Pioneers of Television

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
Pioneers of Television TV Poster Image
Overview of TV's key contributions, including edgy moments.

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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

The series highlights the history and contributions TV has made to the political, economic, and social landscape of the U.S. and vice versa. Featured themes include diversity, empowerment, and major entertaining TV moments. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The series recognizes some of the key people who contributed to breaking down racial, ethnic, and gender barriers on TV and in the entertainment industry.


Featured TV show segments sometimes show people arguing, slapping one another, and, on occasion, sustaining minor injuries. Weapons, including guns, are sometimes visible. 


Discussions about gender and sexuality, particularly relating to how women equate sex with power and liberation. Marriage, pregnancy, infidelity, and related themes also are featured. Characters are sometimes shown in their underwear or in various stages of undress and in bed with a partner. 


Words such as "hell," "damn," "piss," and "s--t" are audible. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some TV characters are alcoholics, addicts, and dealers; some scenes of folks popping pills, smoking, and drinking. Writers discuss how these characters reflect their own experiences.  

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Pioneers of Television is a documentary series focusing on the history and contributions of TV in the United States. It's informative and entertaining but occasionally features some iffy themes, including infidelity, addiction, and death. Featured TV segments sometimes show folks arguing and slapping each other, standing in their underwear, in bed with a partner, and drinking, smoking, and popping pills. There's also some cursing ("hell," "piss," "s--t"), too. It may be too much for tweens, but teens interested in this sort of thing should be able to handle it. 

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What's the story?

PIONEERS OF TELEVISION is an Emmy Award-nominated documentary series that focuses on the key people and moments in TV history that have made a lasting impact. Each episode centers on a specific television-related theme, including surveying TV's funniest woman comedians to exploring how specific people in the TV industry used their talent and courage to make the landscape more diverse. Interviews with writers and producers such as Grey's Anatomy's Shonda Rhimes and Desperate Housewives' Marc Cherry, actors such as The Good Wife's Julianna Margulies and Star Trek's George Takei, comedians such as Bill Cosby and Roseanne, and hundreds of others combine to offer a collection of insight into the events and relationships that helped shape the industry. Historians and other scholars discuss the relationship between key moments in TV history and the political, economic, and social climate of the country.

Is it any good?

From looking at the history of doctors and nurses on television to understanding the changes in the way women, racial/ethic minorities, and other people of diverse backgrounds have been presented, and represented, over the years, Pioneers of Television highlights the writers, actors, producers, and others who have made contributions to television entertainment throughout the medium's history. It also takes a closer look at how television programming can influence, and be influenced by, the changing dynamics in society. 

TV buffs will certainly find it interesting, but the wide variety of television shows, some of which go back to the early years of TV, make the show entertaining for a broad set of viewers. Viewers also may be surprised by the thoughtfulness of the stories being shared here, many of which underscore how the artistic nature of actors' work has become a way of challenging audiences to think about the world a little differently. Overall, the series demonstrates that TV is an important part of our cultural history. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the history of TV. What are some of the key moments that make television what it is today? Do you remember watching any of them? What are some of your favorite TV shows? Who are some of your favorite TV actors? 

  • How does television influence the way we think about politics and other social issues? How do audiences influence what we see on TV? 

TV details

  • Premiere date: January 2, 2008
  • Network: PBS
  • Genre: Educational
  • Topics: History
  • TV rating: TV-PG
  • Available on: DVD, Streaming
  • Last updated: September 29, 2020

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