Before the Golden Age of Television hit in the 1950s, the medium had already given the growing viewing audience some hints of what it could achieve. The 1940s saw the arrival of Milton Berle on Texaco Star Theatre, The Ed Sullivan Show (a variety showcase that would run from 1948 to 1971); kids fare like Howdy Doody, Kukla, Fran and Ollie and Captain Video and His Video Rangers; early sitcoms in the form of The Morey Amsterdam Show (before he became a part of The Dick Van Dyke Show in the ’60s); and The Lone Ranger, which celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2019. But the true arrival of Classic TV would come in the 1950s.
When we think of that term — Classic TV — frequently what comes to mind are shows from the ’60s, like The Brady Bunch (which, 50 years later, has continued on, most recently in the form of HGTV’s A Very Brady Renovation), the supernatural sitcoms I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched, Bill Bixby in The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, the original Star Trek and so many others. But, as noted above, we need to dial things back a bit to the decade that preceded it.
How can you consider the idea of television classics without thinking of I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, The Jack Benny Program, Lassie or Adventures of Superman? And what’s even more amazing is that while some of those may be the cream of the crop, there are so many more that need to be remembered (and some, admittedly, which don’t, but we nonetheless felt compelled to include them).
For that reason, we’ve compiled this little trip back through time to present to you our guide to 101 TV shows of the 1950s. Considering that television was still in its infancy, and there were only three networks (plus syndication to independent stations), it’s impressive to see how much material — and how much of it was of genuine quality — was produced. But, hey, don’t take our word for it.
Please scroll down for a complete list of shows from the ’50s.
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‘Your Show of Shows’ (1950-1954)
Still heralded as one of the best variety shows ever made, it stars Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, with a number of regular performers, among them Carl Reiner (who would go on to create The Dick Van Dyke Show). And check out the writers that were involved: Mel Brooks, Neil Simon and his brother Danny Simon, Larry Gelbart and Woody Allen. One of the innovative aspects of the show is that it would incorporate ongoing sitcoms within the variety format.
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‘The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show’ (1950-1958)
Also known as The Burns and Allen Show, it features husband-and-wife comedy team George Burns and Gracie Allen, who began working together in Vaudeville, enjoyed great success on radio and transferred their show to television. In 1958, Gracie Allen retired, which brought the show to an end. However, George decided to keep things going, so the series was renamed The George Burns Show and he kept much of what already existed. Unfortunately, the audience missed Gracie and ratings dropped, resulting in its cancelation one season in.
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‘The Jack Benny Program’ (1950-1965)
Like George Burns, Jack Benny brought his radio show to television (spending many years performing on both at the same time). Accompanied by Eddie Anderson's Rochester Van Jones, pitchman Don Wilson, singer Dennis Day, Sadie Marks as Mary Livingston (notably, Sadie was Jack's wife and legally changed her name to her character's), singer and bandleader Phil Harris and Mel Blanc (the man of a thousand voices). The show is absolutely brilliant and Jack, master of the slow burn, is still amazing all these years later.
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‘The Alan Young Show’ (1950-1953)
Before he became best friends with that talking horse, Mister Ed, Alan Young hosted his own variety show featuring musical guests and comic skits. In its third season, it took on the form of a traditional sitcom.
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‘Dick Tracy’ (1950-1952)
Ralph Byrd is the title character — a cop — which is based on the long-running newspaper comic strip created by Chester Gould. It lacked the strange and bizarre villains that made up Tracy's rogue's gallery.
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Just the facts, ma'am. The classic series starring the oh-so-stoic Jack Webb (he may have been television's first Vulcan, predating Leonard Nimoy's Spock by more than a decade) and Harry Morgan (later to become Colonel Potter on M*A*S*H). Each episode was based on a true story, though "names have been changed to protect the innocent."
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‘I Love Lucy’ (1951-1957)
It simply doesn't get any better than this when it comes to Classic TV. Lucille Ball gave up a successful career in film and radio so that she could be close to husband Desi Arnaz. On screen they were great together, made even better by co-stars Vivian Vance and William Frawley.
After the series ended, everyone kept things going between 1957 and 1960 during which CBS aired 13 one-hour specials of the spin-off, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour.
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‘Casey, Crime Photographer’ (1951-1952)
Jack Casey is, as the title suggests, a crime photographer, who pretty much captures images at crime scenes and works with the police to solve what happened. In season 1 the character was played by Richard Carlyle, with Darren McGavin (who many years later would play reporter Carl Kolchak in The Night Stalker) taking over in season 2. Casey was the subject of books, a radio drama and films in addition to this show.
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‘Mr. District Attorney’ (1951-1952, 1954)
A crusading district attorney tries his best to help those in legal need. Jay Joslyn played the title role, as he did on the radio show that preceded it.
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‘The Red Skelton Show’ (1951-1971)
This former vaudeville comedian served as host on his own comedy/variety show which provided him with the opportunity to play a wide variety of beloved characters, among them Clem Kadiddlehopper, Freddie the Freeloader and Cauliflower McPugg. The show lasted an incredible 20 years.
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‘Death Valley Days’ (1952-1970)
On both radio and television, this show was an anthology bringing to life supposedly true stories of the Old West, with the focus being on southeastern California's Death Valley. Different characters would host the episodes. The radio show, created by Ruth Woodman, ran from 1930 to 1945.
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‘Adventures of Superman’ (1952-1958)
Not too much has to be said about this one as actor George Reeves personified the Man of Steel for a couple of generations. He first played the character on the big screen in 1951's Superman and the Mole Men. George was subject of a previous exclusive in-depth profile from Closer.
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‘Our Miss Brooks’ (1952-1956)
Yet another radio sitcom that made the leap to television. Eve Arden is the title character, actually Constance "Connie" Brooks, an English teacher at the fictional Madison High School. Lucille Ball's longtime foil Gale Gordon is Principal Osgood Conklin.
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‘The Abbott & Costello Show’ (1952-1954)
Much like Bud and Lou's vaudeville and big screen adventures, this sitcom was more about setting up their famous gags than any sort of real plot. Jerry Seinfeld has credited the show as being a major influence on the creation of Seinfeld.
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‘My Little Margie’ (1952-1955)
Gale Storm is Margie Albright, who lives with her father, Vern (Charles Farrell), and creates comic mishap usually involving Vern and his boss, George Honeywell (Clarence Kolb).
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‘The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet’ (1952-1966)
Long-running show featuring the real-life Nelson family (though they were given the sitcom treatment), parents Ozzie and Harriet Nelson and their sons, David and Ricky. They did have a next door neighbor in the form of Don DeFore's Thorny. Try not to be shocked, but this one began as a radio show too.
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‘The Ernie Kovacs Show’ (1952-1956)
So difficult to describe, but suffice to say that Ernie Kovacs was a comic genius who insisted on bending and twisting the television medium as much as he could, revealing himself to be a true pioneer in every sense of the word (though he was reportedly very difficult to deal with).
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‘I Married Joan’ (1952-1955)
In some ways a variation of I Love Lucy in terms of the leading character, Joan Davis plays Joan Stevens, who is described as manic and scatterbrained, and who is the wife of the Honorable Bradley Stevens (Jim Backus, the voice of Mr. Magoo and who would, of course, go on to play Thurston Howell III on Gilligan's Island). Needless to say, chaos rules.
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‘The Jackie Gleason Show’ (1952-1970)
The classic comedy variety show that had a near 20-year run (with a brief break for The Honeymooners' "Classic 39"). Although it featured quite a number of memorable characters, none has had the longevity of Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, who were introduced as part of skits on the show.
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‘Mister Peepers’ (1952-1955)
Wally Cox (the voice of Underdog, for those curious about such things) is the title character, a shy science teacher at Jefferson High School who always manages to outwit those who throw problems his way. Co-starring is Tony Randall, who Classic TV fans would come to know as Felix Unger on the TV version of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple.
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‘Police Story’ (1952)
An anthology series focusing on true crime stories from around the country. A total of 24 episodes were produced.
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‘The Red Buttons Show’ (1952-1955)
In the 1950s, the networks certainly loved their comedy/variety shows, and this one, featuring the former vaudeville performer, was one of them. The show consists of monologues, comic sketches and dance numbers. Because of low ratings, it was turned into a sitcom midway through its run.
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‘Make Room for Daddy’ (1953-1965)
Danny Thomas is Danny Williams, a successful nightclub singer, who has to deal with challenging and funny situations involving his career and family. Lots of great supporting characters in what is yet another terrific example of a show that deserves to be called a classic. Oh, and Danny is father to That Girl star Marlo Thomas.
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‘Where’s Raymond’ (1953-1955)
In between playing the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz and Shirley Jones' father on The Partridge Family, Ray Bolger starred in this show (among many other things) as Raymond Wallace, a song-and-dance man who, through the comic misadventures in his life, is never on time for his performances.
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‘The Larry Storch Show’ (1953)
You probably know him primarily as Corporal Agarn on the '60s sitcom F-Troop, but here Larry Storch hosts a comedy variety show which was a summer replacement series for The Jackie Gleason Show. Along with his guests, he played a number of different characters.
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‘The Life of Riley’ (1953-1958)
William Bendix reprises the role from the radio series and feature film of Chester A. Riley, a malaprop-ridden worker at a California aircraft plant, though the focus is heavily on his home life and various zany situations. He's best known for the expression, "What a revoltin' development this is!' An earlier version of the series actually starred Jackie Gleason in his pre-Ralph Kramden days.
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‘Life with Elizabeth’ (1953-1955)
Betty White (yes, that Betty White) is the Elizabeth of the title, who, along with her husband Alvin (played by Del Moore) are pretty much your average suburban couple, but she tends to get them into various predicaments. Notes Wikipedia, "In the end, Alvin, in variable degrees of frustration, would say, ‘I shall leave you at this point, Elizabeth,’ and would walk out of sight. The announcer would say, ‘Elizabeth, aren’t you ashamed?’ She would slowly nod, but then, with a slightly devilish grin, would vigorously shake her head to indicate she wasn’t." Described as "incidents," each episode would be divided into three shorts.
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‘The Man Behind the Badge’ (1953-1954)
This police drama was based on real crime stories from around the world with the focus alternating between police, public defenders, judges, park rangers, parole officers and others.
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‘My Favorite Husband’ (1953-1955)
Based on the Lucille Ball radio show that, itself, was turned into I Love Lucy. That's why the TV version feels like there are many similarities, with Joan Caulfield as the wacky Liz Cooper, who is married to Barry Nelson's George Cooper, a bank executive. Their best friends are an older couple not named the Mertzes. The show was successful in its own right.
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‘Private Secretary’ (1953-1957)
Ann Sothern plays Susan Camille "Susie" MacNamara, who serves as the devoted secretary to Peter Sands (Don Porter), a handsome talent agent. The conflict of the show comes from the fact that her actions keep complicating his personal life.
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Based on the 1937 film of the same name, banker Cosmo Topper (Leo G. Carroll) finds his life complicated by the ghosts of George and Marion Kerby (Robert Sterling and Anne Jeffreys, respectively), part of the complication coming from the fact that he's the only one that can see or hear them.
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‘Annie Oakley’ (1954-1956)
The life of legendary Wild West sharpshooter Annie Oakley (Gail Davis) is given the fictionalized treatment as she takes down outlaws that enter the town of Diablo.
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‘The Public Defender’ (1954-1955)
Based on actual court cases from around the country, the show stars Reed Hadley as Bart Matthews, who takes on those who are too poor to afford an attorney.
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‘The Mickey Rooney Show’ (1954-1955)
Mickey Mulligan is an aspiring actor who gets a job as a page at a Hollywood television studio, which leads to his getting into a variety of misadventures. Mickey is played by frequent Judy Garland costar Mickey Rooney. As successful as he was on the big screen, this show only lasted a single season.
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The adventures of the world's most famous Collie and her human master, Timmy (Jon Provost), Lassie had an incredible run before the TV series with novels, films and — believe it or not — a radio show. And then there was this show, which actually had a 20-year run.
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‘Father Knows Best’ (1954-1960)
The quintessential '50s family sitcom starring Robert Young (Marcus Welby, M.D.) as Jim Anderson, Jane Wyatt as his wife, Margaret; Lauren Chapin as youngest child Kathy (aka “Kitten”), Billy Gray as son James (“Bud”) and Elinor Donahue as daughter Betty (“Princess”). It was wholesome without being cloying, and still remains a wonderful reminder of a bygone era.
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‘The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin’ (1954-1959)
From 1954-1959 the show Rin Tin Tin followed the adventures of the title German shepherd. The premise is that young Rusty was orphaned in an Indian raid and, in the aftermath of that, he and Rin Tin Tin were adopted by the troops at Fort Apache in Arizona, working together to help establish order in and around Mesa Grande. The canine was a big screen star first.
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‘December Bride’ (1954-1959)
Spring Byington is Lily Ruskin, a woman who lives with her daughter and son-in-law. They, along with her friends, are constantly trying to find suitable men for her — often to comic results. The premise may sound paper thin, but they got five seasons out of it, so what do we know?
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‘Passport to Danger’ (1954-1958)
U.S. diplomatic courier Steve McQuinn travels to different countries in order to bring important messages to the allies of America while doing his best to elude enemy agents. Playing the lead role is actor Cesar Romero, who would go on to be the first actor to play Batman's arch enemy the Joker in the Adam West TV series of the 1960s.
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‘Sherlock Holmes’ (1954-1955)
Not much to say about this one beyond the fact that it's (naturally) set in London and follows the adventures of the world's greatest detective (Ronald Howard) and Dr. John H. Watson (Howard Marion-Crawford).
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‘The Bob Cummings Show’ (1955-1959)
The romantic misadventures of Bob Collins (Robert Cummings) is the focus of the show. The actor's co-stars include Ann B. Davis (Alice from The Brady Bunch), Rosemary DeCamp and Dwayne Hickman (The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis).
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In Dodge City, Kansas, Marshall Matt Dillon (James Arness) attempts to keep the peace. This, television's longest-running Western, had its beginning as a popular radio show.
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A survivor of the Civil War, Cheyenne Bodie (Clint Walker) makes his way from territory to territory in the West looking for adventures, meeting many women, and getting involved in fights with the outlaws that he encounters.
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‘Jungle Jim’ (1955-1956)
"Jungle Jim" Bradley is an explorer, hunter and guide in Africa, which leads to a variety of adventurers. Playing the title role is Johnny Weissmuller, the big screen's Tarzan.
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‘The Honeymooners’ (1955-1956)
We're trying not to say the "C" word again, but we can't help ourselves. So sorry: Classic! Whew. Glad we got that out. The Honeymooners is a perfect example of Classic TV, starring Jackie Gleason as bus driver Ralph Kramden; Audrey Meadows as his long-suffering wife, Alice; Art Carney as dim-witted but lovable best friend and sidekick, Ed Norton; and the last living member of The Honeymooners Joyce Randolph as his wife, Trixie. There were hundreds of skits featuring the characters on The Jackie Gleason Show, but only 39 actual episodes.
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‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ (1955-1962)
The Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, served as host, producer and occasional director for this anthology series focusing on stories of the macabre, non-supernatural horror and suspense.
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Charles McGraw is Rick Blaine, Marcel Dalio is Captain Renaud, Dan Seymour is Ferrari and Clarence Muse is Sam. Those were the people who attempted to bring the characters from the 1942 Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman film to television. Unfortunately, the audience didn't care.
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‘Highway Patrol’ (1955-1959)
Broderick Crawford is Dan Mathews, a cop utilizing all of the tools at his command — from patrol cars, two-way radios and fast motorcycles — to fight crime on the open roads of America.
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‘The Millionaire’ (1957-1959)
Marvin Miller is Michael Anthony, the title character who enters the lives of people he doesn't know to give them an endowment of $1 million and the episodes follow the impact this has on their lives.
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‘The Phil Silvers Show’ (1959-1961)
Ernie Bilko (Phil Silvers) has been placed in charge of the motor pool at a U.S. Army Camp in Kansas. He also happens to be one of the world's great con men, who is always coming up with get-rich-quick schemes.
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‘Sheena, Queen of the Jungle’ (1955-1956)
The title character lives in the Congo where she protects the natives and the animals. She was played by model Irish McCalla, a model who explained that while she really wasn't an actress, she could effectively swing through the trees. Sheena became the subject of a 1984 feature film (with Tanya Roberts playing her) and a 2000 syndicated series (starring Gena Lee Nolin).
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‘Tales of the Texas Rangers’ (1955-1958)
While on the surface it seems like just another TV Western of the time, the show would travel from the Old West to the present to tell different stories about the Rangers, though every story starred Willard Parker and Harry Lauter with their characters being set wherever the story is.
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‘The Gale Storm Show’ (1956-1959)
My Little Margie star Gale Storm is back, this time playing Susanna Pomeroy, cruise director of world-traveling luxury liner S.S. Ocean Queen. Needless to say, there are comic misadventures at every port of call.
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‘The Adventures of Fu Manchu’ (1956)
Sax Rohmer's villainous character is brought to life by Glen Gordon, whose Fu Manchu plots to bring down Western civilization, but is constantly thwarted in his efforts by Sir Dennis Nayland Smith (Lester Matthews) of Scotland Yard.
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‘Broken Arrow’ (1956-1958)
Indian Agent Tom Jeffords (John Lupton) makes friends with Chief Cochise Michael Ansara (first husband of I Dream of Jeannie star Barbara Eden), becoming a blood brother of the Apache. Working together, they take on white schemers and renegade Indians.
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‘Circus Boy’ (1956-1957)
A pre-Monkees Micky Dolenz starred in this show playing the character of Corky, whose job is to bring elephants their water. The show, which lasted two seasons, was actually an action/adventure drama set in the 1890s.
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Stanley Peck (Buddy Hackett) is a friendly New York hotel newsstand operator who is always reaching out to people — both residents and tourists — and finds himself getting involved in their lives.
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‘The West Point Story’ (1956-1958)
Stories based on the people and events taking place at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Among the writers for the series was Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek.
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‘Have Gun Will Travel’ (1957-1963)
Back in the Old West, Richard Boone plays a a man who goes by the name "Paladin," and is an investigator/gunfighter who travels around working for people who hire him to help them out of the dilemmas they find themselves in.
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‘Perry Mason’ (1957-1966)
Raymond Burr plays defense attorney Perry Mason, whose track record of winning cases for his clients is almost 100 percent. Years later, the actor who reprise the role in a series of TV movies.
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The Maverick boys — over the course of the series Bret (a pre-Rockford Files James Garner), Bart (Jack Kelly), Beau (Roger Moore) and Brent (Robert Colbert) — are a clan of well-dressed gamblers would prefer to make their money playing cards than actual work.
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‘Leave it to Beaver’ (1957-1963)
A gentle comedy that found its plots drawn from the experiences of real kids — admittedly set in a sitcom world — and parents who raised them with words of encouragement, while also being firm when necessary. Hugh Beaumont and Barbara Billingsley played the Beav’s parents, Ward and June Cleaver, with Tony Dow as big brother Wally, and Jerry Mathers as the Beaver himself.
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Guy Williams (Lost in Space) plays Don Diego de la Vega, who takes on the guise of the masked and sword-wielding Zorro to take on corrupt leaders of Spanish California. The show was produced by the Walt Disney company.
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‘Bachelor Father’ (1957-1962)
When the parents of Kelly (Noreen Corcoran) die in a car crash, her uncle, Bentley Gregg (John Forsythe, playing a wealthy Beverly Hills lawyer) takes her in. With the help of his "houseboy" Peter Ton (Sammee Tong), he attempts to raise her while she attempts to help him find a wife. John Forsythe, of course, would go on to provide the voice of Charlie in Charlie's Angels and star in Dynasty as Blake Carrington.
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Based on the newspaper strip of the same name, Blondie was a series of feature films starring Arthur Lake as Dagwood Bumstead and dealing with his wife (the title character) and kids. Arthur brought the role to the small screen in what was more or less a domestic comedy. Pamela Britton played Blondie.
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‘Colt .45’ (1957-1960)
Wayde Preston is Christopher Colt, who passes himself off as a gun salesman, but is actually working for the government, tracking down those operating outside the law.
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‘Date With the Angels’ (1957-1958)
Betty White is back as Vickie Angel, who is married to Gus (Bill Williams). The concept of the series, which was loosely based on the play Dream Girl, is that typical sitcom set-ups would take a detour with Vickie’s tendency to daydream, resulting in fantasy sequences.
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‘The Eve Arden Show’ (1957-1958)
In a role very different from her previous series, Our Miss Brooks, Eve Arden plays Liza Hammond, a widowed mother of twin girls who earns money for the family by writing books. Also starring, playing Eve's mother and housekeeper, is the future Aunt Bee from The Andy Griffith Show, Frances Bavier.
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‘M Squad’ (1957-1960)
Detective Lt. Frank Ballinger (Lee Marvin) leads an elite unit of crimefighters who are a part of the Chicago Police Department, taking on the toughest cases.
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‘The Real McCoys’ (1957-1963)
The show is officially described as follows: "From the hills of West Virginia, Amos McCoy moves his family to an inherited farm in California. Grandpa Amos is quick to give advice to his three grandchildren and wonders how his neighbors ever managed without him around." Walter Brennan plays Amos, with costars including Richard Crenna, Kathleen Nolan, Michael Winkelman and Lydia Reed.
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‘Richard Diamond, Private Detective’ (1957-1960)
Richard Diamond is a New York, eventually relocating to Los Angeles, private investigator played by David Janssen, later of, among other shows, The Fugitive. During the third season, his secretary, whose face the audience never saw — only her sexy legs — was played by Mary Tyler Moore.
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‘The Thin Man’ (1957-1959)
Fancying themselves as amateur detectives, Nick and Nora Charles (Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk) begin investigating and solving crimes. The characters were created by Dashiell Hammett in a novel, which spawned six films prior to the television series.
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‘Wagon Train’ (1957-1965)
In the aftermath of the Civil War, a wagon train departs from Missouri and must travel across the plains, deserts and Rocky Mountains on its way to California. The show focuses on a core group of main characters who, each week, interact with different people who are a part of that wagon train and those they encounter. Stars include Frank McGrath, Terry Wilson, Robert Horton and John McIntire.
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‘Sea Hunt’ (1958-1961)
Lloyd Bridges is former U.S. Navy frogman Mike Nelson, who is now a freelance scuba diver using his boat, which he has christened the Argonaut, for salvage missions (the quests being as large as a nuclear missile and as small as a bike).
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‘Peter Gunn’ (1958-1961)
Created by Blake Edwards (director of The Great Race and most of the Pink Panther films), the show, which is shot in a noir style, stars Craig Stevens as private detective Peter Gunn. Music is by Henry Mancini.
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‘The Donna Reed Show’ (1958-1966)
Another great domestic family sitcom presenting us with life as we wished it could be. Donna Reed (It's a Wonderful Life, among many others) is Donna Stone, who is married to Dr. Alex Stone (Carl Betz), and mother to their children played by Shelley Fabares and Paul Petersen.
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‘Bat Masterson’ (1958-1961)
The well-dressed Bat Masterson (Gene Barry), adorned in a derby and carrying a cane, is a gambler and a lawman who travels the Old West where he defends the unjustly accused and charms the ladies. As to his choice in weaponry, he'd prefer using his cane to a gun.
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When the marshal of Laramie, Wyoming is murdered, Marshal Dan Troop (John Russell) takes over, assisted by an orphan he's become caretaker to, Deputy Johnny McKay (Peter Brown). Together they try and keep order at an unlawful time.
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’77 Sunset Strip’ (1958-1964)
The setting is Los Angeles and an office located at 77 Sunset Strip, from which works private detectives Stu Bailey and Jeff Spencer as they're hired to to solve a wide variety of crimes and mysteries. Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (who, in the 1960s, would star in Quinn Martin's The F.B.I.) plays Bailey, with Roger Smith as Jeff Spencer.
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‘The Ann Sothern Show’ (1958-1961)
Ann Sothern plays Katy O'Connor, assistant manager of New York City's Bartley House Hotel, interacting with various guests and, of course, the hotel's staff. One of her co-stars is Don Porter, who had previously starred with her in the series Private Secretary.
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‘Man With a Camera’ (1958-1960)
Having served as a combat cameraman, Mike Kovac has decided to take his skills to civilian life, working as a New York City freelance photographers. Mike has a knack for getting the sort of photos that other photographers either can't or won't. What's most amazing about the series is not that it stars Charles Bronson (whose many film credits include Death Wish), but that, as evident in the photo above, he can actually smile. Holy crap! Who would have thunk it?
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‘Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer’ (1958-59)
For the time, the critics felt this was the most violent show on television. By today's standards, not so much. Still, an effective adaptation of Mickey Spillane's private eye character, brought to life in this incarnation by the pre-Kolchak and A Christmas Story Darren McGavin, who's always so good.
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‘Naked City’ (1958-1963)
Like the 1948 film that inspired it, Naked City is presented in a semi-documentary format and tells the story of the cops in New York's 65th Precinct. The show would spawn the spin-off series Route 66.
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‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ (1958-1961)
Early in his career, following a few film roles, actor Steve McQueen appeared on an episode of the TV Western Trackdown, playing bounty hunter Josh Randall, who was spun off as his own CBS series, Wanted Dead or Alive. In terms of what it taught him about acting and the industry, this series was extremely valuable to his movie career.
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‘Yancy Derringer’ (1958-1959)
The "secret identity" of Yancy Derringer is that of an ex-Confederate soldier who had taken up a life of gambling and being a lady's man in New Orleans, Louisiana. The truth, however, is that he was actually working for the city's civil administrator, John Colton, to prevent crimes and, when necessary, take on the bad guys. Yancy is accompanied by the mute Indiana, Pahoo-Ka-Ta-Wah. This show is a little gem in the history of TV and worth checking out. Jock Mahoney is Yancy with X Brands as Pahoo and Kevin Hagen as John Colton.
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The setting is the 1860s and Clint Eastwood plays Rowdy Yates who, in the 1860s, plays one of the people in charge of moving stock over long distances. It was this show that first brought Clint to the attention of Hollywood and propelled him into a movie career.
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One of television’s most beloved westerns, it ran on NBC for 14 seasons from 1959-1973, producing a total of 431 episodes. Google describes the show like this: “Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) is the patriarch of an all-male Nevada ranching family. Set during and after the Civil War, Bonanza is the story of life on the family’s thousand-acre spread, known as the Ponderosa, near Virginia City."
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‘The Twilight Zone’ (1959-1964)
The greatest anthology series of all time, and one that is still touching the audience 60 years later. Writer Rod Serling, chafing from battles with networks and sponsors about content, discovered that he could write about virtually anything he wanted by setting it in this fantasy realm known as The Twilight Zone.
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‘Dennis The Menace’ (1959-1963)
Based on the newspaper comic strip by Hank Ketchum. In it, Jay North played the title character of Dennis Mitchell, described as a good-natured kid who inadvertently finds himself in trouble pretty much all the time, particularly with next door neighbor George (“Good Old Mr. Wilson”) Wilson. By the end of its run, the show was losing its appeal with viewers because Jay was, obviously, getting older and Dennis’ antics were not as cute as they had once been.
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‘Bourbon Street Beat’ (1959-1960)
On TV in the 1950s, you were either a cowboy, a private detective or a lawyer. This show has two out of the three, with Richard Long (Nanny and the Professor) as private eye Rex Randolph and Andrew Duggan as lawyer Cal Calhoun, who work together for the clients that hire them. When this show ended, the Rex Randolph character would become a part of 77 Sunset Strip.
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‘Hawaiian Eye’ (1959-1963)
No shock, but the show is set in Honolulu, Hawaii and is focused on Hawaiian Eye, a combination detective agency and security firm run by investigator Tracy Steele (Anthony Eisley) and Tom Lopaka (Robert Conrad, later of The Wild Wild West). They're hired primarily by Hawaiian Village Hotel, which provides them a private compound from which to work. Also starring is Connie Stevens.
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‘The Untouchables’ (1959-1963)
The series took its title from the memoir of the real-life Elliot Ness and Oscar Fraley. Set in Chicago in the 1930s, it fictionalized Ness’ adventures as a Prohibition agent at the time. Robert Stack (who would later serve as host of Unsolved Mysteries) plays Ness. The show would inspired the 1987 film starring Kevin Costner and Sean Connery; and a 1993 syndicated series that ran for two seasons.
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‘The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis’ (1959-1963)
The series focused primarily on a teenager named Dobie Gillis (Dwayne Hickman), who was all about achieving popularity, money and catching the attention of beautiful girls — and his failure to do so was at the heart of the show. Bob Denver (perhaps you know him as Skipper’s little buddy, Gilligan) played his best friend (and apparently television’s first beatnik character), Maynard G. Krebs, a bongo-playing jazz fan. The show ran for 144 episodes, and was the subject of an unsuccessful 1977 pilot reboot that brought the cast back together called Whatever Happened to Dobie Gillis?, and the 1988 TV movie, Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis.
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‘The Detectives’ (1959-1962)
Robert Taylor stars as Detective Captain Matt Holbrook, who is in charge of a police investigative unit consisting of specialists who are more concerned with solving crimes than having personal lives. Also starring are Tige Andrews (later of The Mod Squad), Mark Goddard (Lost in Space) and Adam West (Batman).
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Now here’s the flipside of a child actor who was able to successfully transcend from child actor to more adult roles, and became a television director, producer and executive. Jackie Cooper got his start in films, most notably Skippy (1931), which garnered him an Academy Award nomination; and he was also well known for his role of Jackie in Hal Roach’s Our Gang (aka The Little Rascals) comedy shorts.
On this show, he plays Lt. Charles W. “Chick” Hennesy, a United States Navy physician who is assigned to the U.S. Naval Station in San Diego, California along with Abby Dalton as Navy nurse Lt. Martha Hale.
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‘Johnny Ringo’ (1959-1960)
Johnny Ringo (Don Durant) is not a member of The Beatles, but he is a former gunfighter who takes on the mantle of sheriff in a small Western town, and, along with his lady love, Laura Thomas (Karen Sharpe); and his deputy, Cully (Mark Goddard — seriously, we had no idea he was in all these different shows prior to Lost in Space), tries to keep the peace.
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‘Men Into Space’ (1959-1960)
There were a lot of science fiction TV shows in the '50s, and, to be honest, most of them were pretty much kiddie fare, but this one was different in that it took a more adult approach, with genuine characterizations, extrapolations of real technology and scientific theories, and intelligent scenarios. At the center of it all is William Lundigan's Colonel Edward McCauley, who heads America's space program and, while stationed in space, must deal with malfunctioning equipment, budget cuts and saboteurs, among other things.
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‘Mr. Lucky’ (1959-1960)
Professional gambler "Mr. Lucky" (John Vivyan) operates a floating casino in the form of the ship Fortuna, which he utilizes as a base of operations. The show would deal with the interactions between he and his friend Andamo (The Wild Wild West's Ross Martin) and those who would come to the Fortuna.
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‘Philip Marlowe’ (1959-1960)
Not a lot to say about this one, except for the fact that it was just one of many takes on Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe character. In this instance — a half-hour TV show — he's played by Philip Carey.
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Grey Holden wins a river boat in a poker game, which he then pilots, along with his crew, in various adventures along the Mississippi River. Set in the 19th Century, it stars Darren McGavin (The Night Stalker, A Christmas Story) as Holden, with Burt Reynolds as Ben Frazer. Reportedly there was a falling out between the two actors, resulting in Reynolds being released from the show. Rumors are he made out OK, though.