Remembering TV Guide

In those days before a zillion cable channels (let alone the Internet), there was TV Guide.

Launched in 1953, these little weekly magazines would be familiar to anyone from the Baby Boom generation or Generation X. (Some of the older Millennials may have dim early childhood memories of TV Guide, too.)

Each issue of TV Guide contained a listing of the week’s programming, of course. There were also articles in the front of the magazine that were sometimes worth reading. (If you were interested in television and Hollywood happenings, that was.) 

The covers, moreover, were often minor works of art. Like this one from 1986, which depicts the cast of Cheers, one of the most popular shows of the 1980s.

TV Guide was always on my mother’s shopping list. It was on everyone’s shopping list. Why? Because without this publication, you would have a hard time knowing what programs were on, on which channels, and at what times. 

The magazine was cheaply priced. (The 60¢ May 10, 1986 issue shown above would equate to only about $1.65 in today’s dollars.) But TV Guide was nevertheless essential.

With a shelf life of only one week, these weren’t magazines that anyone saved for posterity. Sometimes, though, one of them would end up beneath a sofa or behind a recliner, only to turn up months later. 

Needless to say, no one prints, purchases, or needs TV Guide anymore. Not in this era of cable, Hulu, Netflix and YouTube. 

Yes, another casualty of our digital age of hyper-abundance. TV Guide’s original mission has become not just obsolete—but impossible, even if someone wanted it. 

It would not be incorrect to say that TV Guide is a relic of pre-Internet times; but this description would be insufficiently precise. TV Guide is a relic of a time when the scope of available programming for a single week was small enough that it could be completely curated, listed, and described in a single publication. Needless to say, those days are gone; and—barring some cataclysmic change that restarts everything from scratch—those days are gone forever.