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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Researching TV Shows

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, August 30, 2009

Recently, my wife and I were watching TV and the discussion turned to what television show was on TV the longest?


My response, as a Librarian, was to use my standard line; “I’ll look it up!”


My wife is used to me saying that I need to research everything, and after 28 years she is used to it.


My reason for telling you about this question is to show the complexity of the research involved with this question.


I started my research with my set of “World Book” encyclopedias at home, to give be a background to the subject, and a framework for beginning my search.


This, of course, dates me, as a younger librarian would scoff at using a print source to begin researching a reference question.


I also have my 1964 set of “Compton’s Encyclopedia” ready and waiting, in case the question doesn’t need up-to-date information.


The first transmission of a television signal was in the late 1920s showing a statue of the cartoon character “Felix the Cat.”


In 1936, the Radio Corporation of America (later RCA Corporation) installed television receivers in 150 homes in New York City, and began experimental broadcasts.


World War II interrupted television development until 1945.


Following the war, TVs began to appear on the east coast of the U.S. where signals were being sent from the television networks based in New York City.


By 1951, signals extended to Los Angeles.


At this point, my wife asks what this all has to do with the original question.


The problem with the original question is that there are many factors that impact the answer.


My wife’s guess was “Gunsmoke,” my guess was “Bonanza.”


We had both forgotten that news shows and soap operas are also on television, and we were thinking of just entertainment shows.


Confirmed by several sources, as well as the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest running TV show is NBC’s “Meet the Press,” which debuted on Nov. 6, 1947.


Several other news programs quickly followed including the “CBS Evening News” in 1948, the “Today” Show in 1952, the NBC news shows by various names starting in 1952, and “ABC World News” in 1953.


Mixed in with that line-up is one daytime drama, “Guiding Light” which began on June 30, 1952 and is scheduled to end Sept. 18, 2009.


The problem with this question is that shows change names and networks over the years.


For example, shows under the “Disney” name have existed since 1954 on seven different networks with various names.


Perhaps it is easier to define the type of show, and note that the longest running game show is “Price is Right,” and “Sesame Street” is the longest running children’s program.


Back to our original question of the longest running entertainment show, the problem there is whether you count the number of episodes, or the length of time that the show aired on TV.


My wife’s answer of “Gunsmoke” is correct for the longest running based on 635 episodes from 1955-1975, but “The Simpsons” will overtake the time length this year, but not the episodes.


“Ozzie & Harriet” from 1952-1966 has 435 episodes, but “Lassie” has more episodes in a 20 year lifespan.


My answer of “Bonanza” is in the top 10, spanning 1959-1973, a shorter span with 430 episodes.


So, the answer is complex, and much depends on the parameters applied to the question.


I did have to chuckle at some the answers posted on list serves on the Internet for this same question.


People posed the question of longest-running TV show, and a multitude of other folks answered with a myriad of absolutely wrong answers.


Everyone said thanks for the answers; don’t they realize that list serves are the most unreliable place to find answers to questions?