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Television gets a bad rap. As early as 1961, President Kennedy’s FCC chairman, Newton Minow, famously characterized most programming as a “vast wasteland.” Today, everyone from pediatricians to self-designated protectors of public morals point to TV as a cause of . . . well, you name it: childhood obesity, political apathy, high murder rates, low literacy rates.
It sometimes seems that, in many minds, every societal ill is somehow tied to the tube. So be it. But we like television. We like it a lot. Here, LIFE offers a photo gallery celebrating, without apology, what is arguably America’s true national pastime: watching TV.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.