Thursday, September 08, 2011

One of NBC's great blunders

It pays to check these things.

With much fanfare, on January 1,1976 NBC unveiled it’s new on-air logo – a big stylized N. They paid a million dollars to design this thing. That's right.  $1,000,0000.  The network was probably hoping to do the whole three letters but couldn't afford it.  Anyway...

I remember seeing it for the first time on the Rose Bowl game and thinking, “Huh?” In the ‘60s their main signature was the peacock and they would precede each program shown in color with this.

I know you had to be there, but when that would come on and the music started to crescendo it was thrilling every time. At least to me. 

And now there was a big blocky N.

NBC wasted no time in plastering that logo everywhere. ID’s, closing ID’s, mike flags, sportscasters’ blazers. I’m surprised they didn’t make Jane Pauley wear two N logo tassels on her breasts.

A month later, once this logo had now been firmly established, NBC got a call from the Nebraska ETV Network, the State’s chain of PBS stations. It seems they had the EXACT SAME LOGO. The only thing different was the colors. And I bet they paid some skeesix fifty bucks to design it.


Oops.

NBC was sued for trademark infringement. They wound up settling out of court. NBC gave the Nebraska folks new equipment and a mobile color unit, valued at over $800,000 and shelled out $55,000 to cover the cost of designing and implementing a new logo for Nebraska ETV.

We had a similar situation on the Mary Tyler Moore show we created in 1985. Mary's character got a job at a tabloid newspaper in Chicago. The name we wanted and was cleared by our research company was Chicago Post.

We went back to Chicago to film the opening titles. Several shots featured Mary’s picture on bus ads heralding her as a proud staff member of the Chicago Post.

I stayed back in Los Angeles during the filming and got a call from a gentleman who saw the bus ads. He identified himself as the editor of the Chicago Post. After falling on the floor, I said someone from MTM would get back to him. Then I hung up and called information and asked for the number of the Chicago Post. The operator gave it to me in a second. How the fuck did our crack research firm not flag this?  A daily newspaper in Chicago!

MTM offered a settlement, which was incredibly generous, but the paper held out for millions. They figured we had shot the pilot and would have to reshoot at a cost well into the millions. Well, the truth is, we had shot the pilot but the words Chicago Post were not visible in the newsroom. Fixing this problem was as simple as substituting the word “Eagle” in the mouths of those actors who originally said “Post” along with redoing a couple of shots for the opening titles. MTM gave them a deadline and said the offer was off the table if not accepted by the end of the business day. The Post figured we were bluffing and let the deadline go by. We made the easy changes and for their greed, they got nothing.

As in a great big N.

38 comments:

Melissa Banczak said...

The peacock logo got me too. I loved it. Same as the 20 th Century Fox music.

MikeBo said...

I remember thinking,"what a dreadfully, chintzy looking logo." At least you hear an adaptation of the original NBC chime in the opening of NBC Nightly News.

Do you remember the name of the announcer who did the "peacock" open. Naturally, he sounds very familiar.

The Mary Tyler Moore show blunder could have been avoided if we had "Google" back then.

Aaron Barnhart said...

The Wickes Furniture logo was in place as well when NBC's came along ... basically the NBC logo in the downward-dog position.

Phillip B said...

Listen kids, the 70's was a horrible time - there were things like "New Coke" and a malaise spread among us...

Back then Apple was a company founded by the Beatles. Jobs and Wozniak named their new company without checking. When the Apple lawyers contacted them they signed an agreement - they were good to use the name since they would never, ever, enter the music business.

normadesmond said...

people love to pay a lot...
it makes them feel good.

Tom Quigley said...

I remember as a kid in the 60's getting a thrill each time I saw the peacock logo and heard the music, as my anticipation built while waiting to see what was coming on next, be it BONANZA, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., WALT DISNEY'S WONDERFUL WORLD OF COLOR, HULLABALOO, THE MONKEES, OR MR. MAGOO'S CHRISTMAS CAROL. To me, it signified the introduction of a new era in technology, color TV, even though color TV had existed since the mid-50's and it was well into the 70's before my family actually had one (I spent a lot of time gazing through department and appliance store windows that sold them up to that point). When the network went to the block "N" design, I thought "What a waste!"

A few years later when I was writing for someone on WNBC radio at 30 Rock in NYC, one of the first things I did was buy myself an NBC Peacock tie pin at the studio store in the lobby.

Neil said...

Phillip B, just because I am a fan of facts, New Coke was introduced in 1985. However, if you are looking for 1970s failures, how about "Disco Demolition Night?"
Cheers!

D T Nelson said...

While the peacock animation was used to introduce color programming, I believe the actual logo of the NBC was the "NBC snake." Both the peacock and the snake were supplanted by the block N.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Imagine watching that NBC logo in a full-fledged 3D TV nowadays. I can imagine the amount of seizures and subsequent trials.

I'm pretty sure I've heard of the Chicago Post in the past, and I've never even been to Chicago!

Dave Mackey said...

The announcer most identified with the peacock is Mel Brandt, but some other announcers did variations, including Bill Wendell and Jerry Damon. When the NBC O&O's aired the game show PDQ, the peacock ran with no voiceover at all, since it wasn't a network show.

Roger Owen Green said...

I remember that NBC logo debacle.
But that Chicago Post story was GREAT.

Sal Mimeo said...

Whatever happened to 'living' color?

John said...

The other thing to remember about the 'N' was that NBC chose to introduce it just at the moment that Fred Silverman was taking ABC from the perpetual last-place finisher in the ratings race to the top, leaving NBC stuck in the ratings basement until the revival under Grant Tinker eight years later.

So when you thought of the new NBC logo, you thought of a crappy, last-place network whose only real successes during that time (OK, other than The Rockford Files) were the continued domination of The Tonight Show and the introduction of "Saturday Night Live", both of which got great mileage out of skewering the network and its new corporate symbol. No wonder they brought the Peacock back by the fall of 1980.

Chuck Lawson said...

Growing up in Nebraska at the time, I always thought the best punchline to the "N" logo thing was the replacement logo that Nebraska public TV brought out a few weeks after the settlement - a stylized lower-case "n".

Mike said...

I don't think the blocky N is that bad - if you don't consider the pricetag and the fact that it already existed in Nebraska (obviously huge things to ignore)

But, as you basically say in your post, when the Peacock is such an identifiable symbol, why try to replace it? The temptation to mess with what works is maybe the biggest problem in all of corporate America. (My theory is that it comes from the expectation that not only do corporations have to make profits -- but also increase continually increase profits -- to be considered a success, so people just keep changing things. If I was in soap box mood, I'd explain why I think this might be America's downfall.)

But maybe this is because the peacock identifier is even more ingrained in someone who was born the year the N came out than it was then.

I think the NBC snake mentioned above is awesome too. But that's the kind of design I like.

DogsOnDrugs.com said...

I’m surprised they didn’t make Jane Pauley wear two N logo tassels on her breasts.

Yeah, that is surprising. (hides pictures)

Naz said...

I much preferred the peacock and "in living color" theme that went with it. Anyway N belongs to me.

I hate the sound of the new announcer for NBC because I think his voice is just plain creepy.

iain said...

That NBC 1976 logo always reminded me of the American Motors Corp:

http://www.cartype.com/pages/139/amc

& who wouldn't want their network brand associated with the Pacer, the Gremlin & the mighty Concord?

Great Big Radio Guy said...

I was watching Tom Snyder the night that logo debuted. He said, "Nice N. I can't wait to see the rest of it."

HogsAteMySister said...

Logos are always a hoot unless you are directly involved. Then they give you exploding ulcers, because there is always baggage. $1m for the NBC one? Wow, that was beeg monies. Here in NZ, our national museum gave Saatchi $1 million for a logo a few years ago. What we got was a giant fingerprint. Because the museum was unique to each of us, so....

I know.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Remember when Saturday Night Live used to spoof the logo by presenting the "dancing N?" I think the toe tapping was done by Gilda Radner.

Jonathan Ernst said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Ernst said...

I hope it's not too late for Friday Questions (sorry to be off topic, love your post on the N) but I'd like to hear your reaction to this:

Warner Bros. Backing Mel Gibson Movie About Jewish Icon

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/warner-bros-backing-mel-gibson-233093

Joe Eszterhas and Mel Gibson are writing a Hanukkah action film?!?! What in the living &$#@ ?!?!

Cap'n Bob said...

The musical notes that NBC uses are G,E, and C. That's because the company was first General Electric Company, which pioneered the sound to signify their initials.

As for copying, not to brag but my first fanzine was Comickazi, now the name of a Canadian comic store. My next fanzine was George, later used by John Kennedy. One guy stole a joke from me and ended up in jail. That'll learn him.

Brandon said...

With September 11th just two days away, I've always wanted to hear the Frasier story. By that I mean of course the loss of David Angell and his wife. It had to have been tough for the cast and crew to pickup and go on. But I've never heard anyone really tell that side of the story.

Greg said...

Re: the Chicago Post - the paper (a monthly or weekly neighborhood periodical) was published by Richard Mell, a powerful Chicago alderman, who became the father-in-law and backer of Illinois Governor Rod Blagoyevich. Can you say "karma"?

I remember when all of this came down and wondered how much of a headache it was to change the name of the newspaper in the MTM show.

Mike Schryver said...

There was a bit of a push toward simple geometric logos in the '70s. Warners went to that geometric W made up of plump lines, the Columbia Pictures logo was simplified, the NBC "N" of course, and others.

The original peacock animation - the one before the one Ken linked to - used to scare me when I was little. It started with a gong, and the music flourish was a lot more ominous.

Kevin Ashworth said...

John: speaking of Fred Silverman, you can hear his comments on the awful logo 3 or 4 minutes into this video (of 13 total videos from a long interview about 10 years back) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oWiEXK7UwY

MikeBo said...

Thank you CapnBob and David Mackey for the historical details on the NBC chimes and the announcers behind the peacock. For an old radio guy like me, this is important historical stuff.

Matt Patton said...

I can't be entirely sure of this, but I BELIEVE that the skeesix who designed NBC's big, blocky "N" for them was Saul Bass -- and I'd bet he got a lot more than 50 buck for doing so . . .

Anonymous said...

Here's the original NBC Peacock from the late 1950's. Your announcer: Ben Grauer.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Taz0XSQ-rCI

Anonymous said...

Anyone remember the SNL parody of the "NBC, proud as a peacock" logo? It was "NBC, smart as a peacock."

Matt Patton said...

I always loved the 60's NBC logo, which is odd, because actual peacocks scared me to death when I was a little kid -- they had the most piercing squawk.

AAllen said...

Logo similarities go the other way too, perhaps intentionally. Here in the Seattle area we had the National Bank of Commerce, which by the late 1960s was abbreviating itself as N. B. of C. with white lettering on a black background. (Later they changed their name to Rainier Bank.)

Ben Kubelsky said...

What about the special NBC black-and-white ID they used when premiering "A Hard Day's Night"?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StJtiI4WtIU&feature=related

Steve Bailey said...

Someone has posted an "updated" HD version of the Peacock on YouTube that's equally mesmerizing:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTWXcY26Jnc

Anonymous said...

The 1976 NBC "N" logo was in red and blue, supposedly to honor the former NBC Red and Blue Radio Networks (NBC had to sell the latter in 1942 to comply with Federal anti-trust rulings).

mhs101255 said...

I'm not sure why this is usually described as a blunder by NBC. As best as I can tell, Nebraska Public TV did not have a federal trademark registration or application for its logo. Thus, especially given that it was 1975, I cannot imagine any way that a trademark search would have picked up the Nebraska logo.