E. Kintner was a television executive who, as network president,
influenced the development of two major networks (ABC and NBC) during
the tumultuous decade of the 1950s. This former journalist fused
his passion for journalistic excellence and his zeal for high entertainment
ratings into a highly successful formula which shaped network programming
trends for several decades. Kintner was lauded within the industry
and the press for applying the "doctrine of common sense to many
a ticklish problem" and for his refreshing "cold realism." He defended
the embattled television industry during the quiz show scandals
of the late 1950s, and spearheaded the move to make television a
respectable journalistic medium by dedicating unprecedented network
resources and air time to news and documentary programming.
his career as a reporter, Kintner established a national reputation
in the late 1930s with a syndicated political column co-written
with Joseph Wright Alsop, with whom he also collaborated on a number
of best-selling books on American politics. Kintner's entry into
broadcasting came when he was hired by ABC owner and chair Edward
J. Noble in 1944 as a vice-president of public relations and radio
news. Six years later, Kintner was named president of the ABC network,
which was just beginning to provide television service and was the
clear underdog in competition with NBC and CBS.
a keen understanding of television's potential as a journalistic
medium, Kintner's major coup at ABC was the network's full coverage
of the Army-McCarthy hearings, which brought Sen. Joseph McCarthy's
tactics to public light and established ABC as a major source for
public affairs coverage. On the entertainment front, under Kintner's
leadership the production-weak ABC struck groundbreaking deals with
Walt Disney and Warner Brothers studios for the production of weekly
television series. The success of such filmed television programming
as Disneyland (and its offshoots) and the hit western Cheyenne influenced
the programming trends at all three networks; by the late 1950s,
Hollywood studio-produced westerns dominated the Nielsen ratings.
left the ABC presidency in 1956, in a period of great network growth,
joined NBC in early 1957, and was named president in July 1958.
As the first journalist to head a network, Kintner took pride in
the informational potential of broadcasting, and believed that TV
could fulfill its mission to society through news programming. Known
affectionately as the "managing editor" of the NBC news division
because of his hands-on approach, President Kintner was directly
responsible for the development of a strong news component at NBC.
By increasing budget allocations and air time for the news division,
and hiring top news executives and journalists (often from CBS,
with whom NBC was in ferocious competition), Kintner had by the
end of the decade built a high-prestige, unequaled news division
at NBC which reigned throughout the early 1960s.
major components of Kintner's three-pronged public affairs initiative
were the nightly network newscasts, the development of strong prime-time
documentary series, and the pre-emption of regular programs to provide
live coverage of breaking news events. The anchor team of Chet Huntley
and David Brinkley dominated news programming during this period,
and in late 1963 both NBC and CBS lengthened their evening newscasts
from fifteen to thirty minutes, a move which many critics credited
as making television a serious information medium comparable to
vision of the medium as a way to educate and inform citizens about
social issues was enabled by public and government pressures--especially
in the wake of the quiz show scandals--to increase the prestige
of the industry by increasing prime-time public affairs programming
by the networks. Kintner revitalized NBC's network documentary units,
which had focused mainly on cultural programming, to begin to take
on serious social and political issues in series such as NBC White
Paper. By 1962 Kintner claimed that the networks were "proving
what's right with television"--bringing space flights, civil rights
riots, election coverage and swiftly breaking events into America's
living rooms. Although often gently criticized for micro-managing
the NBC news division, Kintner hosted the transformation of news/informational
programming from a peripheral aspect of television programming to
the prestige end of broadcasting.
"golden age" of television journalism was directly related to the
historical moment--especially the years of President John Kennedy's
"New Frontier" initiative, marked by the charismatic charm of a
made-for-media president, the dramatic struggles of the civil rights
movement, the patriotic Cold War-era fervor of America's race into
space, and the coming of age of American news broadcasting with
the live coverage of the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination.
Kennedy's image-oriented New Frontier forged an alliance with television,
an alliance described by Mary Ann Watson in The Expanding Vista
as a "symbiotic bond" between JFK and the television medium which
would forever alter the relationship between the public and the
president. Similarly, the centrality of television in the political
process increased dramatically under Kintner's reign at NBC, with
the coverage of the 1960 campaigns, the "Great Debates" between
Kennedy and Nixon, paid political advertisements, and especially
the election coverage (Watson reports that over 90% of American
homes were tuned in).
was an active player in the public controversies surrounding the
quiz show scandals of 1959, and he used this opportunity to redefine
the mission and the structure of commercial television. Testifying
before the House Subcommittee on Legislative Oversight in 1959,
Kintner claimed that the networks, as well as the public, were victims
of deception by those who rigged quiz shows. Although the networks
were criticized by the subcommittee for "lack of diligence" in taking
action, Kintner strongly defended his network, claiming that NBC
was taking active steps to "investigate and safeguard the integrity
of the shows" and had taken direct production control over the quiz
shows away from the sponsors.
Photo courtesy of Broadcasting and Cable
intense public criticism about the entertainment programming standards,
as well as mounting pressure from the FCC and from civic and religious
groups in the wake of the quiz scandals, Kintner recognized this
period as a crossroads for the TV industry, and advocated that the
industry take actions to recover public confidence. In the face
of concerns about sex and violence in television shows, Kintner
also defended the network in 1961 before the Senate Subcommittee
on Juvenile Delinquency (the Dodd Committee), which charged the
TV industry with violating moral codes, lacking imagination and
shirking its responsibilities in the drive for higher ratings.
to watch more television than any of his contemporaries in the industry,
Kintner's addiction to "the box" was frequently noted. He was perceived
as a paradox by some critics, such as Jack Gould of The New York
Times, who wrote about him in 1965: "He can rationalize the
pap of the medium with a relaxed opportunism that stands in strange
contrast to his initiative in news and public affairs. . . . He
embodies [both] the promise and problem of mass communication--how
to keep up the quarterly dividend while offering both folk rock
and the oratorio."
early 1966 Kintner left NBC and was appointed as a special assistant
and Cabinet secretary to President Lyndon B. Johnson. In a parting
interview upon leaving NBC, Kintner advocated greater experimentation
in TV programming, calling for programs dealing with more controversial
social, economic and political subjects in both news and entertainment
ROBERT E(DMONDS) KINTER. Born in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania,
U.S.A., 12 September 1909. Swarthmore College, B.A., 1931. Married:
Jean Rodney, 1940; children: Susan and Michael. Served in the U.S.
Army during World War II. Financial news reporter, Herald Tribune,
1933-37; columnist, Herald Tribune and North American
Newspaper Alliance, 1937-41; vice president of public relations,
ABC, 1944-50; president, ABC, 1950-56; president, NBC, 1956-66;
cabinet liaison for Lyndon Johnson administration, 1966-67. Recipient:
Legion of Merit, WWII. Died in Washington, D.C., 3 December 1980.
Men Around the President, with Joseph Alsop. New York: Doubleday,
White Paper: The Story of American Diplomacy and the Second World
War, with Joseph Alsop. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1940.
Broadcasting and the News. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.
Barnouw, Eric. Tube of Plenty. New York: Oxford University
Press, 1975; revised edition, 1990.
James L. The Republic of Mass Culture. Baltimore, Maryland:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.
William. "Kintner Testifies. . . " The New York Times 6 November
Boddy, William. Fifties Television. Urbana, Illinois: University
of Illinois Press, 1990.
from the Testimony by President of NBC at Quiz-Show Hearing."
The New York Times, 6 November 1959.
Jack. "Robert Edmonds Kintner: The Man From NBC." The New York
Times, 24 October 1965.
Mary Ann. The Expanding Vista: American Television in the Kennedy
Years. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
Broadcasting Company; Army-McCarthy
National Broadcasting Company; NBC
White Paper; Warner