack Introduces Colour" promoted Australia's full transition to colour TV broadcasting in 1975, after several years of experimental broadcasts.
      • Interestingly, New Zealand began its colour transition the previous year, in order to roll it out in time for the 1974 Commonwealth Games.
  • Israel's relationship with Color TV is especially Mind Screw-y:
    • Foreign-oriented programs were filmed in color since 1974 - the same year Neighboring Egypt and Jordan got color TV in, with Lebanon following a year later.
    • Israeli-made broadcasts for domestic release, however, were still black and white until 1980, bar two one-off events: Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's 1977 visit to Israel, and the 1979 Eurovision Song Contest in Jerusalem.
    • Even when it comes to non-Israeli made broadcasts, you were pretty much boned – the government viewed having a color TV as fueling social gaps, so it required the Broadcasting Authority (Israel didn't have multichannel TV until the 90's) to air everything in black and white.
    • However, since removing the actual color out of foreign-produced color programs was too much of a hassle, the decolorization was made by simply airing them without a burst phase – the part of the color transmission which tells the TV how to read the actual color signals – abusing a failsafe which forces the color TV into black-and-white mode if it doesn't recieve the burst phase to make sure background noise doesn't accidentally colorize a monochrome signal. Naturally, the market was instantly flooded with colorizing devices which generated a burst phase at the TV reciever's end.
    • Finally, the Government realized removing the burst phase actually helps fuel the social gaps it was meant to close, since nearly every color TV owner also bought the colorizer, which added to the TV's cost, and reintroduced color broadcasting for the third time – and permanently – in a gradual transition in 1980-83.
  • 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.
  • During NBC coverage of the assassination of John F. Kennedy; there are a few instances where the studio footage from Dallas-Fort Worth affiliate WBAP-TV 5note  is briefly seen in color early on in the coverage before the station switched to black and white to match both the filmed reports from the station as well as the network coverage (also in black and white).
  • From its 1977 debut onward, the Atari 2600 video game console featured a "TV Type" switch which was intended for players to change the game's visuals from the original color graphics to a monochrome high-contrast mode better suited for black & white TVs. Most early games have two such TV type modes, but the switch saw less usage as black & white TVs became less popular. By the mid-1980s, developers had largely stopped programming a black & white mode, though the switch remained on later 2600 models, and a handful of games use the "TV Type" switch for alternate game functionality or as a pause button.
  • Black and white TVs continued to be manufactured and sold well into the 2000s, though over time, new models tended to get smaller and smaller, with many newer commercial CRT black and white TVs sold as portable travel units, often combined with a radio. In this way, they weren't positioned to color TV resistors, mainly travelers, as black and white CRT monitors were cheaper to produce.
    • In any event, the digital TV transition that began in 2006 made any black and white CRT TV obsolete as is, at least in markets that have completely shut off their analog transmitters. A digital converter box and requisite antenna will bring them back to life, though you may need an RF modulator, a VHF/UHF matching transformer, or actual physical modding to get a signal, depending on what ports the TV has, or lack thereof.
    • In Great Britain, where residents are required to pay an annual license fee to watch television, over 7,000 households still paid a license for a black & white TV in 2018. While this is partially due to the cheaper license fee (£49 a year compared to £149.50 for a colour television), many of the holdouts (there and abroad) genuinely prefer their monochrome TV and/or the picture quality for nostalgic, collecting, or convenience reasons. Some classic film buffs swear by a black & white TV as the optimal way to watch black & white programs. One man even unsuccessfully campaigned to pay the black & white license fee as he only watched his colour TV with the colour setting cranked to zero on purpose.

Alternative Title(s): Switch To Colour

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