In Greece, television appeared in 1966, surprisingly late compared to Ireland (1960) and Portugal (1955), two of the European countries with whom Greece has a more or less equal living standard and a few other social affinities. The first national network was EPT, a state monopoly which owned the three national radio stations. A second network (YENEA) was created in 1968 and operated under military control. Since Greece was under a junta regime from 1967 to 1974, this second network served as the official organ of the military government. During this first period, the two channels offered a program of about seven hours a day, beginning about 5:00 or 6:00 P.M. with rather inexpensive American children's shows, usually cartoons. The program schedule continued with "family shows" (Denis The Menace, Hazel) which normally had been hits in the United States during the late 1950s and early 1960s and belonged to the kiddy hour. For the first three or four years the networks were supplied with popular, if somewhat old, American sitcoms (such as I Love Lucy), series (such as Peyton Place, Combat, Bonanza, Mannix, Hawaii 5-0, The Fugitive), and crooner shows (Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Andy Williams, Diahann Carroll). This description of television hardly changed radically in the following years. In the late 1960s and early 1970s Greece was isolated from Europe (it did not become a member of the Common Market until May 1979), and lived under American influence. Nevertheless, around 1970 Greek series started to be made and were shown with enormous success. Perhaps the most successful ever were the bluntly propagandistic Unknown War---a purely military product, financed by the army--and The Strange Voyager, a pompous pseudo-noir series with an incongruous plot.

The booming Greek movie industry, which had reached its peak in the 1967-68 season (118 films and four million movie-goers), started to decline soon after. Some 50% of the moviehouses closed in only five years and the local movie moguls (notably Philopoimin Finos, Spentzos and Zervos) provided the networks with countless innocuous old movies which became a considerable part of the program. From 1966 to 1974 Greek comedies (mostly farces but also comedies of manners), "urban" tear-jerkers, bucolic tear-jerkers and heroic war adventures were sold to the networks and shown in prime time. (The most popular of these movies were shown on Saturday evenings, the traditional movie time for Greeks.) In 1969 and 1970 a "new" movie genre emerged, a kind of grotesquely tasteless musical (in color), which made its way to the small screen. Thus, in the early 1970s, Greek cinema production and audiences tended to shrink pathetically while both networks thrived despite heavy censorship, poor taste and a low technical level.

Although the technical know-how was, not amazingly, deficient, early Greek television was not short of stars. People who had worked successfully for the radio and the stage revue excelled as television hosts although they grossly imitated their American counterparts and were too willing to collaborate with the military authorities. Nikos Mastorakis was the TV personality sine qua non of the dictatorship years.

The main income of EPT came from the so-called contribution of the citizens which was (and still is) incorporated into the bi-monthly bill of the AEH (the National Electricity Company). This method of financing the state monopoly seems unique worldwide: the "contribution" is added automatically to the bill even if one does not possess a TV set. A supplementary income came from commercials but TV advertisement was by no means the colossal business it is today. Spots in the actual meaning of the term were unthinkable. Programs were never interrupted for the sake of a commercial, rather they just preceded programs in very modest quantities. Besides 70 to 90% of the TV commercials were imported, as were the products they promoted.

There were a few differences between the two networks: for example, YENEA was better managed, had a very "populist" program, and its general expenses were covered by the Department of Defence; it also had higher ratings (two-thirds of the viewers) attracting the biggest portion of commercials. EPT was disorderly--the epitome of bureaucracy in the public sector--and its program was high-brow and pretentious: 80% of its income (10% of which came from commercials) hardly covered its general expenses (which included a sluggish crowd of civil servants mostly appointed in a debauch of favoritism). Only 10% of the income was conveyed to the program which was more or less a random matter.

Another emblematic feature of early Greek television was its fondness of sports which soon enough turned to an obsession. The junta years were clearly marked by a soccer-mania of Latin American style, a fact that television nurtured and exploited to the extreme. It took only six years for television to displace cinema (in the 1972-73 season only 60 Greek movies were shot and there was a 30% decrease in the box-office sales) and to raise soccer to a matter of national pride.

In July 1974 after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the Greek Junta collapsed. It was a time of jubilation. Greek life teemed with new plans and promises, and with new faces too, as many exiled intellectuals came back home carrying a European aura. For several years political discourses seemed to prevail; there was time and space for little else. Modern Greece was a country that had never enjoyed basic civil rights and it plunged into politics fervently. The TV networks were more or less delivered to the center-right wing government, elected by an unprecedented landslide in November 1974. Nevertheless an equally phenomenal procedure of modernization was undertaken. Roviro Manthoulis, a Greek filmmaker who lived in France was the main figure of this effort concerning EPT. As an executive manager of EPT he tried to alter structures and improve programs, in spite of state interventions, continual internal crisis and bad publicity from the ultra-conservative press.

From 1974 to 1981 (the year when the Social Democrats came into power), Greek television came of age. Although Roviros Manthoulis resigned in January 1977, he left a very useful legacy of honesty and competence. During this period the correlation between EPT and YENEA changed dramatically: in the last semester of 1974 YENEA lost millions of viewers while the ratings of EPT increased by 40%, which seems like a world record in the history of the media. In the mid-1970s there were six million viewers (in a total population of nine million). 2.4 million watched EPT in December 1975, while in April 1976 they reached 3.3 million. On the other hand, the ratings of YENEA fell by 25% partly because it obviously lagged behind in terms of modernization, partly because it was connected to the hateful colonels (a fact that had not prevented it from blossoming as it did throughout the junta years).

A tacit war--which at times became very explicit--broke out between the two networks. The military management of YENEA accused EPT of illicit rivalry but the charge evaporated in a special meeting of both managements with the Prime Minister. This rivalry resulted in a palpable improvement of both channels although too many projects (the co-production of movies according to the French and British patter, the shooting of 50 educational documentaries), were abandoned for reasons of idleness and indifference.

In October 1981 Andreas Papaandreou and the Social Democrats (PASOK) came to power and for a short spell Greeks enjoyed good will politics which were also applied to the television. Color television drew new young audiences who had been brought up with color movies, and video sales skyrocketed. The old black-and-white programs became an anachronism rerun in early afternoons. YENEA was renamed EPT2 and together with the ex-EPT (now EPT1) formed the so-called Hellenic Television (ET); although they still were autonomous channels they became barely distinguishable. It was a period of frantic television production: Greek series prevailed, ranging from downright trashy to first rate (as were the Melody of the Dawn and the Lemon-tree Wood) they were usually adapted from popular Greek novels. The sitcoms and soap-operas persisted but they became chiefly Greek whereas the first early afternoon program Good Afternoon succeeded in securing unexpected ratings, making way for numerous early afternoon "live" programs. By 1987 several filmmakers and screenwriters (practically jobless, since only 10 to 15 films were made annually) worked on television. Also, the channels started to participate in the production of movies financed mainly by the Hellenic Film Center, a state organization founded in 1981.

It can be argued that from 1974 to 1987 Greek television tried to follow the European television model. In 1987, although the state monopoly was reaffirmed, it seemed threatened by the foundation of the first free radio station (the station of the City of Athens) which broke new ground and heralded the numerous private stations that eventually reduced the audience of the state stations. In 1988 the first local Thessaloniki-based television network was founded (ET3), a development that did little to save the national television industry from near -bankruptcy and public dissatisfaction. At the same time, satellite television was made available through the industrial galaxy Matra, Ariane, Thomson. Yet its impact was short-lived as the foreign language programs appealed to the meager minority familiar with European languages. Traditionally this minority watches little television, satellite or not. Thus, in the beginning, before the Greek networks came to look more like the satellite ones, large audiences went zapping through REL (which showed soft porn and love strip-tease live shows), RAI (with its typical glamorous and flashy shows), MTV (which remains wildly popular among the young), and Junior (which has a sizable audience of preschoolers). The French TV5, although relatively more interesting than the rest, attracted only the French-speaking part of the Greek intelligentsia as well as journalists who use it as an additional source of political comment. As for CNN, it used to be reasonably favoured among satellite channels but after the rush of the private national networks it was almost forgotten.

In 1988, the Social Democrat government was accused of corruption. ET1, ET2, and ET3 were savagely criticized and the private channels flourished abruptly, almost overnight. They simply appeared, without soliciting any licence whatsoever. The first was Mega Channel, which belonged to the group "Teletypos," an association of Athenian newspapers. The New Channel followed, hardly threatening Mega's supremacy. Despite the existing legislation, they both obtained a "temporary permit". In 1990 there were already seven private networks: Antenna TV (associated with a group of private investors), Kanali 29 (of the Press group Kouris, an unreserved advocate of the Social Democrats), Tele City, TV Plus (Pireus based), and TV100 (Thessaloniki based). Before long the confusion evoked the "Italian anarchy" of the 1970s; the legislation of 1989 did not define clearly the organization of the Greek televisual landscape. The National Council for Radio-Television, created in l989 in order to supervise this new industry and formulate opinions on the issuing of licenses, is not independent (as one would assume) from the Department of Communications.

In 1991 the national networks reached their nadir. They employed more than 6,300 civil servants while there was an undefinable number of people who worked at the EPT1 and EPT2 "under contract." The deficit reached 4 billion drachmas ($172 million U.S.) and the national networks lost the bulk of their viewers; ratings fell under 5% before the sudden prosperity of Mega and Antenna TV. In the same year, a promising new channel bean to operate. Seven X was a youth-oriented network that showed choice films, hilarious no-nonsense series (avant-garde American and British) and video-clips (French initially, American later on). For several months it was the alternative to quiz shows, disruptive commercials and action movies; but it soon became heavily indebted and for the last two years it has been showing the same programs endlessly hoping that some entrepreneur will take over. On the other side of the spectrum, several petty political channels sprang up, half ludicrous, half exasperating (like Teletora held by a group of royalists). Nonetheless, in the framework of restraining the galloping television chaos, 26 channels which operated illegally were prosecuted.

Mega Channel and Athenna TV which control 33% and 30% of the market respectively, have imitated the dubious aesthetics of the Italian RAI Uno and RAI Due regarding the "live" everyday programs (that is gaudy song, chorus line dance, and chat shows with some audience "participation.") They have also undertaken a huge production of soap-operas of the Dynasty and The Bold and the Beautiful style, but have added more sex and violence. Despite their slight differences, these two dominant channels, as well as the two younger ones, Sky and Superstar, materialized quite a few changes that had been brewing in the Greek society for a while. They fomented an outrageously sensationalist sort of journalism which had already dominated the tabloids since 1981. They managed to impose sexy and bloody shows (films, reportages, etc.), as well as racy language on a traditionally prudish spectatorship. It should be noted that private channels show hard-core porn late at night (though not very late), and that Greek soap-operas involve, inevitably, nudity, sex deviances, violence and, also inevitably, a deluge of four letter words. They also imposed an enormous number of commercials that take up more than 30% of television time (time which has also become extravagantly overpriced). They fashioned a new generation of TV stars--talk-show hosts, news reporters of the alleged muck-raker type, voluptuous quiz-show hostesses--who rose to sex-symbol and/or jet-set status. As a result, an increasing number of young people aspire to media careers. They provided the viewers with a large amount of movies, which caused a slump in video rentals and led to limited success of the cable TV network (Filmnet) which offers a variety of mainstream American movies which can be seen on video with a delay of two or three months. They contributed greatly to relatively new behavior patterns which are also introduced by the glossy magazines of the Face, Max, Penthouse, Marie Claire, Top Models generation, attracting large young audiences with lots of pocket money to spend. Peyton Place ethics have been replaced by Melrose Place gloss and a Beverly Hills image of affluence. They turned to markets other than U.S. and Western Europe, buying soap-operas from South America and Australia (usually weepies). They established 24 hour television, responding to an apparently keen, long-standing demand. They multiplied and expanded lavish quiz-shows which have become an obsession among lower-middle class audiences. They fueled a profusion of TV and gossip magazines. They established morning programs, such as The Morning Coffee, which replaced morning radio zones. They applied high technology, particularly sophisticated computer technology extensively, if not abusively.

On the other hand, the state networks were compelled to polish their public image (which they have yet to do), and to improve their programs (which they have done to some extent) in order to increase their portion of the market, which now stands at about 12.5%, and preserve whatever remains of their prestige. Although they dwell on out-of-date structures they have begun to show signs of recovery. This is partly due to a kind of satiation and weariness caused by the private networks. As a result, total television audiences diminished by 250,000 in 1994 and show a fairly downward tendency.

-Soti Triantafillou


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Dagtoglou, P. D. Radio-Television and Constitution. Athens-Comotini: Sakkoula, 1990.

Venizelos, Evangelos. The Radio-Television Explosion: Constitutional Framework and Legislative Choices. Thessaloniki: Paratiritis, 1989.