1948: Radio's 'Texaco Star Theater' Becomes a Television Sensation
This day in 1948 marked the first telecast of Texaco Star Theater, which turned the popular radio show into television's first hit series and created the nation's first television star, Milton Berle.
While Milton Berle hosted the show's first telecast, he initially shared hosting duties with other stars, including Morey Amsterdam, Jack Carter and Henny Youngman, on a rotating basis. In September, 1948, Berle was made the show's permanent host.
Early on, the live variety show featured a range of vaudeville-style acts. There were singers, ventriloquists, acrobats, comedians and more. But as the show progressed, it began revolving more and more around Berle and the show's guests and regular players. Berle's brash comedy style, sight gags, improv skills and propensity for outlandish costumes didn't just attract viewers — Berle is credited with motivating people to go out and buy televisions so they could see the show everyone was talking about.
During the 1950-1951 television season — the very first season to be measured by Nielsen ratings — Texaco Star Theater was the country's most watched TV program. That, coupled with the aforementioned spike in television sales, earned Berle the lifelong nickname "Mr. Television." His other well-known moniker, Uncle Miltie, was the result of an ad-lib at the end of one program when, addressing children in the television audience, he said: "Listen to your Uncle Miltie and go to bed."
In 1953 a new sponsor replaced Texaco, and the show became The Buick-Berle Show. A year later, it was renamed The Milton Berle Show. Over time, television programming became more plentiful and diversified, and Berle's viewership dwindled. The Milton Berle Show was dropped from the NBC schedule in 1956.