First National TV Guide Published 61 Years Ago Today

This is an updated version of a post originally published on April 3rd, 2012.

61 years ago today the very first issue of the national TV Guide — as opposed to a local or regional television guide — was published. It may have hit newsstands a few days earlier than April 3rd, 1953, however. On the cover was the newborn son of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, proclaimed on the cover to be “Lucy’s $50,000,000 Baby.”

Here’s how publisher Walter H. Annenberg explained the genesis and purpose of the new magazine in a letter printed on the inner front cover:

As We See It

This is your new TV Guide.

It brings a new concept to magazine publishing just as television has brought a new concept of mass communication to America.

Up to now, many magazines have been distributed throughout the United States, while others, devoted to material of local interest, have been circulated in limited areas only.

Television’s growing importance in our daily lives brought a need for accurate and complete station schedules printed in convenient form. In nearly every city served by television, this need was soon filled by weekly magazines which in essence were theater programs–programs for the millions of home theaters created by television.

Because television signals carry for comparatively few miles, the magazines were purely local affairs that circulated only in the area served by one city’s stations. Thus TV Digest served the viewers of Philadelphia, TV Forecast served Chicago, TV Guide served New York.

Now, under the name TV Guide, these publications will become national as well as local. They will continue and, in fact, expand their local listing pages and their news columns. In addition, the new TV Guide offers readers throughout the Nation news, features, and columns by staffs of writers in the television capitals. As a national, as well as local magazine, TV Guide will make use of the most modern printing facilities, bringing readers four-color pages–as a prelude to the day when television itself will be in color.

What can you expect of the new TV Guide? Just this: your magazine is dedicated to serving constructively the television viewers of America. By serving the viewers, and increasing their enjoyment of the medium, we will be serving the entire television industry.

-Walter H. Annenberg

Volume 1, Issue 1 featured complete television listings for the week of April 3-9. Included in the issue were four articles:

  • Lucy’s $50,000,000 Baby
  • TV’s Last Minute Men (And Women)
  • Stars Tell ‘What TV Has Taught Me’
  • In The Cast: Joan Alexander

There were also reviews for Robert Montgomery Presents and Time to Smile, a picture story on Walter Winchell, a profile on Herb Shriner and more. The issue cost 15 cents. A three-year subscription cost $11, a two-year subscription $8 and a one-year subscription just $5.

On the back cover was an advertisement touting the benefits of subscribing:

It’s so nice to have a GUIDE around the house!

It’s so convenient. A subscription to TV GUIDE means it’s always there when you want it. It means you’ll see all the best shows because you’ll know, days in advance, when and where they’ll be on. When TV GUIDE comes regularly, once a week, it means you get to know the television personalities, how TV works behind the scenes, what new shows are being planned, what new stars are rising. A subscription to TV GUIDE–the most complete, most interesting, most informative TV magazine–means you’ll get the utmost pleasure from your television set, every week and every day of the year.

It isn’t hard to have a GUIDE around the house. It’s really very easy. Use the coupon you’ll find inside to order your subscription, at the low subscription rates. Send it in today. Your subscription will start immediately.

To really enjoy TV, read TV GUIDE.

When it launched, the national TV Guide had a circulation of 1.5 million in ten cities. How many still survive? Who knows. Copies pop up on eBay fairly often and sell for several hundred dollars, depending on condition. Some feature shipping labels, suggesting that subscribers to the magazine’s precursors might have been given the opportunity to subscribe to the new magazine without missing a week’s worth of listings. I wonder if anyone who subscribed to the very first issue is still receiving TV Guide today.

At its peak, TV Guide reached close to 20 million readers each week. According to a February article, it currently has a circulation of just over two million. I wouldn’t be surprised if the magazine folded by the end of the decade.

2 Replies to “First National TV Guide Published 61 Years Ago Today”

  1. And it should fold. I’m one of the 18 million who stopped subscribing. It’s been totally ruined. What a shame.

  2. When TV Guide dropped the late night listings and switched to a large flat magazine in the early 90s I ended my subscription. I think I still have some boxes of old TV guides and Fall previews sitting around somewhere.

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