National Broadcasting Company

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The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) is an American television network headquartered in the GE Building in New York City's Rockefeller Center. It is sometimes referred to as the Peacock Network due to its stylized peacock logo.

Formed in 1926 by RCA, control of NBC passed to GE in 1986 following GE's $6.4 billion purchase of RCA. Since this acquisition, the chief executive of NBC (now NBC Universal) was Bob Wright, until he retired, giving his job to Jew Jeff Zucker.

It was estimated in 2003 that NBC is viewable by just over 97 percent of all households, reaching 103,624,370 viewers in the United States. NBC has 10 owned-and-operated stations and nearly 200 affiliates in the United States and its possessions.[1][2]

The network is currently a part of the media company NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric (GE) and Vivendi.

Contents

History

Earliest Stations: WEAF & WJZ

During a period of early broadcast business consolidation, the radio-making Radio Corporation of America (RCA) had acquired New York radio station WEAF from American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T). An RCA shareholder, Westinghouse, had a competing facility in Newark, New Jersey pioneer station WJZ, which also served as the flagship for a loosely-structured network. This station was transferred from Westinghouse to RCA in 1923, and moved to New York.[3]

WEAF was also a kind of laboratory for AT&T's manufacturing and supply outlet Western Electric, whose product included transmitters and antennas. AT&T's long-distance and local Bell operating divisions were developing technologies for transmitting voice- and music-grade audio over short and long distances, via both wireless and wired methods, with its 1922 creation of WEAF offering a concurrent research-and-development center for those activities. WEAF formed a regular schedule of radio programs, including some of the first commercially sponsored programs, and became an immediate success. In an early example of what became "chain" or "networking" broadcasting, the station linked with Outlet Company's WJAR in Providence, Rhode Island with AT&T's WCAP in Washington, D.C. (named for the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company division of AT&T).

New parent RCA saw an advantage in sharing programming, and after getting a license for station WRC in Washington, D.C. in 1923, attempted to transmit audio between cities via low-quality telegraph lines (since AT&T refused outside companies access to their high-quality phone lines). The early effort was poor at best, with the uninsulated telegraph lines incapable of good audio transmission quality and very susceptible to both atmospheric and man-made electrical interference.

But in 1925, AT&T decided WEAF and its embryonic network were incompatible to AT&T's primary goal of providing a phone service. AT&T offered to sell the station to RCA, in a deal that also gave RCA the rights to rent AT&T's phone lines for network transmission.

Red & Blue Networks

RCA spent $1 million to buy WEAF and Washington sister station WCAP, shutting down the latter station---and announcing the late 1926 creation of a new division known as The National Broadcasting Company.[4] The new division was divided in ownership between RCA (fifty percent), General Electric (thirty percent), and Westinghouse (twenty percent), and NBC launched officially on November 15, 1926.

As the flagships of two pre-existing networks, WEAF and WJZ operated side-by-side for about a year as part of the new NBC. On January 1, 1927 NBC formally divided their respective marketing strategies: the Red Network offered commercially sponsored entertainment and music programming; the Blue Network carried sustaining or non-sponsored broadcasts, especially news and cultural programs. Various histories of NBC suggest the colour designations for the two networks came from the colours of the push pins NBC engineers used to designate affiliates of WEAF (red) and WJZ (blue), or from the use of double-ended red and blue colored pencils. A similar two-part/two-color strategy appeared in the recording industry, dividing the market between classical and popular offerings.

Orange, Gold & White Networks

On April 5, 1927 NBC reached the West Coast with the launching of the NBC Orange Network, also known as The Pacific Coast Network. This was followed by the debut October 18, 1931 of the NBC Gold Network, also known as The Pacific Gold Network. The Orange Network carried Red programming and the Gold Network carried programming from the Blue Network. Initially the Orange Network recreated Eastern Red programming for West Coast stations at KPO San Francisco, California. In 1936 the Orange Network name was dropped and affiliate stations became part of the Red Network. At this same time the Gold became part of the Blue Network. NBC also developed a network for shortwave radio stations in the 1930's called the NBC White Network.

In a major move in 1931, RCA signed crucial leases with the new Rockefeller Center management that resulted in it becoming the lead tenant of what was to become in 1933 its corporate headquarters, the RCA Building, at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Under the terms of the lease arrangement, this included studios for NBC and theaters for the RCA-owned RKO Pictures. The deal was arranged through the Center's founder and financier, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., with the chairman of GE, Owen D. Young, and the president of RCA, Jew David Sarnoff.[5]

The Chimes

The famous three-note NBC chimes came about after several years of development. The three note sequence G-E-C may have been first heard over WSB in Atlanta which used it for its own purposes until one day someone at NBC in New York heard the WSB version of the notes during a networked broadcast of a Georgia Tech football game and asked permission to use it on the national network. NBC started to use the three notes in 1931, and it was the first ever audio trademark to be accepted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. A variant sequence was also used that went G-E-C-G, known as "the fourth chime" and used during wartime (especially in the wake of the Pearl Harbor bombing), on D-Day, and disasters. The NBC chimes were mechanized in 1932 by Richard H. Ranger of the Rangertone company; their purpose was to send a low level signal of constant amplitude that would be heard by the various switching stations manned by NBC and AT&T engineers, and thus used as a system cue for switching different stations between the Red and Blue network feeds. Contrary to popular legend, the three musical notes, G-E-C, did not originally stand for NBC's current parent corporation, the General Electric Company; although General Electric's radio station in Schenectady, New York, WGY, was an early NBC affiliate. General Electric did not have ownership of NBC until 1986. G-E-C is still used on NBC-TV and a variant with two notes preceding them is used on the MSNBC cable television network. NBC's radio branch no longer exists.

New Beginnings: The Blue Network Becomes ABC

From its creation in 1934, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had studied the monopolistic effects of network broadcasting on the industry, and found that NBC's two networks and their owned-and-operated stations dominated audiences, affiliates and advertising dollars in American radio. In 1939 the FCC ordered RCA to divest itself of one of the two networks; RCA fought the divestiture order, but divided NBC into two companies in 1940 in case an appeal was lost. The Blue network became the "NBC Blue Network, Inc." (now as ABC) and the NBC Red became "NBC Red Network, Inc." In January, 1942, the two networks had their operations formally divorced, and the Blue Network was referred to on the air as either "Blue" or "Blue Network," with its official corporate name being Blue Network Company, Inc. NBC Red, on the air, became known as simply NBC.

With the loss of the final appeal before the United States Supreme Court in May, 1943, RCA sold Blue Network Company, Inc. for $8 million to Lifesavers magnate Edward J. Noble, completing the sale in October, 1943. For his money, Noble got the network name, leases on land-lines and the New York studios, two-and-a half stations (WJZ in Newark/New York, KGO in San Francisco and WENR in Chicago which shared a frequency with "Prairie Farmer" station WLS) and about 60 affiliates. Noble wanted a more memorable name for the network; in 1944 he acquired rights to the name "American Broadcasting Company" from George Storer and the Blue Network became ABC, with the official name change announced on June 15, 1945, after the sale was completed.

(For a detailed description of the events leading up to the 1943 sale of the NBC Blue Network, and its 1943-5 history, see Blue Network.)


Defining Radio’s Golden Age

In the golden days of network broadcasting, 1930 to 1950, NBC was the pinnacle of American radio. NBC broadcast radio's earliest mass hit, Amos 'n' Andy, beginning in 1926-27 in its original fifteen-minute serial format; the show set a standard for nearly all serialised programming in the original radio era, whether for comedies or soap operas, and its appeal---from the two struggling title characters---landed a broad audience especially during the height of the Great Depression.

NBC soon became home to many of the most popular performers and programs on the air: Al Jolson, Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen, Bob Hope, Fred Allen, and Burns & Allen called NBC home, as did Arturo Toscanini's NBC Symphony (which the network itself helped him create), and as did such programs as Vic & Sade, Fibber McGee & Molly, The Great Gildersleeve (arguably broadcasting's first spin-off program, the title character having been a hit on Fibber McGee & Molly for several seasons), One Man's Family, Ma Perkins, Death Valley Days, and others. NBC stations were often the most powerful, or occupied clear-channel frequencies so that they were heard nation-wide.

But in the late 1940s, in large part because NBC declined to allow them to use their own production companies for tax breaks, whereby rival CBS was willing, many NBC stars---beginning with Jack Benny, by then the nation's top radio star---jumped to CBS beginning in 1948-49. (It was not uncommon in the earlier radio years for stars and programs to hop between networks when their short-term contracts expired.)

In addition, a number of NBC stars began moving toward television, including comedian Milton Berle (whose early Texaco Star Theater would become television's first major defining popular hit) and conductor Arturo Toscanini. Toscanini made his ten television appearances on NBC between 1948 and 1952.

Aiming to keep classic radio alive as television matured, and to challenge CBS's Sunday night lineup---much of which had jumped with Jack Benny (who still reigned on Sunday nights)---NBC sanctioned The Big Show in November 1950. This was a 90-minute variety show that updated radio's earliest musical variety style with sophisticated comedy and dramatic presentations, featured stage legend Tallulah Bankhead as its hostess, and lured some of America's most prestigious entertainers (including Fred Allen, Groucho Marx, Lauritz Melchior, Ethel Barrymore, Louis Armstrong, Ethel Merman, Bob Hope, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Ella Fitzgerald, among others). But The Big Show's initial success didn't last despite critics' praises; the show endured only two years, with NBC said to lose a million dollars on the project.

NBC's last major radio programming push, in 1955, was Monitor, a continuous, all-weekend mixture of music, news, interviews and features with a variety of hosts including such well-known television personalities as Dave Garroway, Hugh Downs, Ed McMahon, Joe Garagiola and Gene Rayburn. The potpourri also tried to keep vintage radio alive in featuring segments from Jim and Marian Jordan (in character as Fibber McGee and Molly), Peg Lynch's dialogic comedy Ethel & Albert (Lynch and Alan Bunce), and iconoclastic satirist Henry Morgan, among others. Monitor was a success for a number of years, but after the mid-1960s, local stations, especially in larger markets, became increasingly reluctant to break from their established formats to run non-conforming network programming. After Monitor went off the air in early 1975, there was little left of NBC network radio beyond hourly newscasts and news-related features.

The Last Years of NBC Radio

Later in 1975, NBC launched the NBC News and Information Service, which provided up to 55 minutes of news per hour around the clock to local stations that wanted to adopt an all-news format. The service attracted several dozen subscribers, but not enough to allow NBC to project that it would ever become profitable, and it was discontinued after two years. Near the end of the 1970s, NBC started "The Source," a modestly successful secondary network that provided news and short features to FM rock stations.

After their 1986 acquisition of NBC, GE decided that the radio business did not fit their strategic objectives. In summer 1987, NBC Radio's network operations were sold to Westwood One, and the NBC-owned stations were sold to various buyers. In 1989, the NBC Radio Network as an independent programming service ceased to exist, becoming a brand-name for content produced by Westwood One - and ultimately by CBS Radio. (The same case occurred with the Mutual Broadcasting System, which Westwood One acquired two years earlier and essentially merged with NBC Radio.)

By the late 1990s "NBC"-branded newscasts were being produced only on weekday mornings; around 2003 even these were discontinued, and the remaining NBC Radio Network affiliates began to receive CNN Radio-branded newscasts at all hours. At about the same time Westwood One began to distribute a new service called NBC News Radio, consisting of brief news updates read by NBC News and MSNBC anchors and reporters.

Television

For many years NBC was closely identified with David Sarnoff, who used it as a vehicle to sell consumer electronics. It was Sarnoff who ruthlessly stole innovative ideas from competitors, using RCA's muscle to prevail in the courts. RCA and Sarnoff had dictated the broadcasting standards put in place by the FCC in 1938, and stole the spotlight by introducing all-electronic television to the public at the 1939–40 New York World's Fair, simultaneously initiating a regular schedule of programs on the NBC-RCA television station in New York City. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appeared at the fair, before the NBC cameras, becoming the first U.S. president to appear on television on April 30, 1939. An actual, off-the-monitor photograph of the FDR telecast can be viewed here. The broadcast was transmitted by NBC's New York television station W2XBS Channel 1 (now WNBC-TV channel 4) and was seen by about 1,000 viewers within the station's roughly 40-mile coverage area from their Empire State Building transmitter location. The next day, May 1, four models of RCA television sets went on sale to the general public in various New York City department stores, promoted in a series of splashy newspaper ads. It is to be noted that DuMont (and others) actually offered the first home sets in 1938 in anticipation of NBC's announced April 1939 start-up. Later in 1939, NBC took its cameras to professional football and baseball games in the New York City area, establishing many "firsts" in the history of television. Actual NBC "network" broadcasts (more than one station) began about this time with occasional special events — such as the British King and Queen's visit to the New York World's Fair — being seen in Philadelphia (over the station which would become WPTZ, now KYW) and in Schenectady (over the station which would become WRGB), two pioneer stations in their own right. The most ambitious NBC television "network" program of this pre-war era was the telecasting of the Republican National Convention in 1940 from Philadelphia, which was fed live to New York and Schenectady.[6] However, despite major promotion by RCA, television set sales in New York in the 1939-1940 period were disappointing, primarily due to the high cost of the sets, and the lack of compelling regular programming. Most sets were sold to bars, hotels and other public places, where the general public viewed special sporting and news events.

NBC's experimental New York City station was licensed for commercial telecasts beginning on July 1, 1941, adopting the call letters WNBT (it is now WNBC-TV). The first official commercial on that day was for Bulova Watches, seen just before the start of a Brooklyn Dodgers telecast. Limited programming continued until the U.S. entered World War II. Telecasts were curtailed in the early years of the war, then expanded as NBC began to prepare for full service upon the war's end. On VE-Day, 1945, WNBT broadcast hours of news coverage, and remotes from around New York City. This event was pre-promoted by NBC with a direct-mail card [7] sent to television set owners in the New York area. At one point, a WNBT camera placed atop the marquee of the Hotel Astor panned the crowd below celebrating the end of the war in Europe. It was, by all reports, a thrilling prelude of things to come as television began its rapid ascent into the American household. After the war ended, development of television soared ahead and the NBC television network grew from its initial post-war lineup of four stations. The World Series of 1947 featured two New York teams (Yankees and Dodgers) and local TV sales boomed, since the games were telecast in New York. Stations along the East coast and Midwest were gradually connected by coaxial cable in the 1940s until September 1951, when the first transcontinental telecasts took place.

The early 1950s brought massive success for NBC in the new medium, as it launched television's first superstar in Milton Berle, whose antics on the The Texaco Star Theater drew massive audiences. Also, the network launched Today and The Tonight Show, which would bookend the broadcast day for over fifty years, continuing to this day to draw more eyes than the comparable offerings of other networks.

While rivals CBS and DuMont also offered color broadcasting plans, RCA convinced a waffling FCC that its color system should prevail, and in December 1953 the FCC agreed; the NBC network was to begin offering color programming within days of the FCC's decision. NBC began broadcasting certain shows in color in 1954, and the first NBC show to air all episodes in color, The Marriage, was shown that summer. In 1956 during a National Association meeting in Chicago, NBC announced that their Chicago TV station — WNBQ (now WMAQ-TV), was the first color TV station in the nation (at least six hours of color broadcasts a day). By 1963, most of NBC's prime time schedule was in color; without television sets to sell, rival networks followed more slowly, finally committing to color in the 1965-66 season. Days of Our Lives was the first soap opera to premiere in color.

1970s Doldrums

The 1970s started strongly for the network thanks to hits like Laugh-In, Emergency!, Adam-12, The Dean Martin Show, and The Flip Wilson Show, but this did not last. In spite of the success of such new shows as The NBC Mystery Movie, Sanford and Son, Chico and the Man, Little House on the Prairie, The Rockford Files, and Quincy, M.E., as well as continued success from veterans like The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and The Wonderful World of Disney, the network entered a slump in the middle of the decade. Disney, in particular, saw its ratings nosedive once CBS put 60 Minutes up against it in the 1975-1976 season. None of the new shows NBC introduced in the fall of 1975 was invited back for a second season; they all failed because of established competition.

Starting in 1974 under new president Jew Herb Schlosser, the network tried to go after younger viewers with a series of costly movies, miniseries and specials. This not only did not attract the desirable 18-34 demographic but managed to alienate older viewers. [8] They did, however, launch the phenomenally successful and influential Saturday Night Live in a time slot previously held by reruns of The Tonight Show. In 1978, Schlosser was promoted to executive vice presidency at RCA [9], and a desperate NBC lured Jew Fred Silverman away from then-number one ABC to see if he could turn the network's fortunes around. With the notable exceptions of Diff'rent Strokes, Real People, The Facts of Life, and the mini-series Shogun, he couldn't find a hit. Failures accumulated rapidly under his watch (such as Hello, Larry, Supertrain, Pink Lady and Jeff, and The Waverly Wonders); ironically, many of them were beaten in the ratings by shows Silverman greenlighted at CBS and ABC.

Also during this time, NBC suffered through the defections of several longtime affiliates in markets such as: Atlanta, Baltimore, Charlotte, Dayton, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and San Diego. Most of the defecting stations were wooed away by ABC, which was the number-one network during the late 1970s and early 1980s; in markets such as San Diego and Jacksonville, NBC was forced to replace the lost stations with new affiliates broadcasting on the UHF band.

When US President Jimmy Carter pulled the American team out of the 1980 Summer Olympics, NBC canceled their planned 150 hours of coverage (which had cost them $87,000,000), and the network's future was in doubt. They had been counting on the expected $170,000,000 in advertising revenues to help them throughout the year and on the broadcasts to help promote fall shows. [10]

The press and the public were merciless towards Silverman, but two of the most savage attacks on his leadership came from within. The company who composed their on-air promo music created a scathing spoof of the Proud as a Peacock ad campaign. Al Franken's satirization of Silverman in a Saturday Night Live sketch entitled "Limo for a Lame-O" did not endear the comedian to Silverman, who admitted he "never liked Al Franken to begin with." [11] It may have hurt Franken's chance at succeeding Lorne Michaels as executive producer of the show. [12]

Tartikoff's Turnaround

In the summer of 1981, Fred Silverman resigned. Grant Tinker became president of the network and Jew Brandon Tartikoff became chief of programming. Tartikoff inherited a schedule full of aging dramas and very few sitcoms, but showed patience with programs that showed promise. One such show was the critically acclaimed Hill Street Blues, which rated poorly in its first season. Instead of canceling it, he moved the Emmy-winning police drama to Thursday night where its ratings improved dramatically. He followed the same tactic with St. Elsewhere; shows like these were able to get the same ad revenue as their higher-rated, mass-audience competition because of their high numbers in the right demographics, mainly upscale, 18-34 year old viewers [13]. While the network could claim mid-sized successes with Gimme a Break!, Silver Spoons, Knight Rider and Remington Steele, the network's biggest hit by far in this period was The A-Team, which, at 10th place, was the network's only Top 20 rated show of the 1982-1983 season. Shows like these helped them through the disastrous 1983-1984 season in which none of its new shows saw a second year. These nine series were: Bay City Blues, Boone, For Love and Honor, Jennifer Slept Here, Manimal, The Rousters, Mr. Smith, We Got it Made, and The Yellow Rose. This is the only time in history that a network's entire line of new series has failed to be renewed for a second season since the network's fall 1978 lineup.

In 1982, the network canceled Tom Snyder's The Tomorrow Show and gave the time slot to 34-year-old comedian David Letterman. Though Letterman had had an unsuccessful daytime series in 1980, Late Night with David Letterman proved much more successful.

In 1984, the huge success of The Cosby Show led to a renewed interest in sitcoms, while Family Ties and Cheers, both of which premiered in 1982 to mediocre ratings, saw their viewership levels increase exponentially from having Cosby as a lead-in. The network moved from third place to second place that year, and claimed first place in the Nielsen rankings in the 1985-1986 season thanks to smash hits like The Golden Girls, Miami Vice, 227, Night Court, Highway to Heaven, and Hunter. The network's upswing continued throughout the decade thanks to such shows as ALF, Amen, Matlock, L.A. Law, The Hogan Family, A Different World, Empty Nest, and In the Heat of the Night. In the 1988-1989 season, NBC won every week in the ratings for over a full year, an achievement not since duplicated.

"Must See TV" and beyond

In 1991, Tartikoff left NBC to take a position at Paramount Pictures. In one decade he had taken control of a network with no shows in the Nielsen Top 10 and left it with five. Warren Littlefield took his place; his start was shaky due to the end of most of the Tartikoff-era hits; additionally, some blamed him for losing David Letterman to CBS after giving The Tonight Show to Jay Leno when Johnny Carson retired in 1992. Things soon turned around with such hit series Mad About You, Friends, Frasier, ER, and Will & Grace. It was during this period that Seinfeld, one of Tartikoff's later acquisitions, became TV's number-one rated show. The famous Must-See TV tag line was applied to Thursday night's seemingly unbeatable lineup. Unfortunately, this was not to last.

When CBS chose Survivor to anchor its Thursday night line-up, its success was taken as a suggestion that NBC's nearly two decades of Thursday night dominance could be broken. With the loss of Friends and Frasier in 2004, NBC was faced with several moderately-rated shows and few true ratings hits. This, combined with CBS's popular CSI franchise, FOX's American Idol, and ABC hits such as Lost, Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy, has led to NBC being currently ranked as the fourth most watched television network in the United States, after CBS, a resurgent ABC, and Fox. Adding to thier programming woes NBC (and all of the networks) faced shrinking audiences due to increased competition from cable, home video, and the internet.

During the 2004-05 season, NBC became the first major television network to start producing its programming in widescreen, with the hopes of attracting new viewers. Though NBC did see a slight boost in viewers, NBC didn't get any real ratings rise, since widescreen television has yet to catch on in popular culture.

In December 2005, NBC began its first-ever week-long primetime game show event, Deal or No Deal, to big ratings by the end of its first week-long run and returned multi-weekly in March 2006. Having enjoyed sustained success, Deal or No Deal returned in the fall of 2006. But otherwise the 2005-06 season would be one of the worst for NBC in three decades, with only one series (My Name Is Earl) that debuted that fall surviving into a second season. The 2006-07 season was a mixed bag, with Heroes becoming a surprise hit on Monday nights, while the highly-anticipated Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (from the creator of one one of NBC's more recent hit dramas The West Wing) lost a third of its premiere-night viewers by week six and was eventually canned by the end of the season. The return of NFL football (eight years after NBC originally lost their rights), the still-strong Deal or No Deal, and the third season of The Office (fresh off its Emmy Award win for Outstanding Comedy Series) have so far not helped NBC out of fourth place.

It was reported in March 2007 that NBC will let viewers buy full-length prime-time television shows like The Office and Heroes on-demand to play on mobile phones. This will be a first for the United States. It is the latest effort by media and wireless companies to entice consumers to watch video on their phones.[14]

Programming

NBC presently operates on an 87-hour regular network programming schedule. It provides 22 hours of prime time programming to affiliated stations: 8:00-11:00 p.m.(ET/PT)/7:00-10:00 p.m.(CT,MT,AT,HT) Monday through Saturday and 7:00-11:00 p.m. on Sundays. Programming is also provided 7:00-11:00 a.m. weekdays in the form of Today, which also has a two-hour Saturday and one-hour Sunday edition; anytime between 12:00-3:00 p.m. weekdays (currently the soap Days of our Lives); nightly editions of NBC Nightly News; the Sunday political talk show Meet the Press; weekday early-morning news program Early Today; late night talk shows The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Conan O'Brien and Last Call with Carson Daly; sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live; Late-late-night poker series Poker After Dark; weeknight rebroadcasts of The Tonight Show under the banner NBC All Night; and a three-hour Saturday morning animation block under the name qubo. In addition, sports programming is also provided weekend afternoons any time from 12:00-6:00 p.m. ET, or tape-delayed PT.

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