When MILTON BERLE turned to television in the fall of 1948, he took America with him. He had people watching and buying sets as never before. Eight months after his debut, his show was No. 1 by a wide margin, and he was on the cover of TIME.
As the clock nears 8 along the Eastern Seaboard on Tuesday night, a strange new phenomenon takes place in U.S. urban life. Business falls off in many a nightclub, theater-ticket sales are light, neighborhood movie audiences thin. Some late-hour shopkeepers close up for the night. In Manhattan, diners at Lindy's gulp their after-dinner coffee and call for their checks. On big-city bar rails, there is hardly room for another foot. For the next hour, wherever a signal from an NBC transmitter can be picked out of the air, a large part of the population has its eyes fixed on a TV screen.
The center of all this to-do is Milton Berle, a jack-of-all-turns vaudeville comic who has gone into television... His show is a weekly catchall of the things the 40-year-old comic has learned in 35 hard-working years in show business. Berle uses not only his brash, strongbow-shaped mouth to get off his loud, fast, uneven volley of one-line gags; with expert timing and tireless bounce, he also hurls his whole 6 feet and 191 dieted pounds into every act of his show. His motto is still "anything for a laugh"--and practically anything he does gets one.
--TIME, May 16, 1949