Formed in 1926 by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), NBC was the first major broadcast network in the United States. In 1986, control of NBC passed to General Electric (GE), with GE's $6.4 billion purchase of RCA. After the acquisition, the chief executive of NBC was Bob Wright, until he retired, giving his job to Jeff Zucker. The network is currently part of the media company NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric and Vivendi.
NBC is available in an estimated 112 million households, or 98.6% of the country. NBC has 10 owned-and-operated stations and nearly 200 affiliates in the United States and its territories.
WEAF acted as a laboratory for AT&T's manufacturing and supply outlet Western Electric, whose products included transmitters and antennas. The Bell System, AT&T's telephone utility, was developing technologies to transmit voice- and music-grade audio over short and long distances, using both wireless and wired methods. The 1922 creation of WEAF offered a research-and-development center for those activities. WEAF had a regular schedule of radio programs, including some of the first commercially sponsored programs, and was an immediate success. In an early example of chain or networking broadcasting, the station linked with the Outlet Company's WJAR in Providence, Rhode Island; and with AT&T's station in Washington, D.C., WCAP.
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. AT&T refused outside companies access to its high-quality phone lines. The early effort fared poorly, since the uninsulated telegraph lines were susceptible to atmospheric and other electrical interference.
In 1925, AT&T decided WEAF and its embryonic network were incompatible with AT&T's primary goal of providing a telephone service. AT&T offered to sell the station to RCA in a deal that included the right to lease AT&T's phone lines for network transmission.
WEAF and WJZ, the flagships of the two earlier networks, 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 color designations for the two networks came from the color 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.
RCA moved its corporate headquarters into the new Rockefeller Center in 1933, signing the leases in 1931. RCA was the lead tenant at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the RCA Building (now the GE Building). The building housed NBC studios, as well as theaters for RCA-owned RKO Pictures. Rockefeller Center's founder and financier John D. Rockefeller, Jr., arranged the deal with the chairman of GE, Owen D. Young, and the president of RCA, David Sarnoff.
After losing its final appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court in May 1943, RCA sold Blue Network Company, Inc., for $8 million to Life Savers magnate Edward J. Noble, completing the sale in October 1943. 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 better name for the network and in 1944 acquired the rights to the name American Broadcasting Company from George Storer. The Blue Network became ABC officially on June 15, 1945, after the sale was completed.
In the golden days of network broadcasting, 1930 to 1950, NBC was at 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 serialized programming in the original radio era, both comedies and soap operas. The appeal of the two struggling title characters landed a broad audience, especially during the Great Depression.
NBC 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 and Allen called NBC home, as did Arturo Toscanini's NBC Symphony Orchestra, which the network helped him create. Other programs were Vic and Sade, Fibber McGee and Molly, The Great Gildersleeve (arguably broadcasting's first spin-off program, from Fibber McGee), One Man's Family, Ma Perkins, and Death Valley Days. NBC stations were often the most powerful, and some occupied unique clear-channel national frequencies, reaching many hundreds or thousands of miles at night.
In the late 1940s, rival Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) gained ground by allowing radio stars to use their own production companies, which was a tax break. In early radio years, stars and programs commonly hopped between networks when their short-term contracts expired. In 1948–49, beginning with the nation's top radio star, Jack Benny, many NBC performers jumped to CBS.
In addition, NBC stars began moving toward television, including comedian Milton Berle, whose Texaco Star Theater on NBC became television's first major hit. Conductor Arturo Toscanini made 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 radio lineup, much of which had jumped from NBC with Jack Benny, NBC launched The Big Show in November 1950. This 90-minute variety show updated radio's earliest musical variety style with sophisticated comedy and dramatic presentations. Featuring stage legend Tallulah Bankhead as hostess, it lured prestigious entertainers, including Fred Allen, Groucho Marx, Lauritz Melchior, Ethel Barrymore, Louis Armstrong, Ethel Merman, Bob Hope, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Ella Fitzgerald. But The Big Show's initial success didn't last despite critical praise. The show endured two years, with NBC losing perhaps a million dollars on the project.
NBC's last major radio programming push, beginning June 12, 1955, was Monitor, a continuous all-weekend mixture of music, news, interviews and features, with a variety of hosts including well-known television personalities Dave Garroway, Hugh Downs, Ed McMahon, Joe Garagiola and Gene Rayburn. The potpourri show tried to keep vintage radio alive by featuring segments from Jim and Marian Jordan (in character as Fibber McGee and Molly); Peg Lynch's dialog comedy Ethel and Albert (with Alan Bunce); and iconoclastic satirist Henry Morgan. Monitor was a success for a number of years, but after the mid-1960s, local stations, especially in larger markets, were reluctant to break from their established formats to run non-conforming network programming. After Monitor went off the air January 26, 1975, little remained of NBC network radio beyond hourly newscasts and news features.
GE acquired NBC in 1986, and it decided that radio did not fit its strategy. In the summer of 1987, GE sold NBC Radio's network operations to Westwood One, and sold off the NBC-owned stations to different 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 Mutual Broadcasting System, which Westwood One had acquired two years earlier, met the same fate, and essentially merged with NBC Radio.
By the late 1990s, Westwood One was producing NBC-branded newscasts on weekday mornings only. About 2003 these were discontinued, and the remaining NBC Radio Network affiliates began to receive CNN Radio-branded newscasts around the clock. Westwood One also distributed a new service called NBC News Radio, brief news updates read by television anchors and reporters from NBC News and MSNBC.
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. The David Sarnoff Library has available an actual, off-the-monitor photograph of the FDR telecast. 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 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. 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.
Television's experimental period ended, and the FCC allowed full commercial telecasting to begin on July 1 1941. NBC's New York station W2XBS received the first commercial license, adopting the call letters WNBT (it is now WNBC-TV). The first official, paid television commercial on that day broadcast by any station in the United States was for Bulova Watches, seen just before the start of a Brooklyn Dodgers telecast on NBC's WNBT, New York. A test pattern, featuring the newly assigned WNBT call letters, was modified to look like a clock, complete with functioning hands. The Bulova logo, with the phrase "Bulova Watch Time", was shown in the lower right-hand quadrant of the test pattern. A photograph of the NBC camera telecasting the test pattern-advertisement for that first official TV commercial can be seen at http://www.earlytelevision.org/images/rca_bulova_ad-1.jpg 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 V-E Day, May 8, 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 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. The vivid coverage was a prelude to television's rapid growth after the war ended. The NBC television network grew from its initial post-war lineup of four stations. The 1947 World Series featured two New York teams (Yankees and Dodgers), and local TV sales boomed, since the games were telecast in New York. More stations along the East Coast and in the Midwest were connected by coaxial cable through the late 1940s, and in September 1951 the first transcontinental telecasts took place.
The early 1950s brought success for NBC in the new medium. Television's first big star, Milton Berle, drew large audiences to NBC with his antics on the The Texaco Star Theater. Legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini, who had been conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra on radio since 1937, conducted ten concerts on NBC television between 1948 and 1952. All of these concerts were simulcast on radio, a pioneering event at that time. The simulcasts included a two-part complete performance in concert of Verdi's opera Aida, starring Richard Tucker and Herva Nelli, and the first complete televised performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The network launched Today and The Tonight Show, which would bookend the broadcast day for over fifty years, and which still lead their competitors.
In 1967, NBC acquired MGM's classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz after CBS, which had televised the film beginning in 1956, had been unwilling to meet MGM's increased price for more television showings. Oz had been, up to then, one of the few programs that CBS had telecast in color, but by 1967, color was the norm on TV, and the film became another in the list of color specials telecast by NBC. The network showed the film annually for eight years, beginning in 1968, after which CBS, realizing that they may have committed a colossal blunder by letting it go, now agreed to pay MGM more money so that the rights to show the film could revert back to them.
Two distinctive features of the film's showings on NBC were:
In 1974 under new president Herb Schlosser, the network tried to go after younger viewers with a series of costly movies, miniseries and specials. This failed to attract the desirable 18-34 demographic, and alienated older viewers. NBC did launch the 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, and a desperate NBC lured Fred Silverman away from number-one ABC to 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 had greenlighted at CBS and ABC. A popular joke arised in the late 1970s on NBC is the "Nothing But Crap", "NoBody Cares" and "Nobody's Watching Network" to mock the network's slogan: "America's Watching Network".
Also during this time, NBC suffered the defections of several longtime affiliates in markets such as: Atlanta (WSB), Baltimore (WBAL), Charlotte (WSOC), Dayton (WDTN), Indianapolis (WRTV), Jacksonville (WTLV), Minneapolis-St. Paul (KSTP-TV), and San Diego (KGTV). Most were wooed away by ABC, which was the number-one network during the late 1970s and early 1980s. In markets such as San Diego, Charlotte, and Jacksonville, NBC was forced to replace the lost stations with new affiliates broadcasting on the UHF band. Other smaller television markets like Yuma, Arizona waited many years to get another local NBC affiliate (see TV stations KVIA and KYEL).
When U.S. President Jimmy Carter pulled the American team out of the 1980 Summer Olympics, NBC canceled a planned 150 hours of coverage (which had cost $87,000,000), and the network's future was in doubt. It had been counting on $170,000,000 in advertising revenues and on the broadcasts to help promote fall shows.
The press was merciless towards Silverman, but two of the most savage attacks on his leadership came from within. The company that composed NBC's on-air promo music created a spoof of the Proud as a Peacock ad campaign. Comedian Al Franken satirized Silverman in a Saturday Night Live sketch titled "Limo for a Lame-O." Silverman admitted he "never liked Al Franken to begin with", and the sketch may have hurt Franken's chance of succeeding Lorne Michaels as executive producer of SNL.
In 1982 NBC 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 increase from having Cosby as a lead-in. The network moved from third place to second place that year. It reached first place in the Nielsen rankings in the 1985-86 season, with hits The Golden Girls, Miami Vice, 227, Night Court, Highway to Heaven, and Hunter. The network's upswing continued through the decade with ALF, Amen, Matlock, L.A. Law, The Hogan Family, A Different World, Empty Nest, and In the Heat of the Night. In the 1988-89 season, NBC won every week in the ratings for over a full year, an achievement not since duplicated.
With the 2004-05 season, NBC became the first major network to produce its programming in widescreen, hoping to attract new viewers. NBC saw only a slight boost since widescreen television had yet to catch on.
In December 2005, NBC began its first week-long primetime game show event, Deal or No Deal, garnering high ratings, and returning multi-weekly in March 2006. On sustained success, Deal or No Deal returned in the fall of 2006. Otherwise, the 2005-06 season was one of the worst for NBC in three decades, with only one fall series, the sitcom My Name Is Earl, surviving for a second season. The 2006-07 season was a mixed bag, with Heroes becoming a surprise hit on Monday nights, while the highly touted Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, from the creator of NBC's hit drama The West Wing, lost a third of its premiere-night viewers by week six and was eventually canceled. Sunday Night NFL football returned to NBC after eight years, Deal or No Deal stayed strong, and its comedies The Office and 30 Rock won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series for three consecutive years. However, NBC stayed in fourth place, and has remained so ever since.
In March 2007, NBC announced that it will offer 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, as the market shifts away from traditional television.
Returning comedies are in red; new comedies are in pink; returning dramas are in green ; new dramas are in blue; returning reality shows are in yellow; new reality shows are in gold; returning game shows are in orange ; new game shows are in beige ; news programming is in brown; sports programming is in purple.
|7:00 p.m.||7:30 p.m.||8:00 p.m.||8:30 p.m.||9:00 p.m.||9:30 p.m.||10:00 p.m.||10:30 p.m.|
|Sunday †||Football Night in America||Sunday Night Football|
|Monday||Local programming||Chuck||Heroes||My Own Worst Enemy|
|Tuesday||The Biggest Loser||Law & Order: Special Victims Unit|
|Wednesday||Knight Rider||Deal or No Deal||Lipstick Jungle|
|Thursday||My Name Is Earl||Kath & Kim||The Office||30 Rock||ER|
|Friday||Crusoe||America's Toughest Jobs||Life|
|Saturday||Dateline NBC||Knight Rider||Law & Order: Special Victims Unit|
Long-running NBC daytime dramas of the past include Another World (1964–1999), The Doctors (1963–1982), Passions (1999-2007), which later moved to the DirecTV-exclusive channel The 101 for its final year on the air, and Santa Barbara (1984–1993). NBC also aired the final four and a half years of Search for Tomorrow (1982–1986) after that series was dropped by CBS, although many NBC affiliates did not air the show in its final years. NBC has also aired numerous short-lived soaps; Generations (1989–1991) and Sunset Beach (1997–1999) are a couple of examples, as are two Another World spin-offs, Somerset (1970–1976) and Texas (1980–1982).
Notable long-running daytime game shows that have aired on NBC include Concentration, Let's Make a Deal, The Match Game, Jeopardy!, The Hollywood Squares, Wheel of Fortune, Password Plus/Super Password, Sale of the Century and Scrabble. The last game show to air on NBC's daytime schedule, Caesars Challenge, ended in January 1994. However, some shows that previously aired on NBC continue in syndication.
Children's programming has always played a part in NBC's programming since its initial roots in television. In 1947, NBC's first major children's series was Howdy Doody, one of the era's first breakthrough television shows. The series, which ran for 13 years, featured a frecklefaced marionette and a myriad of other characters and hosted by "Buffalo" Bob Smith. Howdy Doody spent most of its run on weekday afternoons.
In 1956, NBC abandoned the children's programming lineup on weekday afternoons, relegating the lineup to Saturdays only with Howdy Doody as their marquee franchise for the series' remaining four years. From the mid-1960s until 1992, the bulk of NBC's children's programming were derived from theatrical shorts like The Pink Panther Show and Looney Tunes, reruns of popular television series like The Flintstones and The Jetsons, foreign acquisitions like Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion, original animated series (most notably The Smurfs and Alvin and the Chipmunks in the 1980s), cartoon adaptations of Mr. T, ALF and Star Trek, and original live-action series including The Banana Splits, The Bugaloos, and H.R. Pufnstuf.
From 1984 to 1989, One to Grow On PSAs were shown after the end credits of every show or every other children's show.
In 1989, NBC premiered Saved by the Bell, which originated at The Disney Channel as Good Morning, Miss Bliss. Saved by the Bell, despite bad reviews from tv critics, would become one of the most popular teen series in television history as well as the number one series on Saturday mornings, dethroning The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show in its first season.
NBC abandoned the animated series in August 1992 in favor of a Saturday edition of Today and more live-action series under the name TNBC (Teen NBC). Most of the series on the TNBC lineup were series produced by Peter Engel such as City Guys, Hang Time, California Dreams, One World and the Saved by the Bell spinoff, Saved by the Bell: The New Class. Though there were exceptions, the short-lived Just Deal, one of only two series without a studio audience and/or laugh track and the only "filmed" series was co-created and executive produced by Thomas W. Lynch. NBA Inside Stuff was also a part of the TNBC lineup during the duration of the NBA season. In 2000, after eleven years NBC discontinued the TNBC Saturday morning block.
In 2002, NBC began a deal with Discovery Communications' Discovery Kids channel to air their original FCC-mandated educational programming under the banner Discovery Kids on NBC. The schedule originally consisted of only live-action series, including a kid-themed version of Trading Spaces and J. D. Roth's Emmy-nominated reality game show Endurace, but has expanded to include some animated series such as Kenny the Shark, Tutenstein, and Time Warp Trio. In 2006, Discovery Kids on NBC was discontinued.
In May 2006, in order to replace the Discovery Kids Saturday Morning block, NBC announced plans to launch a new children's block on Saturday mornings starting in September 2006 as part of the qubo endeavor teaming parent company NBC Universal with ION Media Networks, Scholastic Press, Corus Entertainment and Classic Media/Mike Young. qubo will include blocks to air on NBC, Telemundo (the Spanish-language network owned by NBC Universal), and ION Media Networks's ION Television, as well as a 24/7 digital broadcast kids channel, video on demand services and a branded website.
The "Discovery Kids on NBC" block aired for the final time on September 2, 2006. On Saturday, September 9, 2006, NBC started airing the following qubo programs: VeggieTales, Dragon, VeggieTales Presents: 3-2-1 Penguins!, Babar, Jane and the Dragon, and Jacob Two-Two.
In 2001–2002, NBC briefly changed its web address to " NBCi.com", in a heavily-advertised attempt to launch an Internet portal and start page. This move saw NBC teaming up with XOOM.com, e-mail.com, AllBusiness.com, and Snap.com (eventually acquiring all four of them), launching a multi-faceted internet portal with e-mail, webhosting, community, chat, personalization and news capabilities. This experiment lasted roughly one season, failed, and NBCi was folded back into NBC. The NBC-TV portion of the website reverted to NBC.com. However, the NBCi web site continued as a portal for NBC-branded content (NBCi.com redirected to NBCi.msnbc.com), using a co-branded version of InfoSpace to deliver minimal portal content. In mid 2007, NBCi.com began to mirror NBC.com.
Most of NBC Europe's prime time programming was produced in Europe due to rights restriction associated with US primetime shows, but after 11PM Central European Time on weekday evenings, the channel aired The Tonight Show, Late Night with Conan O'Brien and Saturday Night Live, hence its slogan "Where the Stars Come Out at Night." Most NBC News programs were broadcast on NBC Europe, including Dateline NBC and NBC Nightly News, which was aired live. The Today Show was also initially shown live in the afternoons, but was later broadcast the following morning instead, by which time it was more than half a day old.
In 1999, NBC Europe stopped broadcasting to most of Europe. At the same time the network was relaunched as a German language computer channel, targeting a young demographic. The main show on the new NBC Europe was called NBC GIGA. In 2005, the channel was relaunched once again, this time as a free-to-air channel under the name "Das Vierte". GIGA started an own digital channel then, which can be received via satellite and many cable networks in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Notable in-house productions of NBC included Get Smart, Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie, Las Vegas and Crossing Jordan. NBC sold the rights to their pre-1973 shows to National Telefilm Associates in 1973, and are today owned by CBS Paramount Television/CBS Studios.
NBC continues to own its post-1973 productions, through sister company NBC Universal Television (the successor to Universal TV), and as a result, NBC in a way now owns several other series aired on the network prior to 1973 (such as Wagon Train).