A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from October 24, 2011
“Television is called a medium because it is neither rare nor well done”

"Television is called a medium because it is neither rare nor well done” is a classic joke about early television. The comedian Fred Allen (1894-1956) said on his radio program “The Big Show” in November 1950, “I’ve decided why they call television a medium. It’s because nothing on it is well done.” The word “rare” appears in later versions of the joke.

“Television is a medium, so called because it is neither rare nor well-done” is often credited to television pioneer Ernie Kovacs (1919-1962), but there is no evidence that Kovacs used the line before Fred Allen.


Wikipedia: Fred Allen
Fred Allen (born John Florence Sullivan, May 31, 1894 – March 17, 1956) was an American comedian whose absurdist, topically pointed radio show (1932–1949) made him one of the most popular and forward-looking humorists in the so-called classic era of American radio.
(...)
Television
It was also on The Big Show‘s premiere that Allen delivered perhaps his best-remembered crack about television: “You know, television is called a new medium, and I have discovered why they call it a Medium – because it is neither Rare nor Well Done.” That did not stop the Museum of Broadcast Communications from considering Allen “the intellectual conscience of television.” Aside from his famous crack about not liking furniture that talked, Allen observed that television allowed “people who haven’t anything to do to watch people who can’t do anything.”

Wikiquote: Ernie Kovacs
Ernie Kovacs (January 23, 1919 – January 13, 1962) was an American comedian whose uninhibited, often ad-libbed, and visually experimental comic style came to influence numerous television comedy programs for years after his tragic, early death in an automobile accident.

Sourced
Television is a medium, so called because it is neither rare nor well-done.
. Quoted in Wired 4.07, p. 102 [July 1996]

The Quotations Page
Television is a new medium. It’s called a medium because nothing is well-done.
Fred Allen, on the radio program The Big Show, Dec. 17, 1950
US radio comedian (1894 - 1956)


9 November 1950, East Liverpool (OH) Review,"Radio In Review” by John Crosby, pg. 16, cols. 2-3:
Mr. Allen (Fred Allen—ed.) remarked pleasantly that N.B.C. had tried him on radio and tried him on television and was now waiting for another medium to come along. “I’ve decided why they call television a medium. It’s because nothing on it is well done.”
(Review of the radio program “The Big Show”—ed.)

7 January 1951, Oregonian (Portland, OR), “Radio Gag Bag” culled by Larry Wolters, Sunday Oregonian Magazine, pg. 10, col. 2:
Fred Allen: I’ve discovered why they call television a medium.
Tallulah Bankhead: Why?
Allen: Because nothing’s well done.

14 July 1951, New York (NY) Times, “Books of The Times” by Charles Poore, pg. 11:
Mr. Allen (Fred Allen—ed.) believes that television is called “a medium” because nothing is well done on it.
(The book No People Like Show People by Maurice Zolotow—ed.)

Google Books
Cosmopolitan magazine
Volume 143
1957
Pg. 35:
TV Coasts Downhill
It was Fred Allen who remarked in 1949, “The reason they call television a medium is because nothing is well done on it.”

Google News Archive
5 December 1958, Youngstown (OH) Vindicator, “Today’s Chuckle,” pg. 29. col. 7:
Television is called a medium because so little of it is either rare or well done.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityRadio/Television • (0) Comments • Monday, October 24, 2011 • Permalink