This Day in TV History: ‘The Goldbergs’ Arrive on The Idiot Box

(Just not ‘The Goldbergs’ you know).

When I say “Have you seen ‘The Goldbergs’?” you probably think of the ABC show about the eponymous Jewish family in the 1980s, starring Jeff Garlin and Wendi McLendon-Covey. But what if I told you that there was another family of Goldbergs that existed on television long before the modern day ones, a sort of missing link of proto-Goldbergs, if you will?


On this day in 1949, a dramedy series about a Jewish family living in New York city aired on CBS for the first time. This was amazing when you consider TV was still a novelty at the time, only three years after WWII. The scars of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust were still so fresh, it’s impressive that Jews were one of the first groups to make it onto the air waves.

The show actually began in 1929 as a radio program, like many other early TV shows (think: “The Lone Ranger," “Dragnet”). It tackled real-world issues like Kristallnacht in 1939 when a rock was tossed through the Goldbergs’ window as they were enjoying their Passover seder. Other episodes made during the war years dealt with European Jews trying to escape Nazi Germany.

Incredibly, the show was created and written by a woman, Gertrude Berg, who also acted in the main role as Molly Goldberg. This is an amazing feat when you consider the societal and gender norms of the time. And while CBS was dubious that the show could survive as a full-fledged series, she secured Sanka coffee (General Foods) as its sponsor and got it off the ground. In 1950 she won an Emmy for her performance; the same year, a movie based on the show (with the same cast) was released by Paramount Pictures.

Berg once noted that she avoided subjects like labor unions and Zionism while writing episodes so as not to upset anyone watching. “I keep things average. I don't want to lose friends,” she said.

Resilient as the Jewish people, “The Goldbergs” survived the Hollywood Blacklist and the loss of its Sanka sponsor, moving to NBC (its original home in radio form) in 1952. It ran until 1956 when, in the fifth and final season, the family moved to the suburbs.


With character names like Chana Leah and conversations about boiled chicken, it was a Jewish show through and through. So, next time you see “The Goldbergs” (not a remake, by the way) come on TV, remember the original “Goldbergs” of television’s Golden Age, a program that was revolutionary for the time and that may very well have just paved the way for every Jew you see on TV today.

The Goldbergs



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