And It Was All Yellow: The Color Theory of TV Graphics

Watch a video essay explaining why old TV shows tended to feature yellow title cards.

Full House yellow TV graphics Title Card
ABC

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about why the color yellow dominates TV graphics.


One of the finer comforts in life is settling in to binge-watch some old sitcoms. Maybe you’ve got some tea. Maybe you’re panini-pressed under a weighted blanket. But one thing’s for sure (or at least, it’s very likely): the title card of your binge-du-jour is probably yellow. Gilligan’s Island? Yellow. Taxi? Yellow. Laverne & Shirley? CheersM*A*S*H? All yellow, baby.

So why was pale golden yellow so common in the graphics of older television shows? Well, the short answer is that, at the time, “cable yellow” was the most legible color for overlay text. Which definitely explains why, when I close my eyes, all I see is the golden-colored opening title cards from ColumboOkay, that might be a different problem. But suffice to say: for a significant period of television history, when it came to making your text easy to read, yellow was your best bet.

That said, as the following video essay explains, the nitty-gritty details of yellow’s textual power are far more complex. Turns out, “legibility” is just the tip of a very technical iceberg that draws on everything from the limitations of broadcast signals to the critical difference between luminance and contrast.

Legibility serves a practical purpose. But laterally, so does the psychological effect of how cable yellow makes the viewer feel. And while the color itself may not boast the strongest color temperature, emotionally, cable yellow feels warm. It has a natural association with coziness. It’s like an open flame. And we, the viewers, are just moths…moths settling in for the fifth consecutive episode of Columbo.

Watch “Why Yellow Is So Common for TV Graphics“:

Who made this?

Filmmaker IQ is a YouTube channel disseminating all manner of film history and know-how. Their videos range from the highly technical (what to do if your green screen footage has something green in it) to the opinionated (are superhero movies destroying cinema?). Site-creator and director John P. Hess is our narrator. You can subscribe to Filmmaker IQ on YouTube here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.

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