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Goodnight, Uncle Miltie

WHEN TV needed a star in its early days, it got one. Milton Berle's talent made a hit of both the Texaco Star Theater and television. During the show's first year, the number of TV sets in American homes doubled. It was the first time all Americans shared the same visual experience at the same time.

But, like one of Berle's quips – "A great actor was asked for the 10,000th time, 'How'd you become a star? He answered, 'I started out as a gaseous cloud. Then I cooled.' " – TV has changed too. The drama of live TV has faded. The demanding comedic spontaneity that Berle was so capable of has been mostly replaced with canned material and laugh tracks.

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Berle, who passed on this week, helped set the stamp that TV would be more about entertainment than public service. His command of 80 percent of the audience was a phenomenon that won't likely be repeated.

TV's pioneers left a powerful legacy, one that any new media, such as the Web, can learn from.


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