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

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  353 ratings  ·  71 reviews
The New York Times bestselling author of Seinfeldia tells the little-known story of four trailblazing women in the early days of television who laid the foundation of the industry we know today.

It was the Golden Age of Radio and powerful men were making millions in advertising dollars reaching thousands of listeners every day. When television arrived, few radio moguls were
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published March 23rd 2021 by Harper
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Apr 29, 2021 rated it really liked it
Of the four women on the cover of this book the only one familiar to me is Betty White.

The book was a huge revelation. I didn’t know there was so much I didn’t know. Here are a few:

I’ve been watching soap operas since the 1960’s and still watch one today and live in fear of it going off the air. I suppose because I never looked it up I didn’t know soap operas were envisioned and created by a woman – Irna Phillips.

I didn’t know that a Black performer had her own show on TV in 1950 – Hazel Scott.

Sep 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
I tweeted to the author: "I kind of didn't think TV really existed before I Love Lucy." And she tweeted back, "Me neither until I started researching this book!"

But of COURSE there was television before I Love Lucy. Lucy tends to overshadow much of what went before because she was not only super popular in her day, but syndication makes sure she has remained popular in perpetuity. But it's not just Lucy that hid the early days of early television. See, as a culture, we tend to think of "early TV
Daniel Kukwa
Sep 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Fascinating from start to say nothing of enlightening. If you think you know the story of the golden age of television, you may be surprised about what you actually don't know, especially about the role of women. Triumphant and tragic in equal measure. ...more
Mar 28, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021-tbr
What an excellent book about television and the women who, ultimately, pioneered its evolution as the prominent little box in the corner. So much of television and film studies is dominated by men, because the contributions of women - as Armstrong points out - are often poorly recorded and archived, as was the case for Hazel Scott, one of the first African-Americans to host her own show. While some, Lucille Ball (not explored in this book), have been well preserved, Armstrong picks out true pion ...more
Dec 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Such an interesting book about early television. The author cleverly focuses on a few women and their impact on television. Armstrong has also woven in the background of the tumultuous post WWII years and the HUAC hearings.

I was totally fascinated by this book and I admire the authors discipline in limiting the focus to four women. Those are Hazel Scott, Irna Phillips, Gertrude Berg and Betty White. She has thrown in a bit about Lucille Ball. The anecdotal reportage is delightful.

I remember Ge
Carly Friedman
Jun 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobooks
I LOVED this book. My favorite books, as I have said before, are those that integrate biographical info about a select few fascinating people with cultural, economic, and social history. This was the perfect mix! The information regarding Irna Phillips, Gertrude Berg, Hazel Scott, and Betty White was absolutely fascinating. I also loved the background information about early television, the impact of McCarthyism, and post WWII culture. Although I was learning a ton, the book felt like a joy to r ...more
Matthew Galloway
Mar 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Even though I'm not much of a tv watcher, I found this completely fascinating. I had no idea that television started out with such an opportunity to be more diverse and equal (though the women in this story all had to fight for their places) before all that was quashed. These are women to be admired and remembered. I listened to this one as an audiobook and found the narrator to be fantastic. ...more
This is a typical warped perspective about TV history from the propaganda writer Jennifer Armstrong. This book is no different from a few other of her books that I've read that are filled with errors, her own leftist bias, and her attempt to rewrite history by inaccurately filtering it through her own modern bias. While the concept of doing the stories of four strong women in the early days of TV is good, she mishandles the information so dramatically that you can't trust anything she says. Trus ...more Biography & Memoir
Gertrude Berg. Hazel Scott. Irna Phillips. Betty White. Yes, that Betty White. Everyone’s favorite Golden Girl. But kids, these women were all that back in the day and more.

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, author of SEINFELDIA, has brought their stories together with nontrivial research in a wiz-bang historical look at the early days of television and how these actresses from different media became the first ladies of the burgeoning possibilities of our good friend during the pandemic (and otherwise)
Apr 04, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting account of four women who pioneered early television. Two are mostly forgotten, one defined daytime tv, and one still shows up on the airwaves.
Gertrude Berg brought her sitcom from radio to television before Lucy. She had the first sitcom, the first ethnic character (Jewish household) and the first to film before a live audience.
Hazel Scott was the first Black person to have a television show, the first Black female on tv, and is now largely forgotten.
Daytime television was shaped
Rae Gray
Apr 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaways
I received a copy of this book through a Goodreads giveaway. (Thank you, Jennifer Keishin Armstrong!)

Gertrude Berg, Irna Phillips, Hazel Scott, and Betty White: Four women who are responsible for TV as we know it, yet I'm familiar with only one-- the amazing Betty White. Still, she did so much more than I ever realized. This book is a fascinating read, detailing what these women accomplished and how their impact is still felt in the 21st Century. The sitcom, the soap opera, evening variety progr
Jul 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
When I first got this book, I took the title literally and thought it was about women who worked with Philo Farnsworth inventing television. Instead, the book focused on four pioneering women who made important contributions to television as we know it. Gertrude Berg was a successful radio star who transferred her success to television with an early sitcom called The Goldbergs (no relation to the current show) about a Jewish family. Irna Phillips created the soap opera genre. Hazel Scott was the ...more
Jul 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I loved learning about the forgotten pioneers of television — including learning quite a bit more about a couple I thought I already knew! The book reads like a novel but contains so much good and important information. A must-read for anyone who cares about television, the entertainment industry more generally, and the labor of women.
Interesting listen.

I feel like had I'd know the other three main females I would have enjoyed the book more. But it was still worth the read to learn about the early days of television and the women who had a hand in shaping it.

Karin Mika
Jun 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
When I started this book, I assumed I'd be hearing about Lucille Ball and her contemporaries. The book started out by saying that this is what most expect to hear about the early days of women and television, but that there was an entire history of women in television prior to Lucille Ball -- women who revolutionized television and whose ideas have been built upon to this day without most of the women getting any credit at all.

The book focused on four women: Irna Phillips, Gertrude Berg, Hazel S
Kelley Kulick
Aug 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Insanely readable and full of information that should be way more well known to the general public. Loved it and was totally inspired by these amazing women documented in the book.
Ryan Ebling
Oct 15, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Probably more 3.5, but an interesting lesson on the forgotten pioneers of television. Just like with film, women set the standards, broke ground, and were pushed out once men decided to take over.
Jun 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Everyone should read this book! I had no idea about these brilliant woman who shaped all of television and lead to what everyone watches today! If you loved The Marvelous Mrs. MAISEL you will find this interesting as there are so many references of these experiences. The read sucked me in so much for more of a historical perspective. Highly recommend!!!
Thomas West III
May 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing
It’s no secret that television has long had a powerful connection to women, with many of its key genres, including the soap opera and the daytime talk show, being geared toward their interests and concerns. What has gone under-recognized, however, is just how pivotal women were to the actual creation of these genres. In her new book, When Women Invented Television: The Untold Story of the Female Powerhouses Who Pioneered the Way we Watch Today, author and entertainment journalist Jennifer Keishi ...more
Mar 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music-tv-movies
3.5 stars. I think the title is somewhat misleading. Armstrong focuses on four women who were pioneers in the early days of television, but I wouldn't say they were solely responsible for its development. Nevertheless, she makes a strong case that individually each of them were early successes in the era when many men hadn't yet made the jump from radio to television. Some of the profiles are more developed than others; I'm not convinced that Hazel Scott's contribution was on the same level as B ...more
A Home Library
Sep 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
It was the Golden Age of Radio and powerful men were making millions in advertising dollars reaching thousands of listeners every day. When television arrived, few radio moguls were interested in the upstart industry and its tiny production budgets, and expensive television sets were out of reach for most families. But four women—each an independent visionary— saw an opportunity and carved their own paths, and in so doing invented the way we watch tv today.

The author focused on four pioneering w
Oct 08, 2021 rated it liked it
The title is hyperbole, and the author occasionally strays into too much speculation, but that doesn't make these stories any less interesting. And at least she makes it clear when she is speculating, but it is still a distraction. As far as inventing television, Armstrong is talking about developing TV genres that made the industry and are still with us in one form or another today. The book is focused on the early years of TV, from 1948 to 1955. As the author describes it, this was a window of ...more
Magaly C.
May 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
In the mid-1950s, Irna Philips, Hazel Scott, Gertrude Berg, and Betty White laid down the foundations of what television is today--and many people don't know who they are (aside from White, I sure didn't). From radio to television, these visionary women led the charge in entertainment and echoes of their impact are still present today: soap operas, sit-coms, late night, and talk-shows.

This was definitely an interesting read in the evolution of television and how these four women impacted entert
Apr 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
⭐ 4.5 stars!

I'm delightfully surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. A lot of the non-fiction I've picked up this year has ranged between awful and okay, but finally I've found one of my favorite non-fiction reads of the year.

When Women Invented Television discusses the early beginnings of television in America by focusing on some of the women who helped to revolutionize the medium - Gertrude Berg, Hazel Scott, Irna Phillips and Betty White.

One of the reasons I loved this book was simply be
Aug 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I am so happy I came across this book in my local library. What an amazing read.

The book illuminated the many forgotten and invaluable contributions of 4 very different women in laying the foundation of tv as we know it today- Gertrude Berg (aka Molly Goldberg), Irna Philips (the creator of Soap Operas), Hazel Scott ( an African-American women who was a classical pianist who had her own variety show, making her the first person of color to host their own show, but she was so much more..) and Be
Jul 14, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2021
Gertrude Berg early family drama The Goldbergs.

Irna Phillips first soap opera The Guiding Light.

Betty White (& Al Jarvis) talk show for 5 1/2 hours six days per week—live tv, no audience, no commercial breaks.

Hazel Scott (wife of congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr) the first Black person to host a prime-time network variety show. A talented concert pianist in her own right.

Exploring the years 1948-1955, these four women are depicted as the hidden figures of the early days of television. Sadl
Cindy Burnett
May 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
The arrival of television was ignored by many men in the entertainment industry who felt radio was the better platform. Four women, Irna Phillips, Betty White, Gertrude Berg, and Hazel Scott, individually used this opening to each forge their own path in the television industry and, as a result, significantly impacted the way we still watch the medium today. When television did in fact prevail, these women were pushed to the side as men began to dominate the industry. When Women Invented Televis ...more
Jun 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
A fantastic blend of societal politics -- both of the McCarthy 40s and 50s as well as how it reflects in present time -- and entertainment journalism that is written with pizzazz and enthusiasm about each woman. The only reason it's not a perfect 5 is a) I don't really rate anything perfectly, and b) the book could have been about 25-35 pages shorter. Near the end, it becomes an exercise of just willing the book to its conclusion at a slower pace than necessary.

However, Keishin Armstrong present
This book follows the history of Irma Phillips, Gertrude Berg, Betty White and Hazel Scott who formed TV as we know it. It follows their initial careers as it progressed from radio to TV, and how the changing politics, societal values, and demographics of the united states changed what and how we watch TV.

There was so much information about shows and productions that are lost to time due to shows being live and not video taped or video tapes being destroyed or recorded over after use. Unfortuna
Bailey Adams
Apr 21, 2021 rated it really liked it
I love niche American female history so when I saw this cheery yellow cover full of black and white photos of smiling ladies I knew this was a must read for me.

When Women Invented Television 📺 by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong is a non fiction account of four women in early TV. One of the women (Betty White!) I was familiar with but the other three were new to me. The four women had very different personalities and specialized in different genres.

Irna Phillips was a single mom from Chicago who use
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Jennifer Keishin Armstrong is the New York Times bestselling author of Seinfeldia; Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted; Pop Star Goddesses; When Women Invented Television; and Sex and the City and Us. She spent a decade on staff at Entertainment Weekly and has since written for many publications, including BBC Culture, The New York Times Book Review, Vice, New York magazine, and Billboard.

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Happy Women's History Month! One of the undisputedly good things about modern scholarship is that women’s history is finally getting its due....
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