Television has earned considerable public and academic criticism in recent years for the alleged bias in its sex-role content. A fundamental concern of many critics is with the representation of male and female roles that confronts children. This paper reviews the evidence accumulating from numerous content analyses of both adult and children's television. Overall, the evidence confirms that there are marked differences in the ways the medium presents the sexes. These differences are both quantitative and qualitative but the general pattern at either level is to present males as dominant and females as nurturant and complementary. Some qualifications, exceptions and gaps in the literature are discussed. The paper is the first of a three-part review series of television and sex-role acquisition: the subsequent papers will review respectively the effects of sex-stereotyped TV content upon children and the prospects for counter-stereotyped programmes aiming to modify young viewers' beliefs and attitudes.