|Country of origin||United States|
|Running time||1 minute|
|Original release||4 July 1974 – 31 December 1976|
Bicentennial Minutes was a series of short educational American television segments commemorating the bicentennial of the American Revolution. The segments were produced by the CBS Television Network and broadcast nightly from July 4, 1974, until December 31, 1976. (The series was originally slated to end on July 4, 1976, but was extended to the end of the year.) The segments were sponsored by Shell Oil Company.
The series was created by Ethel Winant and Louis Friedman of CBS, who had overcome the objections of network executives who considered it to be an unworthy use of program time. The producer of the series was Paul Waigner, the executive producer was Bob Markell, and the executive story editor and writer was Bernard Eismann from 1974 to 1976. He was followed by Jerome Alden. In 1976, the series received an Emmy Award in the category of Special Classification of Outstanding Program and Individual Achievement. It also won a Special Christopher Award in 1976.
The videotaped segments were one minute long and were broadcast each night during prime time hours, generally at approximately 8:57 P.M. Eastern time. The format of the segments did not change, although each segment featured a different narrator, often a CBS network television star. The narrator, after introducing himself or herself, would state "This is a Bicentennial Minute," followed by the phrase "Two hundred years ago today..." and a description of an historical event or personage prominent on that particular date two hundred years before during the American Revolution. The segment would close with the narrator saying, "I'm (his/her name), and that's the way it was." This was an offhand reference to the close of the weeknight CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, who always ended each news telecast by saying, "And that's the way it is."
The Bicentennial Minute on July 3, 1976 was narrated by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. The Bicentennial Minute on July 4, 1976 was narrated by First Lady Betty Ford. The final Bicentennial Minute, broadcast on December 31, 1976, was narrated by President Gerald Ford. (This was also the longest Bicentennial minute.) After the series ended, the time slot of the Bicentennial Minute came to be occupied by a brief synopsis of news headlines ("Newsbreak") read by a CBS anchor.
In popular culture
The Bicentennial Minute achieved a high cultural profile during its run and was widely referenced and parodied. For example, in the All in the Family episode "Mike's Move" (originally broadcast on February 2, 1976), the character Mike Stivic responded to a typical monologue by his father-in-law Archie Bunker about the history of American immigration and the meaning of the Statue of Liberty with the sarcastic comment: "I think we just heard Archie Bunker's Bicentennial Minute." Another Norman Lear-produced sitcom, Sanford and Son, featured series star Redd Foxx parodying the Bicentennial Minute.
Country music also used the Bicentennial Minute as a source of humor. The long-running television program Hee Haw parodied Bicentennial Minutes as "About 200 Years Ago", with musician Grandpa Jones (wearing a mockery of a tri-cornered hat) giving a weekly monologue of humorously fractured historical "facts", about figures from the American Revolution and the colonial era. These ended with Jones saying "That's the way it was, about 200 years ago... enh, more or less," and shrugging at the camera. The radio program American Country Countdown had a similar feature, delivered by then-ACC host Don Bowman.
A sketch on The Sonny and Cher Show aired in early 1976 featured guest star Jim Nabors portraying British King George III, offering a comic rebuttal to the always pro-American Revolution Bicentennial Minutes. The Carol Burnett Show with Harvey Korman and Tim Conway did a comic parody. The character Brenda Morgenstern (Julie Kavner) refers to the Bicentennial Minutes in the Rhoda episode "If You Don't Tell Her, I Will," broadcast in December 1975. CBS daytime game show Match Game had questions posed to contestants in this form as well throughout 1975 and 1976.
In an episode of The King of Queens Arthur briefly references the Bicentennial Minute by saying how in 1976 he remembers "throwing a pair of glasses at the TV during a particularly offensive Bicentennial Minute!"