Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Transition to Color TV

Color television was introduced into the U.S. market only a few years after black–and–white TV in the 1950s, but it was more than a decade before sales of color sets really took off and color programming became more feasible.

I was a child, but I remember that transitional period in the mid– to late 1960s. My grandparents had given my family our first TV set. It was just a basic B&W portable set, nothing fancy, but I remember seeing the promotions prior to color programs that proudly proclaimed, "The following is brought to you in living color by ..."

As I say, I was just a child, and there were things I didn't understand. I was always disappointed when such shows would begin and they weren't in color on our set — not until my father bought our first color TV set several years later.

(Well, electronics remains something of a mystery to me.)

It was in 1966 that many established TV series started switching to color programming. One of those programs was Bewitched, which aired its first color episode on Sept. 15, 1966.

That first color episode would focus on whether Samantha's baby, who had been born in the previous season, had magical powers. But, as I say, the episode in which Tabitha was born aired in January 1966, midway through the show's second season. In reality, Tabitha would have been about 8 months old when that first color episode aired.

But, when the third season began, the show introduced the Tabitha character as a series regular — and, for the very first time, viewers saw the actresses who were chosen to play the role, twins Erin and Diane Murphy, who were actually 2 years old.

Erin Murphy wound up doing most of the work, but, if viewers noticed the age discrepancy between Tabitha's character and the child stars who played her, few, if any, seem to have pointed it out to the people who were in charge.

Perhaps it would have been unavoidable if any of the other child stars who were considered for the role — among them Jodie Foster and Helen Hunt — had been selected. Both Foster and Hunt were 3 — and Foster was nearly 4.

Their careers don't seem to have suffered from not landing that early role on Bewitched. Both went on to win Oscars in the 1990s.

In fact, one might wonder if perhaps Murphy's career was adversely affected by winning the role of Tabitha.

Well, anyway, as Bewitched prepared for a new season, the marketing emphasis was on whether Tabitha had inherited magical powers from her mother or was a mortal like her father — not the fact that the episodes would now be made in color.

The producers of the show managed to avoid any direct audience comparison between the actress playing Tabitha and her chronological age by not including an episode about her first birthday. As far as I can tell, no one questioned it.

Which was odd, I thought, for a household that seemed to be so intent on doing things the mortal way. There seemed to be so few mortal milestones in Tabitha's life as it was — but, again, few people seemed to notice.

Come to think of it, I don't think there was ever an episode about a birthday party for Tabitha, and one can imagine many scenarios that could occur simultaneously in such a setting — for example, Tabitha quarrels with a guest and turns him/her into something or Tabitha decides to do her own magic and upstage the magician who has been hired to entertain the kiddies. You get the idea.

(Actually, I think there might have been one episode that was about a birthday party for Tabitha — but the story was really about Uncle Arthur, who accidentally transformed a rabbit that had been a birthday present into a Playboy bunny.)

From time to time, Tabitha was the focus of an episode, but, most of the time, she was merely a prop for stories that featured one or both of her parents more prominently — or she was the bait to attract viewers while the real and lasting change went virtually overlooked.

In the great scheme of things, the shift from black–and–white broadcasting to color has had far more long–term ramifications than whether Tabitha could twitch her nose like her mother and make things happen.

But I guess the promoters of that time, like the promoters of this one, couldn't see the forest for the trees.

The transition to color TV did not happen overnight. It was a gradual thing.

But it has been so complete that it almost is not possible to find a black–and–white TV set anymore.

Technology has passed it by, just as it passed the LP and the electric typewriter — both of which were groundbreaking in their day but were overtaken by newer and better technologies.