1952: NBC Introduces ‘a New Kind of Television’
“Here it is, January 14, 1952, when NBC begins a new program called Today,” said Dave Garroway, proudly but somewhat awkwardly rising from his desk and walking toward the camera — and, thus, getting even closer to the viewers watching the early-morning live telecast at home. “And if it doesn’t sound too revolutionary, I really believe this begins a new kind of television.”
Broadcasting from a New York studio with a glass partition so passersby could peer in, Garroway the host, along with announcer and sidekick Jack Lescoulie and newsman Jim Fleming, did indeed begin a new kind of television: a program, designed by Sylvester “Pat” Weaver, that toook the musical and chatty elements of Steve Allen’s late-night New York TV show (a format Weaver would tap again, with Allen as co-conspirator, to create the Tonight show), and added them to news and feature elements common to sections of a daily newspaper.
The format was a perfect one for early morning television, but at first, there were almost as many Today viewers outside the studio window as there were out there in TV land. To get more adults to watch, Weaver hired Estelle Winwood in 1952 as the first “Today girl,” with duties that ranged from helping to report the weather to eventually conducting interviews and delivering “women’s” features. To get kids to watch, while they still had control of the TV dials before heading to school, Weaver added a baby chimpanzee to the show in 1953 — and that improbable bit of monkey business, courtest of J. Fred Muggs, is what got Today the attention and viewers it needed to stay afloat.