October 18, 2005

TV Guide Era Ends with Lucy Appearing the Most on its' Cover

Small by magazine standards, the digest-size TV Guide nevertheless made an impact on pop culture worthy of a 50-inch, flat-screen plasma TV.

Since its April 3, 1953, beginnings, it did more than provide program listings; TV Guide helped us monitor evolving broadcasting trends and viewing habits, not to mention our collective obsession with all things celebrity.

Now, as it morphs into a full-size magazine, it's time for a station break to observe the passing of an icon. After all, we loved our old TV Guide. (Although we've probably not seen the last of it; the digest remains one of those publications that collectors like to hoard. A recent eBay auction netted $86 for a 1953 issue featuring "Superman" George Reeves on its cover.)

Here are some TV Guide tidbits to remember:

First cover: Lucille Ball and her newborn son, Desi Arnaz Jr.

Cost of the first issue: 15 cents

Going collector's rate for the first issue: $2,000

Most valuable cover: A Jan. 23, 1953, New York regional edition featuring Marilyn Monroe, which is now worth $3,000.

Cost of last digest-size issue: $2.49

Viewers' choices, then: The first TV Guide covered three networks: ABC, NBC and CBS.

Viewers' choices, now: The final digest version, which included various regional and cable editions, covered nearly 400 channels.

TV nation, then: There were television sets in 20.4 million U.S. households during the 1952-53 television season, representing 44.2 percent of American homes.

TV nation, now: During the 2004-05 TV season, there were sets in 109.6 million U.S. households, representing 98.2 percent of American homes.

Repeat performances: Lucille Ball appeared on the cover of TV Guide 34 times.

Repeat performances, Part II: Johnny Carson closely follows Ball's record; the late-night talk-show host appeared on the magazine's cover 28 times. Michael Landon and Mary Tyler Moore come in third place, tied at 27 covers apiece.

Three is the magic number: Landon is the only person to have appeared on three consecutive covers of the magazine.

Stage run: With the final, Oct. 9 issue, there have been a total of 2,741 digest covers.

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