When Women Invented Television: The Untold Story of the Female Powerhouses Who Pioneered the Way We Watch Today

Harper. Mar. 2021. 352p. ISBN 9780062973306. $27.99. TV
In this compelling, well-researched work, Armstrong (Seinfeldia) uncovers the role women played in developing television, fighting for airtime as they launched sitcoms, soap operas, variety shows, and more. Focusing on the period from 1944 to 1955, the author follows the careers of Gertrude Berg, Hazel Scott, Irna Phillips, and Betty White. While all had auspicious starts, as the television industry expanded and the country grew more conservative, the women soon confronted McCarthyism, in addition to racism and sexism. Scott, who broke ground with The Hazel Scott Show, the first program to be hosted by an African American, was named in Red Channels, a Red Scare blacklist, and found more receptive audiences in Europe. Berg wrote, produced, and starred in The Goldbergs, one of the first TV depictions of a Jewish American family; her on-screen husband, Philip Loeb, was also blacklisted, which led to pressure from corporate sponsors to fire him. Phillips, dubbed “Queen of the Soap Operas” for the many series she created, faced internal competition from a network that didn’t take her programming seriously, and White lost her eponymous show because of network interference.
VERDICT Armstrong preserves an important part of television’s--and women’s--history in this engaging book.
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