Bright Signals

A History of Color Television

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 104 color illustrations Published: June 2018

Author: Susan Murray

American Studies, Media Studies > Media Technologies, TV

First demonstrated in 1928, color television remained little more than a novelty for decades as the industry struggled with the considerable technical, regulatory, commercial, and cultural complications posed by the medium. Only fully adopted by all three networks in the 1960s, color television was imagined as a new way of seeing that was distinct from both monochrome television and other forms of color media. It also inspired compelling popular, scientific, and industry conversations about the use and meaning of color and its effects on emotions, vision, and desire. In Bright Signals Susan Murray traces these wide-ranging debates within and beyond the television industry, positioning the story of color television, which was replete with false starts, failure, and ingenuity, as central to the broader history of twentieth-century visual culture. In so doing, she shows how color television disrupted and reframed the very idea of television while it simultaneously revealed the tensions about technology's relationship to consumerism, human sight, and the natural world.


"Bright Signals is an important, engaging study that helps readers understand media history and anticipate developments going forward." — Linda Levitt, PopMatters

"[An] important intervention into television history." — Phil Ellis, Leonardo Reviews

"What makes Bright Signals distinguishable from others on the subject is the detailed historical and cultural analysis of why color television did not replace black-and-white television until the 1960s. . . . Recommended. All readers." — C.L. Clements, Choice

"A joy to read: it is meticulously researched, rhetorically lucid, and refreshingly jargon free. Beyond the book’s delightful illustrations, the text of Bright Signals paints a vivid picture of the personalities and corporate campaigns most responsible for introducing color to the small screen. . . . Murray’s work should appeal to television studies generalists (especially those specializing in the network era), midcentury-media historians, and scholars of new media and technological transformation." — Catherine Clepper, Film Quarterly

"A remarkably fresh approach to the social and cultural relationships created by the medium." — James McConnachie, TLS

"Cogently written and richly illustrated, Bright Signals tracks the invention and normalization of color television from 1928 to 1970 with interdisciplinary precision and historical depth. . . . A a remarkable achievement in media history and theory." — Joshua Yumibe, Journal of Cinema and Media Studies

"With over one hundred color images from television programs, advertisements, charts, test patterns and photographs, the book is, on top of everything else, a strikingly beautiful object. Beyond being an extraordinarily researched and lively account of this key period in media history, Bright Signals also demonstrates the importance of further theorizing our relationship to colored moving images today. . . . We are still learning how to live with color visual media, and Bright Signals is invaluable in advancing the understanding of the historical and theoretical issues at play." — Doron Galili, Cinéma & Cie

"While colour cinema has been the focus of numerous recent publications, television scholarship has yet to catch up with this chromatic turn. Bright Signals, the first critical history of colour television in America, thus makes a very welcome and necessary contribution to the field. . . . Through meticulous archival research, Murray has constructed an account of colour television that at once offers a comprehensive history of a technology while remaining attentive to much larger social and political issues around race, class and cold war politics." — Kirsty Sinclair Dootson, Critical Studies in Television

"In terms of providing readers with a comprehensive cultural history of color television, Bright Signals is a tour de force." — Laura Kalba, Public Books

"Brights Signals provides such important research that it's surprising someone hadn't taken it on earlier. . . . A balanced analysis of the complex struggle to develop color technology amidst intense corporate competition." — Christopher H. Sterling, Communication Booknotes Quarterly

"Bright Signals is especially valuable for those studying the history of technology and who wish to acquire a comprehensive understanding of the technical norms governing color television and the multidisciplinary fields required to turns these eccentric experiments into cultural norms." — Carolyn Kane, Technology and Culture

“What a terrific, innovative book! In this pioneering study of the development of color television, Susan Murray brilliantly intertwines the technological evolution of the device with prevailing notions about how people perceive color and its affective impact on our subjectivity and how we view the world. Murray breaks new ground by tracing how an understanding of the human eye was built into the technology from the very start. Highly original, engaging, and, yes, eye-opening.” — Susan J. Douglas, Catherine Neafie Kellogg Professor of Communication Studies, University of Michigan

“In Bright Signals Susan Murray tells a critical and previously untold story in the history of television—the advent of color television—and does so in an innovative way that will disrupt established theories of visual culture, media historiography, the cultural analysis of standards, and television-as-technology.” — Jonathan Sterne, author of MP3: The Meaning of a Format


Availability: In stock
Price: $27.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Susan Murray is Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, the author of Hitch Your Antenna to the Stars: Early Television and Broadcast Stardom, and the coeditor of Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction  1
1. "And Now—Color": Early Color Systems  11
2. Natural Vision Versus "Tele-Vision": Defining and Standardizing Color  34
3. Color Adjustments: Experiments, Calibrations, and Color Training, 1950–1955  86
4. Colortown, USA: Expansion, Stabilization, and Promotion, 1955–1959  127
5. The Wonderful World of Color: Network Programming and the Spectacular Real, 1960–1965  176
6. At the End of the Rainbow: Global Expansion, the Space Race, and the Cold War  217
Conclusion  251
Notes  259
Bibliography  293
Index  303
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner of the 2019 Katherine Singer Kovács Book Award, presented by the Society for Cinema and Media Studies.

Winner of the 2019 Michael Nelson Prize, presented by the International Association for Media and History

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