This is an updated version of a post originally published on April 3rd, 2012.
It has now been 62 years since the first issue of the national TV Guide — as opposed to a local or regional television guide magazine — was published. On the cover of the April 3rd, 1953 issue was the newborn son of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (“Lucy’s $50,000,000 Baby”).
Here’s how publisher Walter H. Annenberg explained the genesis and purpose of the new magazine in the very first “As We See It” editorial, 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 of NBC’s Robert Montgomery Presents and Time to Smile (an umblella title for The Alan Young Show and The Ken Murray Show), 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. An advertisement on the back cover touted 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.
The national TV Guide launched with a circulation of 1.5 million in ten cities. It is unknown how many copies of the first issue still exist. Right now there are a few for sale on eBay, several with asking prices above $1,000. Some feature shipping labels, which suggests subscribers to the magazine’s precursors were given the opportunity to subscribe to the new magazine without missing a week’s worth of listings.
It seems unlikely but it is possible that someone 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 the Alliance for Audited Media, for the six months ending December 31st, 2014 its circulation was just 1.8 million.