10 Surprising, Strange and Disturbing Facts About Television

Jay Dawson September 14th 2016 Entertainment
Television has the power to make us laugh, cry, and think. Television is there for us at the end of a long, stressful day. Television is our friend. But how much do we really know about it? With the rise of streaming services like Netflix, and better and better quality programming, we are consuming television like never before. We might think that television no longer has the power to surprise us, but here are some crazy facts that will bathe your humble TV in a whole new glow.
The First TV Actor Was Really Badly Paid
With an invention as cool as television, it would come as no surprise that more than a couple of people lay claim to having created it. It wasn’t ever the work of a single person, though. In their way, many inventors and tinkerers played a part in what was soon a global phenomenon. But there was only one first actor, and it was a kid called William Taynton.
How did he manage to be our first TV star? Simple: he was in the right place at the right time. Taynton was just the office lackey for John Logie Baird, who made history with the first transmission of a moving human face on the 30th of October, 1925. He had tried using a ventriloquist’s dummy first (which was undoubtedly way too creepy) before roping in Taynton to do the job. Taynton was paid a measly two and a half shillings for being part of history. I doubt he gave up his day job.
John F. Kennedy Cost Broadcasters $100m
It’s easy to say that the Trump and Clinton election circus has invaded our screens like never before, but that’s not quite true. Many big events – sporting, political, news, and The Bachelor – have taken a tight grip on America’s psyche, and all of them have made the big networks even bigger bucks. So in the feverish wake of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, after the event that defined a generation, how on earth did the nation’s broadcasters lose 100 million dollars?
The answer is actually fairly simple: they didn’t make a single advertising dollar. In rare display of tact, for four days after JFK’s death every network decided to broadcast their coverage commercial-free. A staggering 93% of American homes tuned in at some point to watch the funeral and investigative proceedings, and the revenue they could have made from such ratings would have been incredible. It’s a testament to a dying, far more sensitive brand of journalism.
There’s A Lot of Violence. And We Really Mean A Lot
Really, there’s a lot of violence on TV. There’s murders and assaults and kidnappings and torture and robberies. There’s death by stabbing, by strangling, by drowning, by falling, by shooting, by car accident, and by animal attack. Are you tired yet? If you are, you’re in the minority.
Man still has an unhealthy relationship – and preoccupation – with violence. Let’s look at the stats: by the age of 14, the average American kid has seen somewhere between 11,000 and 13,000 deaths on television. By the time they reach 18, the number rises almost exponentially to around 200,000. That’s a heck of a lot. We haven’t seen the numbers on TV kisses and TV flower-giving, but we’re willing to bet they’re far lower.
Thursdays Were Really Boring In Iceland
After a busy day at the office, there’s nothing better than unwinding in front of the tube and putting on something mindless (then switching to The Bachelor). Spare a thought for our Icelandic brothers, though. Most days of the week, sure, they could ski home quickly and catch “Idol Stjörnuleit” before whipping up a seal casserole. But until 1987, there was absolutely no TV on Thursdays. Even worse, until 1981 there was no TV at all during the entire month of July.
The reasons for basically grounding an entire nation are unclear. What is known is that RUV, the national broadcaster, held a monopoly on transmissions until 1986 and only lifted the Thursday ban when faced with stiff competition. It’s thought that it was more or less an incentive for Icelanders to go out and get some fresh, arctic air. But we all know that TV is our way of avoiding nagging parents in the first place.
The First Remote Control Was Useless
Remote controls are truly the greatest curse ever placed on our modern lives. Either they’re running out of battery, or getting lost down the back of the couch, or multiplying like rabbits behind your back, or they have so many buttons that turning the volume down requires a degree in nuclear astrophysics. So-called “universal” remotes are just as bad – one false move and you’ve accidentally powered up your lawnmower and ordered six pizzas.
But spare a thought for the early adopters of the first ever remote control, known as the “Tele Zoom” and invented in 1948. It certainly was easy to operate, and it certainly was simple, but that’s because it did only one thing. There was no volume control, no channel control, and certainly not a power button - all it could do was enlarge a portion of the TV screen. But if you wanted a grainy close-up of Ed Sullivan’s nose, then you were in luck!
You Could Advertise For $9
Guess how much a 30 second advertising slot during the 2016 Super Bowl cost. Go on, have a guess. We’ll give you a clue: it has six zeroes after it, and it would take an average Malawian almost 20,000 years to earn the same amount. The answer is, of course, a sickening amount of money. Isn't it insane how the times of changed?
But way back before the advertising industry cottoned on to the possibilities of TV, and a decade before Mad Men, it was pretty damn cheap. The first ever advertisement, also shown during a sports game (July 1, 1941, Dodgers vs Phillies, Phillies romped home) cost Bulova Clocks a paltry $9 – about $150 in today’s dollars. Bulova is still ticking today, so it was money well spent.
It’s Clogging Up Our Planet
For all the talk of violence on TV and its negative impact, a far more serious problem is often overlooked. As of 2016, there were an estimated 116 million TVs in America alone. And with bigger and bigger sets, and higher and higher definition, people today are upgrading all the time. We don’t often think about it, but what happens to our old TV sets?
In a study published in 2007, researchers found that only 18 percent of unloved televisions were recycled. The other 82% (an incredible 20 million sets) were simply thrown away. Electronic equipment contains a number of harmful waste elements, including CFC, PVC, heavy metals, and even radioactive matter. Televisions are no different. When electronic equipment goes into landfill, not only does it take up massive amounts of space, but it is also poisoning the soil and the Earth’s ecosystem. At the risk of sounding like hippies here, maaan, take it from us: recycle your old televisions.
It Affects How You Dream
There’s no doubt of the all-pervading power of TV. Wherever we go in life, all of the shows and movies that we’ve seen influence our way of thinking, and the way we approach day-to-day situations. We know it can be a negative, and we’ve seen that it can be a negative, too. But did you know it can also – disturbingly – change the way you dream?
Several studies throughout the 1900s had found, bafflingly, that people born before 1960 tended to dream in black and white, while the younger amongst us dreamed in full color. While scientists scratched their heads at the findings, a British university student made a single astonishing link. The age of those dreaming in black and white exactly matched the prevalence of black and white TV sets during their childhood. In short, watching black and white TV made them dream in black and white. There haven’t yet been any studies to show whether millennials dream of Game of Thrones, but we’re willing to bet heavily on yes.
One of The First Stations in The World is Still Operating
If you’re ever in the Albany area of New York, flick on the television and switch to CBS6. No matter what program is airing, you’ve just witnessed a piece of TV history. What seems like a regular regional broadcaster is in fact WRGB, the oldest continuously operating TV station in the world.
Starting out as an experimental broadcast in 1928 and running out of a General Electric facility in nearby Shenectady, the station first known as W2XB began airing regular programs within a year. When it moved to a new building in 1941 in Washington Avenue, it received another honor: using the first building in America specially designed for television. Nowadays it’s just another channel amongst the 100s available nationwide, but way back then it was there at the birth of something truly special.
It’s Actually Good For You
Scientists are humans too. They watch a lot of TV, and sometimes they feel pretty guilty about it. The advantage that scientists have, though, is that with a few studies and an experiment here and there, they can make themselves feel better about anything. Take TV, for example – they’ve gone ahead and proven without a doubt that it’s actually good for you.
But how? Well, there’s four ways (I guess quite a lot of scientists watch TV). First, a study by the University of Rochester proved that watching TV (nature shows, to be exact) makes people feel more energetic, and more generous, too. The second thing the University of Rochester found was that it physically lowered blood pressure in those who watched it. Thirdly, scientists found that the background noise of the TV boosted creativity levels. And finally – and most importantly – another study showed that watching the tube actually improved peoples love lives. As a matter of fact, couples with TV sets in their bedrooms have more sex than the rest of us. Well, we're off to the shops.

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