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Tube of Plenty

The Evolution of American Television

Second Revised Edition

Erik Barnouw

Publication Date - May 1990

ISBN: 9780195064841

624 pages
5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

In Stock

A newly updated edition of what The New York Times Book Review called "the best single-volume history of radio and TV in this country"


Based on the classic History of Broadcasting in the United States, Tube of Plenty represents the fruit of several decades' labor. When Erik Barnouw--premier chronicler of American broadcasting and a participant in the industry for fifty years--first undertook the project of recording its history, many viewed it as a light-weight literary task concerned mainly with "entertainment" trivia. Indeed, trivia such as that found in quiz programs do appear in the book, but Barnouw views them as part of a complex social tapestry that increasingly defines our era.
To understand our century, we must fully comprehend the evolution of television and its newest extraordinary offshoots. With this fact in mind, Barnouw's new edition of Tube of Plenty explores the development and impact of the latest dramatic phases of the communications revolution.
Since the first publication of this invaluable history of television and how it has shaped, and been shaped by, American culture and society, many significant changes have occurred. Assessing the importance of these developments in a new chapter, Barnouw specifically covers the decline of the three major networks, the expansion of cable and satellite television and film channels such as HBO (Home Box Office), the success of channels catering to special audiences such as ESPN (Entertainment and Sports Programming Network) and MTV (Music Television), and the arrival of VCRs in America's living rooms. He also includes an appendix entitled "questions for a new millennium," which will challenge readers not only to examine the shape of television today, but also to envision its future.


  • An invaluable history of television and how it has shaped, and been shaped by, American culture and society
  • This updated edition features a new chapter in which Barnouw assesses new developments

About the Author(s)

Erik Barnouw, Professor Emeritus of Dramatic Arts at Columbia University, co-founded and chaired Columbia's Film Division for many years. He also helped to organize, and headed, the Writers Guild of America. He is Editor in Chief of the International Encyclopedia of Communications and the author of several books, including Indian Film (with S. Krishnaswamy) and The Magician and the Cinema.


"On of the better texts on the history of TV. The writing is emotive and well informed. Students read this text with interest and many comment on its excellence."--William Prior, Ramapo College

"Tube of Plenty has established itself as a book that every student of communications must read. It is also a book that every American citizen should read."--David Marc, Annenberg School of Communication, University of Southern California

Praise for previous editions:

"A major achievement."--The Philadelphia Inquirer

"By condensing his scholarly three-volume History of Broadcasting in the United States into a revised and updated paperback...Barnouw has produced an authoritative, well-informed, and highly readable account of the growth and present status of radio and television."--Backstage

"A master of the on-point anecdote, Barnouw has provided us with an eminently readable guide to the forces and personalities, both on and off the air, that developed this nation's system of broadcasting. It is well worth turning off the set for three hours to read."--Fred Friendly, former President, CBS News

"One of the most complete works on [television], a true history in the exact meaning of the word, thorough, and remarkably up-to-date."--Film Library Quarterly

"Still the finest, most readable history of early TV we have."--Richard Gross, University of Wyoming

"An excellent historical introduction to television's emergence in modern American life and culture. Useful for the undergraduate student interested in media/culture studies."--Mark Kosinski, Bradford College

"The best single-volume history of radio and TV in this country."--The New York Times Book Review

"The best single-volume history of television ever written."--Nathan Angell, Brown University

"Barnouw's classic on the evolution of American television is a book worthy of n encore. In Tube, Barnouw achieves the most challenging of feats for a writer--he ennobles without pontificating. And he is as welcoming to the uninitiated as he is respectful of the well informed....With graceful and insightful storytelling, Barnouw also vividly illustrates how the medium's maturation has been intertwined with the course of American history. It's a brilliant stroke....With masterly elegance he crafts a compelling narrative tht simultaneously documents and evaluates television's past and gives us a framework for engaging the future. Understandably, every scholar examining TV history cites Erik Barnouw."--Television Quarterly

"A condensation of much of the material in his monumental three-volume History of Broadcasting in the United States....Tube of Plenty is ideal for undergraduate reading....His is solid libertarian history based on careful reading of primary sources, years of work in the Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcast, and Sound Division, and enormous skill in synthesizing huge amounts of material....Barnouw devotes a lot of space to the notion of White House news management. Just the chronology of that issue alone would make an important unit for an undergraduate history class."--American Journalism

"The best general history of television available. An integrated social-institutional-content history. It doesn't fall into the traps of simplistic technological determination, nor does it ignore the importance of the industrial organization and development of the medium."--Michael Griffin, University of Minnesota

"Lively, detailed and briskly written, this panoramic survey is the best I know. Accessible to undergraduates as well as more advanced students."--Stuart Liebman, Queens College, CUNY

"Excellent."--Raymond Foery, Quinnipioc College