On 3 April 1953, a small magazine – about 5 inches by 7½ inches – with Lucy and Desi’s new baby on the cover, appeared on newsstands in ten cities across the United States.
TV Guide, the publisher Walter Annenberg announced, would not only list every show to be aired locally each week but would aspire, through its national section, to increase viewers’ enjoyment of the medium while “serving the entire television industry”.
The magazine became an enormous instant success with the first issue selling one and a half million copies.
By 1960, its circulation exceeded seven million copies per week with listings published in regional editions from coast to coast.
By the late 70s, it sat atop the television set in twenty million American homes, with 94 editions in the United States and became the magazine with the largest circulation in publishing history (and the highest return from advertising).
The idea for TV Guide came to Walter Annenberg (pictured) in 1952 when he read a magazine called TV Digest whose circulation in Philadelphia and its suburbs approached 100,000 copies a week.
He discovered similar publications existed in New York and Chicago and envisioned a national publication that would grow with the medium that was rapidly entering every living room in America.
Annenberg gobbled up the New York TV Guide, the Philadelphia TV Digest and the Chicago TV Forecast at rather high prices and without any attempt to bargain. In Washington, Boston, Minneapolis and Iowa he contracted with the publishers of TV magazines to buy the national section of TV Guide and soon had a virtual monopoly.
His operation was launched with Merrill Panitt as national edition editor.
A handy size to place on top of the television set (and for supermarkets to place at their checkout counters), the magazine was designed to withstand a week of household use.
It was soon discovered that housewives dug into their purses when they saw their favourite star on the cover, so it was no accident that male performers graced the cover of TV Guide throughout the 1950s far more than their female counterparts did.
In August 1988, Rupert Murdoch – the titan of tabloids – purchased TV Guide, Seventeen and the Daily Racing Form for $3 billion: the biggest deal in the history of publishing.
Subsequently, TV Guide moved down-market and became more of a fan magazine, offering little to readers interested in news and public affairs, public television programming or decision making behind the scenes.
Sadly, by the 90s, the magazine did little more than gossip and gush, titillate and taunt, as it reached for the stars and a lower common denominator.