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Media & Music: Rock on TV

Stay Tuned: Rock TV

Rock & roll and television exploded on the scene at almost the same time in the late 1940s. At first, they sat at opposite ends of American culture. TV networks (there were only a handful, with less than 50,000 sets in homes) aimed for satisfying the most viewers; while rock & roll was loud, anti-establishment, rebellious, brash and, some would say, dangerous. In its early years, with little competition, it was easy for TV to ignore rock’s rise.

By 1952, there were 25+ million sets in homes, and networks were desperate for family programming. That meant teens, too. Teens not only had pocket money for advertisers to target, but they often controlled the dial. Youth culture and its penchant for rock & roll soon became too big for TV to ignore.

There were a few early television shows that cracked open the doors to the acceptance of rock & roll in mainstream America: The Ed Sullivan Show, American Bandstand and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. No matter where they lived, music fans could now see the performers, which changed how people discovered music. Viewers saw who was making the music, how they played, what they wore ... and that made rock even more exciting and accessible. Visually, it turned musicians into icons.

The "Stay Tuned: Rock on TV" exhibition explores how rock and television have grown together -- how video technology carried rock & roll to new heights and amplified artists’ self expression. And how together, they transformed television and made it more exciting than anyone could ever have imagined. The resources below will assist you in doing research in the areas of rock and popular music in television and television music programs.

Archival Resources

American Bandstand

Austin City Limits

The Big Beat

Ed Sullivan Show




Biographical Television Programs

The Defiant Ones / Dr. Dre on 1995

That Metal Show / Lita Ford: That Metal Gear

Rock-related Fiction Television Programs

Vinyl (HBO, 2017)

Shining Time Station (PBS; Ringo Starr as Mr. Conductor, 1989-1990)

Metalocalypse (Adult Swim; 2006-2013)


Music and Variety Television Programs

Soul Train / Love Train / The O'Jay's

The Old Grey Whistle Test / Psycho Killer / Talking Heads

American Bandstand / White Rabbit, Somebody to Love / Jefferson Airplane

Revolver / Them Heavy People / Kate Bush

Graffiti Rock 1984

Saturday Night Live / Radio Radio / Elvis Costello

The Porter Wagoner Show / She's Not For You ; Darkness on the Face of Earth ; Hello Walls / Willie Nelson (with additional songs and performers)

Rock Songs as Television Themes

Freaks and Geeks / Bad Reputation / Joan Jett

The Monkees / (Theme from) The Monkees / The Monkees

The Drew Carey Show / Cleveland Rocks / Presidents of the United States of America (cover version of the original by Ian Hunter) 

Mad Men / A Beautiful Mine / RJD2

Living Single / Living Single / Queen Latifah

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (audio only) / DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince

House / Teardrop / Massive Attack

King of the Hill / Yahoos and Triangles / The Refreshments

John from Cincinnati / Johnny Appleseed / Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros

Veronica Mars / We Used to Be Friends / Dandy Warhols

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