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Television and the Power of Visual Culture. Chapter 5.

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“…the creators of a current network sitcom, The Office, have broken new ground by revamping the show’s look and structure, shooting the program documentary style (like the original British version). The Office feels like a hybrid program, located somewhere between the more traditional comedy and a reality program.”
television the good and the bad



1960s Civil Rights

Times of crisis

McCarthy hearings



Impact on kids

Impact on disturbed


Television: The Good and the Bad
television development
Television Development
  • Paul Nipkow
    • 1880s
    • Nipkow Disk
      • Broke pictures into light units that could be “sent” and decoded by a receiver
  • Zworykin and Farnsworth
    • Develop electronic broadcasting methods
    • Farnsworth makes distance broadcasting.
      • Beats RCA in ugly patent suit
image quality
Image Quality
  • 1930s sees U.S. adopt NTSC.
    • Standardized set production
  • Other countries have higher-resolution scanning rates.
    • Results in better picture
  • These differences became obsolete with the arrival of all-digital broadcast and reception.
digital television and converters
Digital Television and Converters
  • By 2009, rabbit ears and rooftop antennas will be rendered useless unless they are tethered to a digital converter.
  • The National Telecommunications and Information Administration helped consumers pay for new converters.
  • The digital signal provides a superior image compared with its analog predecessor.
  • In Golden Age (1950s) single-sponsor programs typical
    • Colgate Comedy Hour
    • Kraft
    • GE
  • Networks feared sponsor control.
    • Dispute over content, in particular
  • Enter Pat Weaver
    • Forced advertisers out by raising costs
weaver s strategies
Weaver’s Strategies
  • Increased length of average program
  • Increased sponsor cost as a result
  • Used the “spectacular”
  • Used the magazine format
  • Used musical specials
  • Plus…
the quiz show scandals
Examples are $64,000 Question and Twenty-One.

Corporate sponsors encouraged rigging to

heighten drama and get rid of unappealing


Scandal ended sponsor’s role in creating


Undermined democratic possibilities of


Spawned contemporary cynicism

The Quiz-Show Scandals
the big three networks
The Big Three Networks
  • NBC
    • Meet the Press since 1947
    • Huntley-Brinkley in 1956
  • CBS
    • Walter Cronkite
    • First to use affiliates
    • 60 Minutes
    • Katie Couric hired in 2006
  • ABC
    • World News Tonight
  • Networks dominate until about 1980.
tv comedy
TV Comedy
  • Sketch comedy
    • Your Show of Shows (1950–1954), Carol Burnett Show (1967–1979)
  • Situation comedy or sitcom
    • I Love Lucy, Seinfeld, 30 Rock
  • Domestic comedy
    • Will & Grace, The Office
drama anthologies vs episodes
One time


Writers’ vehicle

Actor’s vehicle

Required more from an audience?

Associated with Golden Age of TV

More suited to weekly grind

Same characters week after week

Less creativity demanded with pre-fab characters


Drama:Anthologies vs. Episodes
law order criminal intent desperate housewives grey s anatomy lost 24 csi
Law & Order: Criminal Intent

Desperate Housewives

Grey’s Anatomy




Guess which format survives?
Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 eventually creates PBS in 1969

Charged with creating “high quality” programs

Does it still serve a purpose?

Who will decide?

what breaks down network dominance
What breaks down network dominance?
  • Independents
    • Superstations
      • Ted Turner and WTBS
  • HBO
    • Satellite delivery
    • FCC comes to cable’s rescue in 1972.
  • VCR
    • Time shifting
  • DVRs (digital video recorders)
    • Users can record multiple programs at any time.
    • Will DVRs shatter our current notion of prime-time television?
fcc temporarily restricts networks
FCC Temporarily Restricts Networks
  • Prime Time Access Rule (1970)
    • Reduced network control of prime time
    • Gave up 7:30–8 PM time slot
  • Led to rise of infotainment
    • Cheap celebrity and quiz shows
  • Fin-syn
    • End of extorting profits from old programs in syndication
what news corp owns
What News Corp. Owns

• British Sky Broadcasting

(38% stake, UK)

• SKY Italia


• Fox Sports Radio Network

• Classic FM

• Sky Radio Germany


• 20th Century Fox

• Fox Searchlight Pictures

• Fox Television Studios

• Blue Sky Studios


• New York Post

• Wall Street Journal

• Ottaway Newspapers

(twenty-seven local papers)

• News International Limited


• The Times (UK)

• News Limited (110

Australian newspapers)


• The Weekly Standard

• TV Guide (2% stake)

• donna hay (Australia)


• HarperCollins (US, UK,

Australia, New Zealand,

Canada, India)

• Zondervan


• Fox Interactive Media





– MarketWatch (online

business news)


• Fox Broadcasting Company

• Thirty-five television

stations (selected stations)

– KCOP (MyNetworkTV, Los


– KTTV (FOX, Los Angeles)

– KMSP (FOX, Minneapolis)

– WFTC (MyNetworkTV,


– WNYW (FOX, New York


– WWOR (MyNetworkTV,

New York City)

DBS & Cable

• Fox Movie Channel

• Fox News Channel

• Fox Reality

• Fox Sports International

• Fox Sports Net


• FX


• National Geographic

Channel (67% stake)

the business end of tv
The Business End of TV
  • Deficit financing
  • Network-produced programming
    • Reality TV
    • Low quality, high profit
    • Newsmagazines
  • Syndication and reruns
    • Evergreens
on the fringe
On the Fringe
  • Fringe time
    • Just before prime time
    • Off-network syndication
      • Old programs
    • First-run syndication
      • Programs produced for syndication
  • Cash and barter
    • Selling and controlling distribution
a c nielsen
A. C. Nielsen
  • Ratings
    • Percentage of households tuned to a sampled program
  • Shares
    • Percentage of homes tuned to a program, compared with those actually using their sets at the time of sample
the future of television
The Future of Television
  • Television is the main storytelling medium of our time
  • Big Three networks have lost more than 50% of audience since 1980s
  • How can TV maintain its cultural relevance?