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Television was first broadcast to the general public in the 1930s, but in those early days its potential was limited by the very small number of TV sets. It wasn't until after the end of World War 2 that TV began to grow. In 1946 there were only about 6000 tv sets in the United States but by 1951 over 12 million sets were active. Among the most successful early TV shows were radio programs that made the transition to television. These included the Los Angeles based police drama, Dragnet, the classic Western Gunsmoke, and I Love Lucy, which was derived from a successful radio program. Talk shows were also popular, Meet the Press debuted in 1947 and is still running today, making it the longest running TV show in America.
By the late 1950s Westerns were the most popular TV shows. In 1959, 29 Western TV Shows were broadcast during Primetime and the majority of the most popular TV series were Westerns. News shows were also an early hit and given the relative scarcity of programming, newscasters became national stars. The CBS Evening News debuted in 1962 and by the end of the decade its anchor, Walter Cronkite, was known as "the most trusted man in America".
Although a few TV shows, such as The Cisco Kid, had been filmed in color (but broadcast in black and white) since the 1950s, color broadcasts remained uncommon until the mid-1960s. Nonetheless, networks began to create more and more color TV shows, bearing in mind that in the future color would be ubiquitous and such shows would have a longer life in syndication. NBC created the Bonanza western tv show to exploit the new medium of color TV and it quickly became a hit, running for 14 seasons.
In 1966 all-color broadcasting began in primetime and the three networks, ABC, CBS and NBC dominated programming. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s their approach was generally to create programs that would appeal to the lowest common denominator of viewer. Classic TV shows such as Bonanza, The Beverly Hillbillies and The Lucy Show were among the most popular with each being the the number one or two series and being in the top ten for several seasons. Although independent stations, which historically broadcast on the UHF band, broadcast syndicated reruns of classic TV shows and other locally oriented content, it wasn't until the widespread adaptation of cable TV in the late 1970s that more programming became available and the networks gradually began to lose their influence. Today viewers worldwide generally are able to choose between broadcast television, cable, satellite and streaming internet programming, giving viewers the unprecedented opportunity to watch even the most esoteric programs at their leisure.