On Mad Men, whenever someone is watching TV, the TV screen the character is watching is in black and white. Lately I’ve been wondering: when are we going to start to see characters watch color TV on the show?
On the show right now, it’s the late summer of 1965, which is around the time that color TV really started to take off.
According to Wikipedia, the 1964-65 TV season was the first full season in which NBC broadcast more than 50% of its schedule in color, but most of the shows on ABC and CBS were still in black and white. The 1965-66 season — which Mad Men is about to enter, since the most recent episode took place in August 1965 — was the first TV season in which a majority of prime time shows were in color. By the start of the 1966-67 season, practically every prime time show was in color. Those of us who first experienced the classic 1960s sitcoms through reruns know that weird feeling when you’d somehow run across an early black-and-white episode of Gilligan’s Island or Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie; each of those shows began in black and white and transitioned to color after its first or second season.
So will we see color TVs on Mad Men soon? Well, even though most programs were in color by the fall of 1965, by 1966 fewer than 10 percent of homes had color TV sets (that chart is located here). It wasn’t until 1972 that a majority of homes had them. But this is Mad Men, where some of the characters are rich corporate types — and Harry Crane is in charge of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s TV advertising division, so maybe we’ll see a color TV in his office. That would be neat.
(Update: here’s an in-depth article on “the color revolution of 1965.”)