Bicentennial Minutes

Almost fifty years ago, the United States celebrated its Bicentennial, treating July 4, 1976 as the 200th anniversary of its founding. (The next “major” milestone will be the semi-quincentennial, which doesn’t quite roll of the tongue). For just over two years, from July 4, 1974 through October 1976, every night CBS Television broadcast a very short monologue by some public personality, ranging from actors and directors to writers and politicians. (Oddly, I don’t recall any historians, but one hopes with more than 750 episodes at least one made it on camera.) They were a minute long, give or take a few seconds, and served as miniature history lessons (or a long commercial), each timed to an anniversary of some specific event on that day. In some ways, they were “on-this-day-in-history” lessons. So, for example, on May 7, 1976 movie director Otto Preminger described Thomas Jefferson’s May 7, 1776 departure from Monticello to return to the Continental Congress. Similarly, on June 4, 1976 Senator Fritz Hollings very briefly described the first arrival of British ships near Charleston as a prelude to their attack on June 28, 1776. Each began with a musical flourish that told you what was coming and was integrated with some still images, a set, or a location that looked “historical” in the background. The series turned out to be relatively popular and was even nominated for two Emmys in 1975 and 1977.

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