Question: How come a lot of shows in the '60s started life in black and white and ended in color? There were plenty of them — The Andy Griffith Show, Gilligan's Island, The Beverly Hillbillies, etc. They all seemed to change to color in 1965. Was color television invented in 1965? I remember in 1990 they colorized the first year's episodes of Gilligan's Island. Can all shows, then, be colorized? — Kevin S., Aurora, Colo.
Televisionary: Well, keep in mind, Kevin, that the introduction of any new format takes a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of willpower on the part of the hardware maker or media company trying to get it adopted, and even then there's no guarantee it'll catch on.
Much like the current struggle over getting HDTV into people's homes, color television was a very pricey chicken-and-egg problem. To put it simply, if people didn't own color TVs, then why would the networks have wanted to invest in color equipment and produce their shows in color? But from the consumer point of view, why spend the extra money on a color TV set if everything's in monochrome?
You're on the money in terms of the availability of color broadcasts, but for the beginnings of color TV technology, you're off by about 40 years. John Logie Baird first unveiled a color-TV system in 1928 and Bell Telephone Laboratories demonstrated theirs a year later, but it wasn't until 1940 that CBS showed off its own version. World War II delayed development and the network petitioned the FCC to commercialize the technology in 1949. The following year, the Commission approved CBS's standard over competing systems from Color Television, Inc. and RCA, but CBS's version was incompatible with the black-and-white sets people already owned. CBS began color broadcasts on its New York station in 1951, but by October, after the Korean War's demand for the country's technical resources kept the production of color sets to a minimum, those efforts were discontinued because not enough people could watch the shows. Two years later, the National Television Systems Committee (NTSC) revisited the issue and approved a modified version of the RCA system.
All of which brings us back to the chicken-and-egg question. TV stations upgraded their facilities to color fairly quickly, with 106 of the top 40 markets' 158 stations doing so by 1957. However, the networks were slow to produce color programming — only NBC was enthusiastic since it wanted to help parent company RCA sell color-TV sets — and it wasn't until 1965 that CBS jumped on the bandwagon, even though it meant reshooting several of its pilots in color. ABC followed suit a year later.As for colorizing old shows, it's technically possible to colorize anything you want. However, to do it properly costs real money and there remains the artistic argument that to go back and guess at the colors of a show or film shot in monochrome is to deface the original director's work. I mean, sure, we are only talking about old episodes of, say, The Untouchables, but to some folks that's akin to redoing the Mona Lisa so her eyes appear to follow you around the Louvre just because you can.