History of the Major Television Networks NBC Part 1

About the history of the major television network NBC or the National Broadcasting Company the nation's first radio network and then largest television network.



Origin: The National Broadcasting Company began operation as a radio network (the nation's first) in 1926. By the following year, it had two divisions (the Red and the Blue networks). In 1932 NBC installed its first television transmitter atop New York's Empire State Building, and during 1939 beamed a number of experimental programs from this tower to be seen at the World's Fair. By 1941, 23 TV stations were operating in America, but W.W. II put development of the medium on the back burner.

In 1943 a federal antitrust ruling forced NBC to sell its Blue network, which later became ABC. NBC initiated network TV operations in 1945 (the same year it began video newscasts) with just three affiliates--New York, Schenectady, and Philadelphia. Today, NBC-Television has 219 affiliates.

Highlights in History: On Apr. 30, 1939, NBC televised Franklin D. Roosevelt, the first U.S. president to appear on the medium while in office. The following month, it produced the first televised baseball game (Princeton versus Columbia at Baker Field). The network's first "smash hit" was the Texaco Star Theatre in 1948. Its first true "spectacular" was the two-hour Ford Show starring Mary Martin and Ethel Merman in 1949. By 1953 the "showpiece" of network TV news was NBC's 15-minute Camel News Caravan.

In 1952 the network provided the country with its first full coverage of political conventions, both the Democratic and Republican conclaves, held in Philadelphia.

In 1953 most dramatic productions were live and originated in New York, including two excellent NBC "playhouses" sponsored by Philco and Goodyear.

Although major Hollywood film producers boycotted TV at first and regarded it as a lethal enemy, by the mid-1950s they began to make package deals to sell their old pictures to the networks and began to turn over their studios to the production of TV dramas.

In 1957 NBC set up such an alliance with MCA, and the creation of serious live TV theater in New York faded away as activity shifted to the West Coast. (By the early 1970s, "television factories" like Universal were producing most of the prime-time dramas. Said one Uni executive, "Just as General Motors turns out cars, we turn out TV shows. It's a business.")

In the late 1950s, a quiz show craze brought a dozen live question-and-answer programs onto the air, but in 1959 revelations that many of them had been "fixed" shifted emphasis to telefilm and news.

NBC executives have defended their reluctance to air important news documentaries by noting that such programs are expensive (up to $100,000 to produce one hour); that they are poorly supported by controversy-hating advertisers; and that they are often canceled out by affiliates who disagree with the views expressed. They also produce great amounts of public criticism. ("The attacks come when we do our best," said one network officer to Newsweek. "Nothing is said when we do our worst.")

Yet the NBC network has gained plaudits in the past for an acclaimed series of specials on American foreign policy; for the production of The Tunnel in 1962, which portrayed the escape of refugees under the Berlin Wall; for its scoop in covering the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald live from Dallas in 1963; and for its extensive coverage of the assassination and funeral of Robert Kennedy, on which it says about $800,000 was spent.

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