Commentary

Make Room For Vintage TV: Old Shows Enjoying Unprecedented Revival

What’s the oldest show on TV? 

I am not referring to shows that are still in production and on the air such as “Meet the Press,” for example. That show has been around in some form or another since 1947.

I’m referring to the oldest show or shows that you can still watch on TV in their original form from the dawn of the television era. It’s an intriguing question because, at the present time, there are more vintage shows airing on TV than at any other time in recent memory -- if ever. 

They're airing principally on three channels: MeTV (Memorable Entertainment Television), Antenna TV and Cozi TV. MeTV went national in 2010, Antenna TV in 2011, and Cozi in 2013. The three channels represent a vintage-TV boom born from a timely combination of technology and economics. Although they’re widely available via cable and satellite services across the country, all three channels are, at heart, local digital subchannels -- so-called “diginets” -- created by existing broadcast stations to fill new space on the digital spectrum that became available in the wake of the TV industry’s conversion to digital transmission in 2009.

MeTV is a subchannel of WCIU-TV, Chicago. Antenna TV, also based in Chicago, sprang from the Tribune Broadcasting group of stations. New York-based Cozi TV is a joint creation of the NBC-owned station group.

They have each bought up the rights to a slew of old shows, some of which had not been seen in decades. Many of the shows could reportedly be had for bargain-basement prices, so the economics made sense for these stations to establish themselves as new destinations for what you might call "oldies television."

From what I can figure out, the oldest show seen on any of the three vintage-TV diginets is probably “The Lone Ranger,” which dates back to 1949. “Hopalong Cassidy” dates from around the same period, but some of the earlier episodes were produced for movie theaters, not television. Both are seen today on Cozi, whose vintage-TV stockpile ranges from “The Dick Van Dyke Show” (1961-66) to “Magnum P.I.” (1980-88).

MeTV’s offerings include “Make Room for Daddy”/“The Danny Thomas Show” (1953-64), “The Andy Griffith Show” (1960-68) and “Welcome Back, Kotter” (1975-79). Antenna TV has “Father Knows Best” (1954-60), “Bewitched” (1964-72) and “All in the Family” (1971-79).

These titles are well-known, but the ones that interest me even more are the many shows that hadn’t been seen in eons, but are now available for many of us to watch for the first time -- shows such as “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin” (1954-59) and “Circus Boy” (1956-58) on Antenna TV, “Mr. Lucky” (1959-60) and “The Rebel” (1959-61) on MeTV, and “Wyatt Earp” (also known as “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp,” 1955-61) and “The Roy Rogers Show” (1951-57) on Cozi. It is incredible to me that these shows are all available to watch on “regular” TV in 2015.

Which brings me to another source for vintage TV shows that I came across recently, a Web site called RerunCentury.com run by a man named Bob Poulsen who has curated hundreds of hours of TV shows from all over the Internet whose rights have passed into the public domain. On a recent visit to this site, I watched an episode of “The Life of Riley” (1949-50) and then an episode of “The Walter Winchell Show” (dates unclear) -- two old shows I never expected to actually see in my lifetime.

In fact, RerunCentury is such a rich treasure trove of old TV shows that I’m almost afraid to visit it often -- it’s that addictive. But it’s good to know it’s there, and that the maintenance of our collective TV heritage is in the hands of people such as Bob Poulsen and the folks at MeTV, Cozi and Antenna TV.

4 comments about "Make Room For Vintage TV: Old Shows Enjoying Unprecedented Revival".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from EMHS (Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems), April 13, 2015 at 2:48 p.m.

    Nothing shows how the idea cool high tech spying has changed as much as watching a rerun of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E."

  2. Larney Sager from ASPECTS, April 13, 2015 at 2:53 p.m.

    4/13/15
    11:50am

    thanks for all the info. 
    I love old TV and can't get enough.
    im 61 yrs old and watched a lot of what METV. It's great looking at it again.

    L.L. Sager
    Glendale, CA.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 13, 2015 at 4:25 p.m.

    Many of the golden oldies are still available via cable as well as other sources but one has to question the extent of their viewing exposure as many don't hold up well by today's entertainment standards----except for the older generation that enjoyed them originally. From the 1950s, the best----in my opinion---are the redoutable "I Love Lucy", "Gunsmoke", Have Gun, Will Travel" , "Bat Masterson","Wanted, Dead Or Alive, "The Honeymooners" and "The Untouchables". "Dragnet" was a huge hit for a while, but is very deadpan and low in energy----much to slow for me to endure today. The great hits of the 1960s and 1970s are a different story, due, in part to the fact that most were filmed or taped in color and were faster paced, better edited, etc.

  4. Steve Beverly from Union Broadcasting System, April 13, 2015 at 5:02 p.m.

    Adam, today's entertainment media may consider these gems a museum, but how fascinating it is to go to Rerun Century and see how the original "12 Angry Men" was performed live, casting against type with Bob Cummings in the lead juror role.  A huge appreciation is there for those of us who lived through this era and have few outlets for them today unless we have access to all of the diginets.


    Sadly, where I live, we are limited to ME TV when our local CBS affiliate is not carrying CBS or local news.

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