Monday, January 04, 2016

Once upon a time...

...there were three major networks. CBS, NBC, and ABC. Each city had between three and seven TV channels. The three networks and, independents everywhere else.

All the big shows were on one of the three networks.

The independent channels had local newscasts with limited resources, old movies, syndicated series originally aired on the networks, maybe some local sports team coverage, and sporadic original programming, which usually meant kids shows and dance party shows.

For real news you went to the networks. They had the foreign bureaus, the footage, the anchors you revered and trusted. If a major news story broke they broke into normal programming. Yes, commercial revenue was lost, but these were the NETWORKS. Their chief responsibility was to inform the public – accurately and objectively.

For major sporting events you went to the networks. The World Series, All-Star Game, NFL games, major college bowls.  You knew where to turn.

The Fall TV season debut was a major event. You waited all summer, salivating over the promos for the new fare. Then there was the Mid-Season, right after the first of the year. You studied those promos to know exactly what time slots these new shows would occupy.

Families had actual allegiances to these networks. You were a “CBS family” or an “NBC family.” If you were a “CBS family” you watched the CBS Evening News, you checked the TV Guide to see what CBS had on that night before seeing what the competition offered. And if all things were equal you stuck with your network. Many nights you wouldn’t change the channel once.

There were some original syndicated series that the independent stations ran, but by and large, they were second-class fodder. There was a HUGE difference status-wise between network shows and indie shows.

There was also a difference in reception. The networks had the stations with the three strongest signals. They were always on the VHF dial (2-13). In some markets the independents were on the UHF dial so would appear on channel 34 or 61. Lots of people couldn’t access UHF signals very well. So the network picture was strong and clear, and the indies sometimes were snowy or had ghosts.

A new show on ABC, NBC, or ABC got your attention. You would be watching along with thirty million people. NBC even sent out collectible yearbooks heralding “NBC WEEK” (their Fall rollout week). I sent away for it every year. Me and millions of other nerds.

Compare that to today.

There is no difference in signal strength or content between channel 2 and channel 789. The three big networks have been reduced to just three channels. But for viewers who grew up with cable, it is a completely equal playing field. ABC, TBS, Spike, ION, TCM, AMC, CBS, FS1, NBC, MSNBC, CNBC – to Millennials it’s all the same. A show on A&E has the same stature as one on ABC. In fact, it’s almost a detriment to be on one of the networks. Yes, they still have more reach, but popular perception is that the more interesting, nuanced, and mature programming can be found on any channel beyond 13. The Emmys certainly bear that out.

Foreign language shows now beat NBC shows. Personally, I love the variety, but still… this is like watching Willie Mays at the end of his career, overweight, in a Mets uniform, dropping fly balls he used to put in his hip pocket.

“Where have you gone, NBC?”

“Say it ain’t so, ABC?”

“CBS, we hardly knew ya.” 

TOMORROW: ADVICE TO THE NETWORKS THAT THEY WON'T TAKE

69 comments:

Anna said...

I bet the old generation still has a preferred network, while the new generation doesn't watch TV shows on actual TV's anymore.

But while the sky is no longer the limit, as a US TV series enthusiast from Europe I wonder, when will geoblocking finally become a thing of the past?

Mike Barer said...

ABC had the teen age shows, CBS had the rural comedies, NBC had the Peacock.

Anonymous said...

In my experience, CBS had and has a very weak signal, to the point of affecting the ratings. NBC would work sometimes even without an antenna connected.

R Baugh said...

Obviously this change is a result of technology and increase cable subscriptions. My family refused to pay for cable as a kid. I remember cutting off the tops of the rabbit ears so I could stick a reshaped hanger into the top of them to get better reception on the NBC station. And while some independent stations were UHF there was often one or two on the regular dial. Until Fox came along.

I grew up in Northern California and would spend about 1/2 an hour before the games trying to get in the local UHF channel (I think it was 31 in Sacramento) to get the 30 or so Giants road games a year that were televised. The A's games on Channel 3, the NBC station, were even more spotty to get in. I think I became a Giants fan because of the reception of the games. I know other viewing habits were also influenced by this. I think our family watched more CBS than any other network because of the power of the local station. It was just easier to get in.

The rise of Fox I think was helped by this infrastructure, since the new Fox shows would come on what had been independent networks. I wonder how much of an influence Star Trek the Next Generation had as well, in my market it was on in syndication but before the Fox Package of shows. I know Fox owes its success to NFL, and the Simpsons but piggy backing on Star Trek could not have hurt. I mean it was better than Charles in Charge. At the very least Star Trek was at the forefront of a stream of syndicated dramas on independent channels. I think they may have been the birth of the current wealth of original TV we now have throughout cable. If Shows like Baywatch, Star Trek, Babylon 5, and Hercules/Zena could draw a decent enough audience, well then what if other not big three/four started producing quality shows?

So yes, it is sort of fun to be nostalgic about these past stations, the low budget places where people could watch old not classic movies, and some creative shows could develop. I know the creativity of some of the cheesy action wasn't great but it was a place where people could explore, and Babylon Five was actually pretty good once you get into it.

Now each cable station has a brand and what to expect, so syndication isn't so wild and free, but at the start it was interesting.

Robb Hyde said...

Yeah, but he was still Willie Mays.

Bill Avena said...

"Bob's Burgers" has been off the air for over a month due to preemption, and "Louie"?? If I was younger I'd jump over to Netflix, Amazon or Hulu.

Richard said...

Great post. I still would consider my family an NBC family, but it's not really the same.

It's funny how things evolve. On one hand, whenever some old codger is hesitant to evolve and adapt with the times, I find that to be a character flaw. On the other hand, I kind of wish media would fall back to the way it was. It sort of saddens me that newspapers and network TV are being phased out. Simpler times were better times.

YEKIMI said...

Waiting for months for the premeire of "Galavant" on ABC. So what happens within the first two minutes of it being on? The local ABC affiliate busts in with "Breaking News" that the Browns have fired their coach and the GM and proceeded to ruin the next 25 minutes with this boring bullshit drivel that could have been handled with a crawl across the bottom of the screen. Sure the suits are ABC were wondering why the ratings in Cleveland were shit for the first half hour. So now I either have to wait for a repeat or for the dumbasses at WEWS to run it at 3 AM in the morning so I can record it. I remember a time when the local Big Three networks were run professionally. Now it seems they are on the same level as a local access cable TV show.

Carson Clark said...

I've actually been surprised at the number of millennials I've heard talking about watching TV over an antenna. They are the "cord-cutting" generation. So many of them seem to only watch what is on Netflix, Hulu etc and what they can get for free over a small antenna.

BobinVT said...

Ken, I'm roughly your contemporary (born in 1951), but differ in that I was raised in rural northern New England. We only got two broadcast channels, CBS and NBC. The nearest ABC affiliate was in Maine, too far for the signal to carry, though you could get it on cable. We called cable "wired TV". How I envied those who got The Patty Duke show. I could only listen jealously as they discussed last night's episode at school. We were strictly a CBS family. Walter Cronkite exclusively, and the channel rarely was changed during the evening. Of course it was a major effort to change the channel back in the dark ages before remotes. And yes, everyone looked forward with great anticipation to the new fall lineup. We had the CBS lineup memorized. It's way better now, although the time devoted to commercials has dramatically increased. But then we have the DVR.

Roger Owen Green said...

I was a CBS family, because Binghamton, NY had 3 stations 12, 40 (NBC) and 34 (ABC), so 12 obviously had the better reception. Also, my grandfather was a janitor for WNBF-TV-AM-FM.

Michael said...

This also has had a political impact. While the Nixon administration did indeed slime network news as "liberal," it was even-handed in most ways. To put it another way, Andy Rooney once said that he and Walter Cronkite were friends for 60 years, and he knew what Walter thought of every issue because of that, but he had no idea what Walter thought when he watched him on the evening news. Today, as we did in the 19th century with newspapers, we choose the media outlet that suits our political views and thereby get a skewed viewpoint beyond anything we had when we were kids.

Howard Hoffman said...

Don't forget smaller markets had even fewer channels than three. In the 60s, WWNY in Watertown, NY, was the only game in town. They were able to pick and choose what shows to air from all three networks. When cable came in, thousands were treated for culture shock.

Bryan L said...

Ha! We used to have an external TV antenna, a 20-foot (or so) pole attached to the eave of the house by a bracket. It had an enormous branching "tree" on top, and a cable that ran through the attic to the living room so we could attach it to the TV. When the signal was bad, one of us kids would have to go outside and "rotate" the antenna while the rest of us yelled when the signal cleared up. It generally had to be one of us boys -- that sucker was heavy.

normadesmond said...

i adore "the great british bake-off".

i was shocked/surprised when i learned that ABC would be airing an american version. further shocked when i witnessed how blatantly the american version xeroxed the UK's. hardly surprised that the american version utterly sucked.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

...I'm reminded of my retired father who moved to Sun City. While installing his rooftop antenna, he thought he'd secure the antenna wire well by wrapping it around an a/c current wire...and then wondered why the TV's reception was awful. This, from the same guy who, as a teenager one night, checked the level in his gas tank...with a match!

Pop was always a lot of fun to watch, from a safe distance.

:) :) :)

VincentS said...

And don't forget BATTLE OF THE NETWORK STARS!

mmryan314 said...

I love the " older generation" " old codger" comments. They could easily have been made by me 20, 30, even 40 years ago. I am now one of them. Truth is, I rarely watch network TV. I`'ve had a roku box since they came out. I watch Netflix, Hulu, HBOGO, Amazon, and PBS. I have Youtube as well just in case I want to watch an old Bilko show. I`d like to say that I do all my watching after Iron Man training- but that would be lying. I also have a Facebook account, Twitter account, Tumbler account, and I use Instagram. There is life after being 40, 50, 60, and 70.

Mike Doran said...

In Chicago in the '50s, my family was able to get all the available stations - the three networks, plus a strong independent and one of the first "educational" channels in the country.
Our family considered itself "independent", after a fashion: we went back and forth among all the channels, mainly the four commercial ones (channel 11, the "educational", had the weakest signal in town).
My siblings and I saw all the different news anchors, network and local; all the fall promo campaigns; all the different sports (which led to my giving up being a sports fan later in life - but that's another story).
When I was in high school, UHF came to Chicago, and we all started sampling that.
Putting this all another way, my family watched TV grow - slowly, almost imperceptibly, the way the neighborhood we grew up in came to look almost totally different in as little as ten years time.
What all this gave me was a sense of history - a memory of things past and present, and how all of it connected up, flowed into each other, and like that there.

I can recall John Daly doing the news on channel 7 during the week, and then hosting WHAT'S MY LINE? on channel 2 on Sunday night - and thinking nothing of it at the time. I tell younger people about that now, and they don't believe me - they think I should have been outraged, for some reason (hey, I was a little kid - how was I to know?).
That's one example, to serve for many.

... now I am five-and-sixty
and oh, 'tis true, 'tis true ...

(apologies to A. E. Housman)

Stoney said...

A bunch of the old fall rollout promos are on YouTube. My favorite is the NBC promo for STAR TREK in which Spock is called a "Vulcanian". One CBS promo managed to burn the theme to IT'S ABOUT TIME into my memory forever! It wasn't just the prime-time promos I looked forward to, the plugs for new Saturday Morning shows were classic!

I seem to recall that when the "educational" station first started in Syracuse (UHF 24) they were advertising on the local ABC station and even did some simulcasting on it.

Anyone else remember doing any TV DX-ing? Sometimes there were atmospheric conditions that would temporarily bring in the stations from Utica, Rochester and Ontario, Canada.



blinky said...

The saddest part of the once revered Network News broadcasts is that the commercials, which reflect the aging demographics, are either pharmaceuticals or PI's. PI's are Per Inquiry ads that basically share the cut of any item they end up selling. These are items like Magic Hose, Veg-A-Matic, Pocket Fisherman and the like. These used to be the ads that ran after midnight in old movies or reruns of Crusader Rabbit.

Douglas Trapasso said...

Possible Friday question:

"The Fall TV season debut was a major event. You waited all summer, salivating over the promos for the new fare. Then there was the Mid-Season, right after the first of the year. You studied those promos to know exactly what time slots these new shows would occupy."

Since you've have been writing for so long, did you have a pretty accurate sixth sense while watching these legendary promos? Could you tell which shows would go thirteen episodes and out and which ones had the legs for seven or eight seasons?

Garry M. said...

We had the three networks, and that was it. I was always jealous of relatives who lived in cities that had an independent, because they got a wider variety of off-network syndicated shows, like "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "The Honeymooners," shows that never turned up where I lived, growing up in the '70s. Our three networks affiliates seemed to stick with the same off-network shows year after year: "I Love Lucy," "Gilligan's Island," "Bewitched," "The Andy Griffith Show," "The Beverly Hillbillies," "The Munsters." I used to write all three stations about "Dick Van Dyke," in particular, because I used to watch it when we were in a city that showed it, and I liked it a lot. None of them ever did, though.

My dad used to watch Walter Cronkite, but I wouldn't say that we were a "CBS Family." I don't recall there ever being any particular allegiance to one network over the others.

Eric J said...

I haven't had a working TV in my home for 15 years. Between video clips on the news aggregaters, Netflix, Hulu, youtube, et al, I can watch almost anything I want when I want to. We used to sit in front of the TV watching some crap at 8:30 waiting for something we "always watch" at 9. Now I read a book when I want to do that and watch clips when I want to do that.

Also, when you take away the chyrons, crawl, insets and popup animations of what's coming on next, you're left with about the same visual real estate as a smart phone so might as well just watch it online.

I'm old enough to remember Time for Beany, wrestling and roller derby with Dick Lane live on KTLA in 1949. I'm certainly not pining for the old days of TV. It's on youtube!

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

While there are more than 3 stations now, these 3 own most of the stations out there.

ABC, NBC, CBS are now all owned by giant corporations.
These companies plus 2 others also own most of the cable stations as well.
ABC's parent Disney represents ABC, ESPN, Various Disney Channels, Lifetime, A&E.
NBC's parent Comcast represents NBC, Telemundo, USA, Bravo, CNBC/MSNBC, SyFy, Weather Channel, Golf Channel, Esquire, E!, Cloo, Chiller and a few others.
CBS's parents CBS Corp and the spinoff Viacom, represent CBS, the CW, Showtime, Paramount Stations, Comedy Central, BET, VH1, MTV, all the Nickelodeon Channels and a few others.

2 other major players
FOX represents FOX, FoxNews/Business, FoxSports, National Geo, FX/FXX etc.
Time Warner represents CW (with CBS) HBO, Cinemax, CArtoon Network, HLN, TBS, TNT, TCM, NBA TV.

1 other smaller player: Cablevision owns IFC, AMC, SundanceTV, WeTV, and BBC America.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

One thing all of these channels had, at least in the 70s was sitcoms.
And you knew which show was on which channel!

Off the top of my head

ABC - Happy Days, Laverne&Shirley, Odd Couple, Mork&Mindy, Threes Company, Soap, Benson, Welcome Back Kotter, Whats Happening, Barney Miller,
CBS - All in the FAmily, Jeffersons, Maude, Good Times, MTM, Rhoda, Bob Newhart, MASH, Carol Burnett, Alice, WKRP, One Day at a time,
NBC - Taxi, Facts of Life, Different Strokes, Chico and the Man, Sanford and Son

benson said...

One of the few good things about aging (not so) gracefully is you realize you've seen it all before. Currently, Netflix, Hulu, etc are the flavors of the month, but they have started doing head scratching stupid stuff, too. Netflix has dropped the Dick Van Dyke show, and as stated above, Almost Perfect is on only in Scandinavia.
Ken Burn's documentary "The History of New York Baseball" is gone, too. Maybe these things are minor, but it shows that there's is not a perfect world either.

@ Mike Doran...
I grew up in Chicago in the 60's. Similar experiences, but also the fun experience of my Dad buying the UHF converter box to view first ch. 26, then, 32 and 44. (The worst marketing mistake the White Sox made was moving to Ch. 32 in 1968. That gave us a whole generation of Cub fans. UGH!)

@Blinky
Imagine where the sports channels would be without fantasy sports PI spots. I know the Mothership claims that ad revenue is minor (apparently subscription fees is where the income is...hmmm, interesting to see how cord cutting will play out for them.)

Anonymous said...

My grandparents' farm was NOT in an Area of Dominant Influence (ADR). Rating bureaus used to define areas by which stations covered them best, to help advertisers target audiences. The antenna on the roof had a motor attached, controlled by a dial on a box sitting on top of the TV. Want to watch CBS? Point the antenna east. ABC? South, down the Mississippi. NBC? West towards Iowa. Sometimes their program choices were made more by the ionosphere than anything else.

-30-

Charles H. Bryan said...

When I was a kid, in Northern Michigan, there was no ABC affiliate. The local CBS station showed ABC programs on the weekends. I think THE ODD COUPLE was on Saturday afternoon sometime. All in glorious black and white, because color tvs were things that only fancy families owned.

I remember that great big issue of TV Guide that come out each Fall. (It's probably enough that I even remember TV Guide.)

For many years during adult life, I lived in an area with cable and watched all of the cable shows and the premium channels, until I got sick of television and cancelled the ever-growing cable bill. I could still get Letterman with rabbit ears, which looked great on him.

I moved to a rural area and now I get shows using an extended range antenna and a big fat data plan from Verizon. I am by many measures "old generation" and I feel perfectly comfortable watching people swear, screw, and slaughter each other on Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, network apps like CW's, etc. I watch many of them right on the tablet or the phone; some I Chromecast to the regular screen. I still watch a couple of network shows, I think, if THE FLASH counts. I watched SHERLOCK on PBS last week.

This all competes with streaming music, podcasts, discs, and get-them-when-I-want-them digital books. Sometimes I also like to go outside.

Donald Benson said...

Random memories of childhood network TV:

-- Yeah, Saturday mornings! Especially at the height of the superhero mania.I remember stumbling into a show called "Journey to the Center of the Earth" and waiting patiently for one character to slip away and change identities. There was a stretch when each of the big three networks would do a prime-time preview of their Saturday shows, usually with a prime time star or two hosting.

-- The really thick Fall Preview edition of TV Guide, with its cutesy blurbs about the new shows: "T.H.E. Cat is about a cat burglar (No, Herbie, that doesn't mean he steals cats) ...

-- Sunday nights: World of Color, then Bonanza if your parents let you stay up. In later years it was Smothers Brothers. Trying to remember where Ed Sullivan fit in.

-- NBC had the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade; CBS would intercut between three or four big-city parades; I think ABC just ran their Saturday morning cartoons.

-- The local independent station, KTVU, would announce a New Fall Lineup of shows that had just been dropped from the networks. Not new episodes, but the freshly syndicated "Burke's Law", "The Rogues", etc.

-- New shows lasted long enough for Mad Magazine to do a satire.

John in Ohio said...

Ken,
I'm about 15 years younger than you, so my memories are of color, with UHF without a converter. There was definitely a branding back then, and in the mid/late 70s, ABC was where every show a tween wanted to watch was. I remember thinking the CBS shows never made any sense, but now I recognize them for being more mature. The only CBS I remember watching then was Dukes / Dallas.
Then, in the early 80s, it seemed like everything was on NBC. @bumblebee - I would have told you WKRP was on the NBC Tuesday or Thursday lineup because I remember watching it.
@YEKEMI - when will you learn you cannot watch Channel 5 live? You're lucky that there wasn't a flurry, or MJ would have invoked Panic Channel 5 and pre-empted EVERYTHING for hours. We all have cable or a digital antenna. They all have sub-channels. Pre-empt LAFF or COZI and put a crawl that says to go there. Or at least put the ABC show on there.

Anonymous said...

We where a CBS family starting with radio (Jack Benny, etc.) and on into TV. Then I went to work for them for 20 years.....

jcs said...

The big networks will not get back to providing quality news programmes. Forever gone are the days when the Big Three had news bureaus all over the globe and forever gone are the days when complicated news stories generated decent ratings that allowed network execs to charge large amounts for ads. Nobody with a calibre like Murrow, Cronkite or Koppel will ever again appear on network TV. - I strongly believe the future of US TV news is PBS. Public TV in the US deserves more stability and reliable funding. Public TV is the backbone of the media landscape in most western countries. All these systems (e.g. BBC, FR, ORF, SRF, ARD/ZDF etc.) have their flaws, but they are the best solution we currently have. The news and documentaries on these stations are far better than anything ABC, CBS and NBC have to offer.

Stephen Robinson said...

I was born in 1974, and it sometimes feels like a major part of my generational identity is seeing things that I knew well end. I remember the three networks and the independent stations that would air reruns from the relatively recent 1960s (If you're Gen X, you are more intimately familiar with the TV shows of the Boom era because you watched them every weekday countless times over). I remember UHF. I remember choosing between Beta and VHS. I remember the first video stores. I remember when video tapes were first 'priced to sell" as opposed to "priced to rent." I remember my parents bringing home a VCR and being excited that I wouldn't have to miss some of my favorite shows and that I could even record them for posterity. I remember getting cable for the first time and what a luxury it was. And speaking of luxuries, I remember when the average family had *one* TV in the house. And if you were enough of a Rockefeller to have *two* TVs, that one was usually an older black-and-white set.

Now, I mention the major innovations (VCRs in the home, etc) but aside for that, as a child, I pretty much consumed TV the same way my parents did. There wasn't that much of a difference in how we listened to music (FM radio, vinyl records -- though again, I recall the major innovation of CD players). But there are Millennials just ten years younger than I am for whom the events I describe in my first paragraph must read like the 1950s. The younger members of that generation might not even recall CD players or VCRs. Did I also mention only having *one* phone in the house? One that was attached to the wall? And long distance was expensive?

Steve Bailey said...

I adored "Maude" when it first came on. When the series' controversial two-parter abortion episode was first broadcast, wouldn't you know it, I lived in central Illinois, where resided the only two CBS stations in the country that refused to air the episode. And that episode played out like a polite debate compared to the stuff that's on the networks these days.

Steve Bailey said...

I adored "Maude" when it first came on. When the series' controversial two-parter abortion episode was first broadcast, wouldn't you know it, I lived in central Illinois, where resided the only two CBS stations in the country that refused to air the episode. And that episode played out like a polite debate compared to the stuff that's on the networks these days.

Mike Doran said...

- TV DXing was a favorite pastime in summertime, when the atmospheric conditions were right.
On the south side of Chicago, the Milwaukee stations usually came in well; if we'd lived farther north, the same would be true of Rockford, almost exactly midway between the two major cities.
If the weather was just right, we could get a halfway decent signal from Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo, Michigan (the same market), and a fairish one from South Bend, Indiana.
As late as the early '80s, this was still possible, but then cable came in and you know the rest.

In the early days, any show that had been on a network could get a syndication sale, even if it had only run half a season (or less).
Channel 9 (WGN) got most of these, as well as first-run stuff from Ziv and Screen Gems. Meanwhile, the network stations would fill non-network slots with old and new shows from both these pools.
Also, lots of old movies from Poverty Row, which receded from the scene once the big studios began selling their old stuff to local stations (but that's another story ...).

Benson:
Let's give credit where due.
1968 was the year that the White Sox totally disintegrated on the field in the first days of the season. That was one factor; UHF was another; the Cubs suddenly getting good under Durocher pretty much sealed the deal...

Jeff Nelson said...

This has nothing to do with television networks. It's just a stray question. Certainly not one of earth-shaking importance.

A friend was telling me about reading an old interview with a television writer. One of those guys who started out writing for radio sitcoms in the late 1940s, then made the jump to television in the early 1950s and wrote TV sitcom scripts for years. The guy doing the interview asked him if he kept copies of the scripts he'd written. The writer laughed and said something like, "What for? What would I do, sit around reading them and chuckling and saying to myself, 'Oh yeah, I remember the night we came up with that scene. Boy, that was a funny one'?" Which leads me to ask you if you keep copies of the scripts you've written?

Like I said, it's not a question of any great importance. Just something I wondered about.

James said...

Bring back the Bell Telephone Hour

MikeK.Pa. said...

I remember the rise of local sports programming on the UHF stations, beginning in the early '70s. More pro hockey and basketball games, as well as local college basketball, appeared on stations owned by Kaiser and Taft Broadcasting. This was in the day when NBC had a singular baseball Game of the Week Saturdays with Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek. Ditto the weekly NBA on ABC. Hockey was struggling then - as it still does to this day - to get noticed by the networks.

Justin said...

Question (and I apologize in advance about the length):

A friend has a copy of the script for the Mary Tyler Moore episode "Chuckles Bites the Dust." I just got through watching that episode and comparing it to the script. They're very, very close. There are lines that that got cut or speeches that were shortened, presumably for timing purposes, but for the most part, the script and the broadcast show are a close match.

What I noticed is that in the broadcast version, a number of lines are the same but have been rephrased, if that's the right word, by the actors. You know, where they're saying the same thing, just in a slightly different way or with slightly different words. Are actors generally free to reshape lines that way, at least up to a point? As a writer, do you get offended if an actor wants to say a line in a different way than how you wrote it?

By the way, the only out and out change I noticed in the broadcast version was at the end of the tag scene, where everyone is gathered in Mary's apartment after Chuckles the Clown's funeral. Ted is talking about how, instead of dying, he plans to have himself frozen until a cure can be found for whatever was wrong with him. The scripted scene ends the tag by having Georgette make a joke about how that would make it easy for Ted to be able to stand her cold feet. The broadcast version has Mary taking an ugly food mobile, "gifted" to her by Sue Ann earlier in the episode, and asking Ted if, when he gets himself frozen, he wouldn't mind taking the mobile along.

cadavra said...

Growing up in Dayton, we had only two channels: one carried CBS, the other NBC with some ABC shows playing in off-times, often a week late. (Fortunately, we could pull in Cincinnati reasonably well and watch the ABC stuff there.) We were thrilled when we finally got a third channel and ABC became full-time. (The educational channel followed soon after.) The worst, of course, was when two shows I liked aired opposite each other, but we pulled up our grown-up pants and made the tough choices. Good times...

suek2001 said...

When my family moved to Florida, we didn't have a TV..we had a radio...and listened to the Saturday Night Mysteries....this was in 1979...We finally got a TV and could only watch ONE channel..CBS...that's it...so when we got a better TV with the other networks, it was like Christmas!!! Still, we watched mostly CBS programming..and to this day, it is what we prefer...
Now, I have a Roku...and I treat all those channels just like the broadcast ones...but there is ONE thing that pulls me from Netflix and Hulu...It's Antenna's addition of Johnny Carson reruns...Those are such a treat...and I feel young again.

Johnny Walker said...

This is fascinating stuff! As an outsider I never understood the difference between "networks" and local stations -- this makes it very clear. One thing I don't understand is this sentence: "The three big networks have been reduced to just three channels."

From what I read above, NBC, CBS and ABC were three separate channels? But it sounds like they were actually more (hence the moniker "network", I guess). How many channels did each network have?

John said...

In my little town in rural upstate NY, we had CBS that came in pretty good. NBC and ABC were on UHF and very snowy. My Dad wouldn't put an antenna on the roof. Around 1970, they put in the cable. CATV---community antenna television. We got the local channels clear along with Syracuse, Scranton and New York City. WPIX and WOR were a revelation! Around 1975 or so, they offered up Home Box Office.

John said...

If you grew up in New York or Los Angeles, you were lucky enough to have seven VHF stations -- CBS, NBC and ABC on Ch. 2, 4 and 7, while Ch. 5, 9 and 11 were your independents in New York, with L.A. also having one on Ch. 13 (NYC had one there, too, in the 1950s, but the license was given up in 1961 to create WNET, one of the earlier public broadcasting stations). The Spanish-language stations were up on the VHF block, where if you experienced it at all, it was usually for the wrestling or roller derby shows.

But even with the strong signals, you still had glitches. In New York, the signal for WNBC seemed to be at odds with the signals for most of the other stations, which would mean going to and adjusting the antenna if you were switching to or from Ch. 4. And then there were the jets -- back when the flight path of planes going to LaGuardia still went over midtown Manhattan, the passing jets could create a 'ripple' image on the TV. All that made cable attractive even in a large-station market, but it wasn't until the end of the 60s when Manhattan Cable Television (now the beloved Time-Warner Cable) made the deal to televise all the home games of the Knicks and Rangers, just as both teams were getting good that you suddenly had original programming that you couldn't get on the over-the-air channels.

That was really the first step in the beginning of the end of the networks' dominance. The deal between MCTV and Madison Square Garden hit in 1969, and three years later was when Time rolled out HBO, which finally brought uncut, uncensored movies to TV. The ball really started rolling downhill from there, though it would take until the end of the 70s before the current lineup of cable-only channels really got going.

Johnny Walker said...

For anyone interested in learning about how the British TV system used to run (I was interested in the US one, so maybe some geeks out there are would like to know), it was something like this: Our country is so small that you didn't have local channels (and don't really now, either, despite technology making it cheaper), you had three big channels: BBC 1, BBC 2, and ITV. In the early 80s a fourth channel joined their ranks, Channel 4, and it was these four channels that the entire country had while I was growing up in the 80s and 90s.

The BBC channels were different than the others in that they didn't have any adverts (and still don't). No commercials interrupted your programming at all! This is because it was funded by an optional "TV license" that pretty much anyone who owned a TV had to pay (or face fines and/or even imprisonment for repeated offenders). The ability to legally collect a license from the public was granted through a Royal Charter.

This unusual privilege sometimes means that people mistakenly claim the BBC is controlled or owned by the UK government. This is not true -- their charter actually specifies that they must remain unbiased in all their reporting and programming. As I recall, this originally meant that every program had to show both sides, but it was later relaxed to mean that any biased programming had to be balanced out by other programming showing the other side.

This is quite difficult to explain, and it's been a while since I was in a media studies class, but basically it meant that the BBC became a very trusted source. These rules didn't really affect fictional programming, and it's not like you would notice anything different while you were watching it other than a lack of biased sensationalism in their non-fiction programming. That was the deal for being able to claim a license fee from the public: They must remain unbiased and serve the public. Seemed like a good deal to me.

In my mind, the BBC was always the classier of the three options -- but it was also more MOR, and not very edgy, especially BBC 1. With BBC 2 you had edgier shows and the occasional cult movie, but it was largely quite safe, mature programming. The BBC gave us Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, BlackAdder, Red Dwarf, M*A*S*H (without a laugh track), Twin Peaks, Alan Partridge -- some legendary programming. It was also the home of serious documentaries, nature programs (David Attenborough), safe sitcoms, and of course, costume dramas.

ITV was a little more trashy and, of course, had three minute advert breaks every 15 mins (yes, far less than the US, but still quite annoying when you had the advertless BBC one click away). By trashy, I mean that's where you'd more likely find game shows, variety shows, sensationalistic drama, heavily edited Hollywood movies ("you melon farmer!"), and not much in the way of decent comedy. No sitcoms or sketch shows that interested me, apart from the satirical puppet show, Spitting Image. They were very safe and mainstream, but also lacking in class (not that they were THAT bad -- but, as you can tell, I wasn't a fan). They didn't have much in the way of US programming (maybe that's why I wasn't a fan) apart from episodes of Coach at two in the morning.

They did have SOME great shows, though: Jeeves and Wooster, David Suchet's Hercule Poirot, Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes (and MUCH later, Downton Abbey).

Johnny Walker said...

Channel 4 had adverts, but it also had the edgiest, most interesting programming, They had American sitcoms(!), foreign art movies (French black and white films -- usually with nudity) and some fascinating documentary programming (usually about fringe, counter subjects). Despite going for edginess, which could have just resulted in base programming, they also generally had good taste -- the art movies were usually very good, and ended up broadening the horizons of this teenager on his quest for boobs. It also had all my favourite American shows, and Friday nights in particular were fantastic: The Cosby Show, Cheers, Roseanne, The Golden Girls. No need to change the channel on that night!

(They also drifted into extremely trashy sensationalistic programming, too, like the The Word, but it didn't tarnish them too much.)

Unlike US networks, the four channels were usually able to show films unedited -- provided they were after the 9pm "watershed", when it was considered most children would be in bed. The only exception to this was ITV who, being very mainstream, usually edited them anyway -- and then put half an hour of news programming right in the middle of a movie to boot! (Did I mention I wasn't a fan?)

Things are very different now -- another channel came along in the mid-90s (Five), but many people couldnt get it, and the programming was beyond trashy, and soon after cable/satellite followed, which changed everything.

Ah, nostalgia. I'm sure there's other British readers who would interpret things slightly differently, and be upset that I missed off their favourite shows, but that's how it appeared to me from my bedroom.

Anonymous said...

Ken's point is that the networks have lost special status. Key is 'just' not 'three'.

Andy Rose said...

I sometimes wonder if some of that cord-cutting is just the fashion of the moment. I don't think the current cable TV economic model is sustainable, but I have seen a whole lot of people who happily bragged about dropping cable a few months later leaving Facebook comments... "Uh, does anyone have an HBO Go password I can borrow tonight?" "Uh, does anyone know where I can see last night's Better Call Saul for free?" "Uh, does anyone know a bar around here where the ______ game will be on?" I've seen a few even resign for cable once they realize how much trouble it is to go on regular hunting expeditions for shows they want to watch.

While saving a lot of money certainly is an attractive proposition, I don't think that's the whole motivation. Many of the same people who claim that anyone who pays for TV that they watch for hours and hours each week is a sucker also think nothing of spending $100 for repeated viewings of the new Star Wars movie, or dropping $5 every morning for a cup of chain coffee.

Johnny Walker said...

@Anomymous I got Ken's point, I'm just interested in the technical specifics.

stephen catron said...

My dad used to once in a while have his friends over and they would carry the heavy wood encased TV outside and put in on the front porch. Then they would sit with their beers on fraying woven plastic and metal chairs out on the front lawn to watch Monday Night Football outside because football was meant to be watched outside.

Barry Traylor said...

You just took me on a trip sown Nostalgia Lane. I'm old enough that I know exactly of what you speak and although I love the choices we have today I have to admit that those 250 channels I now get sure have an awful lot of dreck. I am trying (for instance) to figure out just what I am learning from The Learning Channel.

Anonymous said...

@Andy Rose
Not having cable is really not all that bad. Have done it going on 20 years. Yes, there are sports you have to go to the bar for. (DAMN!) Yes, there are shows on cable only. Many of these are now on Netflix, and I am catching up. Many I have box sets of - and you usually can get these used, ...er... previewed. Especially now with digital TV, I get more channels now than when I cut the cord, just no sports.

Pat Reeder said...

I now pay 59 bucks a month for satellite TV so my wife can see her favorite shows like "Homeland." Meanwhile, I mostly watch over-the-air rerun stations like Antenna TV, MeTV and Get TV; and if I'm on cable at all, it's mostly TV Land, TBS or the Hallmark Channel for shows like "Cheers," "WKRP" and "The Golden Girls." At least, the networks used to know how to produce good shows.

Your description of the plight of network TV reminds me of when I was in one of my first jobs, for a major radio syndicator, and some guys came from Japan to demonstrate the first CDs for us. I remember predicting to the programmers that this would spell trouble for the music industry, especially new artists, because instead of just competing with each other, they'd now be competing with everyone who ever recorded in the post-stereo era and whose tapes could be digitally remastered. I recall saying then that, for instance, a female singer wouldn't be competing only with her contemporaries, but also with Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, and every other great whose material could be re-released digitally to a young audience that wouldn't know one album was 40 years old and another was new, since both would have excellent sound and the same type of packaging. That prediction turned out to be true (even more so with the shift to downloading audio files), and now TV producers find themselves in the same boat, competing with all of TV's past. Given a choice between "Two Broke Girls" and "Frasier," guess which one I'll opt for.

Roger Owen Green said...

Johnny- in brief, the three networks had affiliates all around the country (they also had some stations that were/are owned-and-operated by the network), usually in the big cities. As someone noted, the big cities like NYC and LA might have as many as 7 channels. The three networks would ALWAYS be represented.

Somewhere around 1948, there were 100 TV stations in the country, and the FCC FROZE any expansion until UHF (channels 14 to 83) was developed. So small cities with one or two channels might carry programming from one network, primarily, but pick up shows from another network to fill in the dead spots. (Saturday and Sunday afternoons - this was before football dominated the airwaves).

E.g. - Maverick, an ABC western (1957-62) showed up in Binghamton, NY (my hometown) on the CBS affiliate, because, until 1962, Binghamton HAD no ABC affiliate.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

John in Ohio said...
Then, in the early 80s, it seemed like everything was on NBC. @bumblebee - I would have told you WKRP was on the NBC Tuesday or Thursday lineup because I remember watching it.


That could be John...it's possible that NBC aired it, or that WKRP jumped networks (since it often jumped timeslots).
though I do remember WKRP being on right after MASH on Mondays. I'm too lazy to look it up. lol.

Andy Rose said...

WKRP was on CBS for its entire network run. You may have seen WKRP reruns on an NBC affiliate in syndication. They were quite popular for a while, which is why they made that awful "New WKRP" show... to get the episode count hire for syndication sales.

cadavra said...

No, WKRP was always CBS, at least in its original airings.

Roger Owen Green said...

This type of stuff causes confusion. In the Albany/Schenectady area: In 1977, WAST TV 13 became the area's CBS affiliate (and changing callsigns to WNYT in the process), swapping with WTEN, who became ABC . Four years later, WRGB, a longtime NBC affiliate, swapped with WNYT, becoming a CBS carrier. If you look at the network ratings for the 1980-81 season, the reason becomes apparent: CBS had fourteen shows in the top 30, NBC only six. Not long thereafter, GE divested itself of WRGB, probably in preparation for its acquisition of the RCA and the NBC Network.

John in Ohio said...

Wasn't arguing that it was on NBC, just saying that if you asked me, I would have said it was on NBC. It seemed to fit with their lineup. Also, if you say it was after MASH, I would have to believe you, because for the life of me I cannot remember one show that was. WKRP was only on a few years. Newhart? And if that's correct I couldn't tell you what Newhart was paired with after Mash was gone. Maybe AfterMASH for a season.

Tom Lawrence said...

Willie Mays has been getting a bad rap for his performance in the 1973 World Series for far too long.
Yes, Mays struggled with a pair of fly balls in Game 2, which has caused people to talk about how difficult it was to watch. But if you watch the game -- and it's on YouTube -- several outfielders had trouble that day with a high sky, when a lack of clouds made it hard to track the ball.
The Mets' Cleon Jones and the A's Joe Rudi, young players at the top of their games, also misplayed balls.
Mays did have trouble staying on his feet in the field and bases, but the fly ball rap was unfair. It was a difficult sun and even a younger Willie Howard Mays may have struggled that day, too.
As far as the overweight allegation, which I have read before, I see little evidence of that, either.
Mays was at the end of his great career, but he had the first hit in the series and knocked in the winning run in Game 2. Not bad for a 42-year-old.
There are a pair of great moments at the start of Game 1, when the Oakland fans give The Say Hey Kid a long, loud ovation when he was introduced and again when he comes to bat in the top of the first inning.
Watch all the action for yourself:
https://m.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLUUb0DQvCAgSARJ4r4t8B_DHQL_Xrd_FV

Todd Mason said...

Johnny Walker--the three big commercial networks had at least 150 or so affiliates each by the 1990s, and somewhat larger numbers since (even in their decline)...PBS, the nonprofit network, managed to have about 200 by then, since a lot of larger markets had more than one PBS station. Ken, as someone who really started watching tv a lot by about 1970, the NET and PBS stations were always a big deal for me, comparable to the commercial networks...and I was living in the Boston market, so I got to see not only three PBS stations, but also fairly innovative commercial independents, including a Kaiser station, and another UHF station which was the sports monster in the 1970s (and later became the most widely seen New England "superstation")--there was as likely to be something interesting on the independent stations as on the network affiliates a fair amount of the time (the Kaiser station, as Kaiser had made tentative moves toward becoming a network, was an enthusiastic customer for such quasi-networked syndicated productions as the Operation Prime Time slate of the mid-late 1970s). PBS stations were prone toward running films and British import tv uncut, as well as generating some programming of its own with nudity and other aspects that didn't pop up on commercial tv much in the 1970s...though ABC's ROOTS also dared a bit of female nudity (there might've been male as well, but somehow that didn't make the same impression on me at the time).

And there were all the various attempts to create fourth and fifth full-fledged commercial networks in the US, such as Dumont and the Paramount Television Network in the early '50s, the NTA Film Network in the latter '50s/earliest '60s, the United Network in the late '60s, and finally Fox managing to get the job done a couple of decades later. Though the Christian networks had already begun to flourish by then, and the low-power station networks, beginning with Channel America, followed Fox into existence in the early/mid '90s...Ion being the most obvious heir to that effort today. The Spanish-language networks, and a few more limited non-English networks began flourishing in the '80s...and, as Ken notes, Univision can outdraw English language networks at times these days.

Todd Mason said...

And, of course, now with digital broadcast multichannels possible for each station at very least in the US, we've had a flourishing of small, specialized networks, with the most popular ones devoted to older television drama (including sitcoms) with some films thrown in, or vice verse...film channels with a few series around the edges. PBS and otherwise independent public stations have their choice of smaller networks to augment their arrays with, such as Create, World Channel and MHz Worldview. And some of the little nets take theme programming...such as Laff and the sf/fantasy-oriented Comet networks...along with many news and religious feeds. It's quite possible to have 40 or more broadcast stations/feeds in the larger urban centers...sometimes more of them than the local cable companies choose to carry, though theoretically the cable systems are required to carry them all.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

Johnny Walker, here in Canada we have a cable channel called Showcase, and in the late 90's to the mid 2000, they used to have a block of programming called Friday's Without Borders, that would feature a lot of the racy Channel 4 programming, perhaps it was too racy, because Showcase stopped that practice a few years ago.

In Canada we have a joke. An Englishman enjoys our Red Rose Tea and says,"Only in Canada you say? Pity!"

We could say the same thing here about your Channel 4.

Johnny Walker said...

Thanks for the explanations, everyone. The idea of "affiliates" confuses the hell out of me. In the UK it was four channels -- that was it. Aside from *slight* regional variations (eg. BBC 1 Wales), they were largely the same. Everyone in the country was watching the same thing. Now we have tons more channels, but it's still the same: Everyone is essentially watching the same thing at the same time. I can't quite grapple with the idea of each city having its own channel, made up of its own programming.

@Albert I think the reason that Channel 4 was dropped might have been because the station (or as we would say, channel) itself suffered a drop in quality. About 10 years ago I completely randomly shared a taxi with the director of programming for ITV. She was telling me how she was trying to turn ITV into what Channel 4 *used* to be (or at least the best parts of it) -- alternative, but superbly high quality, programming. (It didn't work out -- a lot of the shows she'd bought from the US never hit big and were cancelled (like Pushing Daisies, I remember was one), but I admire her for trying!)

Todd Mason said...

Well, Johnny, one way the stations are affiliates is that they run mostly the same programming in the same patterns as the other affiliates of their networks...though some networks program more of the day than others (the MyNetworkTV network offers essentially 2 hours of programming a day Monday-Friday and very little more, so most of their stations are buying a lot of syndicated programming to fill the hours...or a station will be an affiliate of another network and run the MNT programming in slightly delayed pattern, or similarly). And most of the syndicated programming is rather similar all around the country, though there are local differences similar to the local differences that used to apply in Britain (where London Weekend Television, I gather, was somewhat different than what ITV would show in the Midlands)...the most prominent syndicated programming can be shown at more different times of day than most network programming. PBS also gives local stations more leeway in scheduling programming than most of the commercial networks, since it was set up to be a decentralized network...and, in fact, the most powerful stations in the PBS network often have first dibs on some of their most expensive and/or popular programming, including such co-productions as SHERLOCK and DOWNTON ABBEY, so that the the less popular PBS affiliates in the same cities/areas have to wait a month or so before they can show the programs...so there are a lot of syndicators which provide programs more or less exclusively to public stations, as well (though sometimes series appear on public stations...and then a year or so later are made available to commercial stations...). A lot of the syndicated programs on public stations are imports from the UK, a few from Canada and Australia, and so on...and a lot are produced as local programs first, then offered to other stations...also true of some programs fed out by the PBS network. So, yes...the complexities of scheduling in the US are sometimes great, particularly with all the non-broadcast services now in the mix. Canada, as Albert G might agree, is only slightly less complex, if at all...with cable stations and small networks (Canada's equivalent of the BBC is the CBC, except there's also the French national service SRC, and the Canadian equivalent of the US's PBS is essentially TV Ontario, though there were similar networks in other provinces that have mostly become more like quasi-commercial cable stations...and little networks in Canada, like TV Ontario, have become both more and less easily available, depending on when one's asking about and where one is...Global, for example, and once fairly racy City TV...

Todd Mason said...

Johnny--then there are all the US/Canadian co-productions, and some US and Canadian series that are on broadcast in one country and on cable in the other...and satellite tv services, not quite as important here as in Britain, but still important enough...

Granada was doing a Lot of good programming for ITV Back When, as well. I understand that your Channel 5 these days is almost all trash, so that the bubble gum on Channel 4 doesn't look quite as bad in comparison, even though Four isn't nearly as good as it was when it was the Cultural/Multicultural alternative to BBC and ITV...

And most stations in the US have at least some enforced responsibility to produce or purchase public-service programming, at least some of it local in most cases, even beyond the local news programming that the richer stations usually feature...we have too many stations devoted mostly to "infomercials" in the US these days that also sometime produce (usually very low-budget) local news and public-affairs programs to meet those requirements...

mike said...

An interesting and true trip down memory lane, although I for one refuse to pay $80+ per month for x amount of channels of crap. Best thing about the networks is that they are free. There was no reason for the gratuitous slam at Willie Mays. Tom Lawrence is quite correct that he has been given a bad rap, and was certainly not overweight.