History of the Major Television Networks ABC Part 1

About the history of the major television network ABC or the American Broadcasting Company, highlights including the McCarthy-Army hearings.



Origin: ABC Television grew out of the ABC Radio Network, which was originally NBC's second, or Blue network. When a federal antitrust forced NBC to sell the Blue in 1943, it went for $8 million to Lifesaver manufacturer Edward J. Noble, who helped to develop the present corporation.

Highlights in History: Television operations did not begin until the end of W.W. II. For many years ABC remained the "runt of the networks," offering virtually no daytime programming and finding itself unable to obtain affiliates except in the largest three-network cities. (In smaller towns, ABC was frequently one of several networks purchased by independent affiliates.)

In April of 1954, ABC reached the major turning point in its history by taking the initiative and offering full daytime coverage of Senate hearings pitting Communist-hunter Joseph McCarthy against the U.S. Army. It thereby beat out NBC and CBS, put itself on the map, and was able to begin operations as a "full-time" network. By 1960 it was boasting that it had rating "leadership" in a number of the three-network cities.

Largely responsible for this "leadership" was ABC's early entry into the telefilm business (partly due to its 1953 merger with Paramount Theaters Corporation). In 1954, ABC was the first network to work out agreements with top Hollywood producers (Disney and Warner Brothers) to have them produce filmed dramatic series for TV. Warners did a number of shows, including the highly successful Cheyenne series, which led to a spate of TV westerns on all channels and shared time and attention with the vastly popular late-1950s quiz shows.

In 1959 it was revealed that the quiz programs were often rigged, and at ABC the resulting scandal shifted attention to the increasingly successful action--adventure format. By 1960 ABC was presenting the most popular violent TV series of the year, The Untouchables, as well as other bang-bang-shoot-em-ups like 77 Sunset Strip, The Rifleman, and Hawaiian Eye.

In 1961 ABC inaugurated the 40-second break between programs, allowing its salesmen to offer four 10-second advertising spots instead of the three that fit into the old 30-second slot. The other networks followed.

In 1968 the federal government prohibited a proposed merger between ABC and the giant conglomerate IT & T.

In 1970 ABC was presenting the year's most successful show, Marcus Welby, M.D., and capitalizing on a rising wave of interest in hospital shows.

In 1971 ABC helped kick off the detective craze by initiating a number of cops-and-robbers thrillers. (1971 was also the year the networks lost substantial revenue because cigarette ads were banned.)

In the fall of 1976, ABC ceased being an "also-ran" and hit number one in the crucial Nielsen ratings.

(Advertisers also predicted that the cost of reaching 1,000 functioning TV sets by way of ABC during prime time might rise from the current average of $4.50 to a new high of $10 "in the near future.")

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