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“Tonight you join me on a great adventure,” legendary newscaster Edward R. Murrow famously said as he introduced channel13, WNDT (“New Dimensions in Television”) during the station’s inaugural broadcast on September 16, 1962. With that flip of a switch, the greater New York region’s first public television station was born. In 1970, WNDT merged with producer National Educational Television (NET), eventually becoming WNET, parent company to public television stations THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV.
With that historic first broadcast, the station offered a relevant alternative to the commercial networks that would set the gold standard for decades to come. Signature programming included:
The 1960s: New York Television Theater (1965), featuring noted actors as Sada Thompson and James Earl Jones; Dustin Hoffman’s TV debut in NET Playhouse: Journey of the Fifth Horse (1966); and for the first time on television, issues concerning the black community were covered on variety programs, Black Journal (1968) and SOUL! (1968).
The 1970s: public affairs series, Bill Moyers Journal (1971) debut for the first time; Emmy Award-winning satire series The Great American Dream Machine (1971); kids series Zoom (1972); experimental arts workshop, The TV Lab (1972) featuring artists Nam June Paik, Bill Viola, William Wegman and others; real-life drama played out by the Loud family on An American Family (1973); dramatic mini-series The Adams Chronicles (1976) showcased John Adams and his descendants; and Great Performances’ Dance in America was introduced, becoming one of the first program’s in the United States devoted entirely to dance (1976).
The 1980s: Nature (1982) debuts with The Flight of the Condor; Celeste Holm in The Shady Hill Kidnapping premiered on American Playhouse (1982); national news program, The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour (1983) debut; and American Masters (1986) presented revealing portraits of Charlie Chaplin, Billie Holliday, and Aaron Copland, among others during its premiere season.
The 1990s: The first broadcasts of a Three Tenors concert (1990); Charlie Rose (1991) debuts; on American Playhouse, Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City became one of the most talked-about series of the year (1994); Thirteen Online (1995) went live on the web; City Arts (1995) showcased the cultural diversity of the city; and Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly (1997) debut.
In 2000, EGG the arts show and The 1900 House premiered. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, THIRTEEN live broadcasts programs designed to help viewers understand and cope with tragedy, including New York Voices (2001). In 2002, the animated children’s math series Cyberchase debut. Also in the 2000s, online series Mission US and Oh Noah! helped kids learn history and foreign language skills. In 2010, The Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center open at 66th Street and Broadway and in 2012, the first annual American Graduate Day, a day-long multiplatform event to help communities bolster graduation rates, premiered.
Today, the legacy continues with new episodes from THIRTEEN’s signature series American Masters, Great Performances and Nature and newer series such as Secrets of the Dead, Shakespeare Uncovered, and Women, War & Peace.