DAVID BIANCULLI

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1951: CBS Introduces TV's First Newsmagazine 'See It Now'
November 18, 2020  | By David Bianculli
 
Television's all-time most important and impressive newsmagazine, more so even than 60 Minutes, was also its first. It began Nov. 18, 1951 in an almost hidden timeslot — 3:30 on a Sunday afternoon — with reporter Edward R. Murrow and Director Don Hewitt broadcasting live from a cramped CBS News studio. "This is an old team," Murrow said on that initial installment, "trying to learn a new trade."

The key components of that team, Murrow and producer Fred Friendly, had linked up four years earlier, when CBS Radio veteran reporter Murrow, of "This … is London" fame (it was with that phrase that Murrow opened his live reports from the city's rooftops, describing the bombing raids and burning buildings during World War II), agreed to narrate a series of spoken-word long-playing records presenting actual recordings of historic events and speeches since the development of recorded sound. Their first effort, a five-record set called I Can Hear It Now, 1933-45, became an instant hit in 1948, leading to LP sequels and, in 1950, a continuation of the partnership on the CBS Radio spinoff, Hear It Now.

Almost instantly, Hear It Now went from recounting old news to seeking out "new" news: relaying the sound of artillery fire from ground level of the Korean War, or letting viewers listen as an atom smasher was switched on. A year later, Murrow and Friendly transplanted Hear It Now to television, with the obvious name change and an even more oblivious affinity for the new medium.

Throughout his radio career, Murrow was like an Ernie Kovacs of news, always eager to put new technologies to previously untapped uses, and he dove into television more eagerly than might be expected from a career radio reporter. On that very first See It Now, director Hewitt (who later created 60 Minutes) opened the show by presenting, at Murrow's command, images on separate TV monitors — unprecedented simultaneous live views of the Brooklyn Bridge in the East and the Golden Gate Bridge in the West.

In his now-famous, often-quoted narration, Murrow said, "We are impressed by a medium in which a man sitting in his living room has been able for the first time to look at two oceans at once." (Perhaps, in that inaugural occasion, the show should have been called Sea It Now.) The same program featured Eric Sevareid from Washington, Howard K. Smith from Paris, and Robert Pierpoint from Korea, a clear demonstration of the range, seriousness, and ambition of this new network program.

—Excerpted from Dictionary of Teleliteracy: Television's 500 Biggest Hits, Misses and Events


 
 
 
 
 
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