05/04/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT
Television is a whale that has swallowed a million Jonahs. Some 438,000 hours have sped past since the first commercial telecast, and with every fleeting minute the greedy monster has fed upon the creative energies of unnumbered entertainers. Most TV personalities are chewed up and spit out in a matter of months, but an extravagantly vigorous and talented few survive and flourish. These are the grand luminaries of the medium, the immortals of video's Valhalla. Some have kept us company for decades, others flashed briefly before our eyes. Each brought something unique and wonderful to the party: a gift, wrapped in magic, that enriched the form and delighted our lives. Turn the page and you will enter a gallery lined with portraits and profiles of the 25 men and women we consider the greatest of the great performers of TV's first 50 years. We don't expect you to agree with all our selections, or with our reasons for making them. We do expect you to be as fascinated with them as we have been.