TV Guide: History Of The Most Popular Magazine Of The '60s & '70s

By | April 2, 2021

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TV Guide covers featuring Mary Tyler Moore, the Six Million Dollar Man, the Smothers Brothers, Lucille Ball, and Dinah Shore. Source: Flickr

TV Guide was the most popular magazine in America at the height of the Groovy Era. In today's world where everything is on-demand and available at your fingertips the concept of requiring a magazine to tell you what time a television program is going to air is bizarre. That wasn't the case in the '60s and '70s. In mid-century America, TV Guide was considered an essential part of the household. It helped families plan their evenings and people something to look at when boredom took hold.

By the early '70s, TV Guide was the biggest magazine in the country with a peak circulation of 19 million. In its heyday the Guide did its best to keep up with television trends, changing styles, and the spread of cable television. There's never going to be another phenomenon quite TV Guide.

The first version of TV Guide was regional

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source: pinterest

Lee Wagner was a publisher with his eye on television. He wasn't watching it so much as he was paying attention to its regularly scheduled programming. Already the circulation director at distributor Cowles Media Company where he worked on celebrity magazines, he decided to see if there was interest in a magazine filled solely with television listings.

The first version of TV Guide was published on June 14, 1948, featuring Gloria Swanson on the cover. This edition of the "TeleVision Guide" was only sold on news stands in the New York City area, making it more of a hyper local TV 'zine than anything else. The NYC version of the guide was popular enough that Wagner was able to branch out into more regional versions. He first published guides for New England before adding the Baltimore-Washington area to his circulation.

The guides were so successful that Wagner sold the magazine to Walter Annenberg and Triangle Publications. It's not clear if Wagner didn't have the manpower to go national or if he was just done with the magazine, but either way Triangle saw big business with his concept.