In our very first issue, TV Guide Magazine polled the top names in TV — including Ed Sullivan, Milton Berle, Jackie Gleason and Sid Caesar — on what the new medium had taught them. "TV is a great way to reach millions of people — who, luckily, can't reach me," Berle quipped. For 60 years, this publication has chronicled the evolution of what remains the world's most dominant source of entertainment. And while viewers now have hundreds of channels at their fingertips and can watch whatever they want, whenever they want, on a multitude of platforms, one thing hasn't changed: Audiences are hungry for great fare, from I Love Lucy to Modern Family and Playhouse 90 to Homeland.
We spoke to 13 titans of TV — living legends (Carol Burnett and Carl Reiner), key producers (Two and a Half Men's Chuck Lorre, Modern Family's Christopher Lloyd and Steve Levitan, Cougar Town's Bill Lawrence, Glee's Ryan Murphy, Grey's Anatomy's Shonda Rhimes, Mad Men's Matthew Weiner and Law & Order's Dick Wolf), the king of reality (Survivor's Mark Burnett), a master director (James Burrows) and the medium's most successful mogul (CBS CEO Leslie Moonves) — and asked them a few questions about where TV has been, what it looks like now and where it's headed.
TV Guide Magazine: Looking back at the past 60 years, what has influenced you the most in television, and how?
Carol Burnett: The Garry Moore Show and Sid Caesar, because their generosity taught me how important it is to share the comedy with the rest of the cast. And let us not forget Lucy!
Mark Burnett: A combination of Dallas and CHiPs, because as a kid growing up in England, they made me desperately want to come to America. CHiPs, in particular. I remember thinking, "How can roads have that many lanes?"
Bill Lawrence: M*A*S*H, for its ability to mesh broad comedy with moments of great emotional depth. Also, The Simpsons.
Christopher Lloyd: Cheers. Through the magic of actor chemistry and excellent writing, they created a world I wanted to be in every week and made me want to learn how the magic was done. I read once that Kurt Vonnegut said his only professional regret was that he never got to write an episode of Cheers. I'd like to put my name second on that list.
Leslie Moonves: The landing on the moon. I'll give it a tie with the Kennedy assassination, because TV really brought the news into our living rooms in a way that we had never felt before.
Ryan Murphy: Without question, it was All in the Family. As a kid, I would watch that show with my parents and we would talk about the then-taboo issues that it would raise. It made me realize the power of television to not only illuminate important topics but [also] ultimately change minds.
Shonda Rhimes: Sesame Street. I was obsessed with Oscar the Grouch and how inside his garbage can there was, like, a 15-room apartment. I learned that your imagination was the key to everything.
Matthew Weiner: Roots. I saw it at a very young age and was raised in an environment where TV was a privilege. No viewing on school nights and no viewing when your grades were bad. So having the world stop — and I mean the whole world — to watch television was in itself influential.
Dick Wolf: Dragnet, which taught me everything you needed to know about cop shows and procedurals.
TV Guide Magazine: What's your dream three-hour night of TV?
Mark Burnett: Downton Abbey, Homeland, 24.
Steve Levitan: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, M*A*S*H, Cheers, Hill Street Blues.
Moonves: At 8pm I'd put The Ed Sullivan Show, because that really was a groundbreaker. Then I would put Seinfeld, into All in the Family. And I'd probably close the evening with Hill Street Blues.
Murphy: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, Sex and the City, Girls, The Sopranos.
Rhimes: The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, Good Times, The Wire, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Wolf: All in the Family, Seinfeld, The Rockford Files, Law & Order.
TV Guide Magazine: What's missing from television in 2013?
James Burrows: In terms of comedies, "funny" is missing in 2013.
Lawrence: I miss seeing a bunch of multicamera shows developed around great comedians.
Levitan: We need an Edward R. Murrow — a serious newsperson with a large enough audience to truly affect public policy.
Weiner: The communal experience of everyone watching something at the same time and the conversation the day after.
Moonves: I wish there was more investigative reporting right now. And the marketplace is ripe for more miniseries of high quality, such as Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man.
Murphy: Nothing is missing from cable television. With network television, what is missing are brave choices and network executives sticking with those brave choices. Network television has to change or die.
Carl Reiner: Selectivity. There aren't enough thoughtful dramas.
Rhimes: There are no longer shows that everyone in the family can watch and enjoy. Gilmore Girls was the last one that seemed to be equally interesting for both adults and kids.
TV Guide Magazine: What is there too much of on TV now?
Burrows: There are too many singing competitions, which I guess is saying too much reality TV.
Carol Burnett: Reality shows.
Mark Burnett: Cable show marathons.
Levitan: Kardashians and housewives of various cities.
Lloyd: Crassness masquerading as cleverness. Note to the comedy writers who think saying the word penis nine times is either outrageous or awesome: It isn't; it's just lazy, and it's boring.
Chuck Lorre: Soft-core porn.
Reiner: Reality shows, infomercials, one or two unconscionable news hours from biased networks.
TV Guide Magazine: Which TV icons — past and present — do you admire the most?
Burrows: Norman Lear, Max Liebman [Your Show of Shows] and Nat Hiken [The Phil Silvers Show].
Lawrence: Larry Gelbart, my hero: television [M*A*S*H], film [Tootsie] and Broadway [City of Angels].
Levitan: Norman Lear — because he was an innovator and he's a great man in real life.
Lloyd: Johnny Carson, for his wit and grace; Al Michaels, for being the classy guy among the louts; and Kelsey Grammer, for his boundless talent.
Moonves: William S. Paley — he had an incredible vision. And Norman Lear, for his great courage and skill. Also the vast amount of work he did simultaneously is pretty admirable.
Rhimes: Bill Cosby, because he created a family on television that finally looked like the one I grew up in. And Norman Lear, because, well, he's Norman Lear.
Weiner: Rod Serling, Paddy Chayefsky, Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart, David L. Wolper, Norman Lear, Lorne Michaels and David Chase. All of these people were creating, first and foremost, entertainment apart from the traditional restrictions of genre and filled with honest humanity. And I can't leave out Allan Burns [The Mary Tyler Moore Show], because I met him when I was in high school and he told me that I should write for TV.
Wolf: [Former NBC Entertainment president] Brandon Tartikoff, because he was a friend, a boss, a mentor, and he understood that nobody can program 22 hours of primetime just to their own taste.
TV Guide Magazine: What do you think TV will look like 20 years from now?
Mark Burnett: It won't be television, per se, but it will include great storytelling. It will be on demand. All cable will be à la carte, and the only live TV will be live sports and big events like awards shows or The Voice.
Levitan: Thinner, bigger, higher-def, à la carte. That said, content will be quite similar because storytelling will always be the key to good television.
Lloyd: Television, like the television [set], seems to get cheaper and flatter every year. In 20 years it will be as thin as a baklava flake and about as nutritious.
Murphy: The television landscape will be completely different. The Netflix model will dominate our business. Network television will be dedicated to live programming and cable will flourish, fighting it out with pay-per-view options.
For more with television's visionaries, 60 reasons to be watching TV now and the next television innovations, pick up TV Guide Magazine's 60th Anniversary Issue on newsstands Thursday, April 4!