PROGRAMMING

The term "programming" obviously refers both to television content and to strategies of content selection and presentation. Yet shifts in the medium over the past two decades have called into question the apparently obvious nature of both. Modern television, af-ter all, goes beyond the broadcast-based mode of operation which shaped the medium for so many years. Today a television is not just a set for receiving entertainment, but also a device for viewing videotapes, playing computerized games, or going channel surfing. Increasingly, it is also a means of telecommunication, of accessing dedicated information servic-es, or of transacting home shopping. These events leave one obvious definition of television programming--whatever ap-pears on a television set--unwieldy and highly mutable.

Another definition of television programming might turn on the formal aspects of content appearing on the tube. But in fact, many elements of television programming have never been limited exclusively to television. Historically, television programming has borrowed liberally from other media. In addition, Hollywood promotion, sponsor marketing, and the self-promotion of the television industry have long assured that the imaginative worlds of television characters and stories are also available through T-shirts, toys, or other products. Much television program-ming, in fact, serves as part of the staged release of pro-ducts by horizontally integrated entertainment companies like Paramount, Time Warner or Disney.

The essential point in these processes is that television program-ming rarely appears in discrete, isolable units, or displays an innately "televisual" form. Instead programming is often part of a broader set of commercial or cultural trends which are being drawn upon, commented upon, or manipulated.

Moreover, these trends are continually being reconfigured by the appearance of new technologies and businesses which establish new potential forms and forums for program-ming. U.S. television programming may once have been defined by Hollywood studios and U.S. television networks, but increas-ingly it seems likely to be defined by AT and T, Microsoft, Nets-cape, or America Online--companies bringing different busi-ness agendas, technical expertise, and marketing strategies to newly reconceived "texts" and "audiences."

This tie to larger sequences of events is one of the major reasons that television programming provokes broader cultural analysis and evaluation by viewers, regulators, and critics. Certainly contemporary television program-ming--in whatever form--seems to be more socially significant, and more revelatory of general cultural dialog, than, say, contemporary opera, or even contemporary written literature. The idea of program-ming, indeed, might be better served by abandoning narrow definitions based on content or form, and focusing on a set of social processes organized under the rubric of television programming. From this view, ultimately, television programming is a historically developed, changing cultural system for circulating and transforming meaning and value--a system collectively shared and supported by television producers, distributors, and users, who sub-scribe to and bend its priorities through their participation.

Programming, then, is a process for imbuing public value which--advertisers, celebrities, government officials, cultural monitors, and program producers all hope--can be traded in later for cash or the political power to continue their specific forms of program production and distribution. Treating programming as a processual cultural system for the circulation of meaning and value is to focus on television programming as always organized but always changing. Any examination of television programming must ultimately analyze such a system institutionalized through an array of activities.

Programming as Industrialized Commodity

The variety of television formats--and the continuing fluidity of television genres within this social process--stem from programming's status as a malleable form which can be developed for profit in often divergent ways. They stem, in short, from programming's status as a commodity.

Yet television programming is a complex and expensive product, and profitability demands standardization and routinization as much as it requires entrepreneurial experimentation or market differentiation. Programming standards and routines--and the scope for innovation--depend intimately on the financial and political configuration of the medium at any moment. And so programming emerged as a fluid commodity form whose diversi-ty, mode of address and regularity are delimited, at any given time by television's industrial underpinnings.

In the first five decades of television, for example, the difficulties of developing the new medium typically meant that television lay in the hands of institutions which could weather high start-up costs and which would benefit from cru-cial economies of scale in the medium's use. The result was early broadcasting's distinctive mode of address: wide audiences were typically exposed to a handful of channels centrally programmed by institutions seeking large audiences, institutions like national commercial networks in the United States, or the state in the Soviet systems, or to sets of certain cultural expectations, as in the Reithian version of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Programming had to conform respectively, to the dramatic expectations and financial investments provided by advertisers, to the ideological goals and prescriptions of government bureaucracies, or to the standards of cultural guardians and tutors.

Over the last decade, the nature of programming has been profoundly renovated. New institutions have put forward a different set of economic, technological, and organizational arrangements and seek to profit from television in ways that diverge from the centralized broadcasting model. The commodity of programming has accordingly been complicated and differentiated.

These developments suggest how specifically early television programming focused on wide, simultaneous presentation of a limited number of information and entertainment formats. And they suggest that programming is not a static collection of texts or conventions, but rather a flexible notion, a locus of potential commod-ities whose capacity to convey meaning or particular kinds of social exchange can be redefined as the institutions profit-ing from them alter their strategies.

Though it is fa-miliar enough to seem simple, then, television programming is a complicated cultural phenomenon establishing a shared speculative reality among wide audiences. The next section focuses on the specific ways in which television programming has been developed as a commodity under the U.S. broadcast network model. The focus on the U.S. is limiting, but instructive, since U.S. television programming, like U.S. filmmaking, has enjoyed a disproportionate influence on television worldwide--an ad-vantage not coincidentally related to U.S. television's elaboration of effective means for attracting unprecedented investment, controlling risk, and developing efficiencies of production, distribution, and exhibition of its commodity-texts. Despite the considerable strictures of its commodity form, however, U.S. television programming has also experienced considerable development and elaboration, as chang-ing institutional relationships have altered the financial strategies behind programming.

Historical Changes in U.S. Programming

For the first three years, television programming was all live, since there existed no feasible means of recording the signal produced by television cameras. Shows were confined to studios or to on--location programs. In the United States, studios were located in net-work headquarters in New York--yet in the medium's first five years, from 1948 to 1953, the networks did not produce much of their programming. Instead, sponsors hired advertising agencies to design, budget, and produce shows which fit their marketing needs. Sponsor-controlled production suited the new networks, which could not afford to produce the quantity of programming they had promised affiliates, particularly in such an experimental and trouble-prone medium. Sponsors were encouraged to purchase the time slot they wished and think of it as their franchise, to develop as they so desired. In the words of David Sarnoff, the president of RCA, NBC's holding company, the network existed simply as a "pipeline" for spon-sors.

After 1953, however, television became less uncertain, and networks began to suspect they could maximize profits by undertaking their own program pro-duction, centralizing control over the schedule, and extend-ing the still-haphazard programming day to new time slots. Under president Sylvester Weaver, NBC ejected recalcitrant sponsors and advertising agencies, and launched new network--produced live programs--The Today Show, The Tonight Show, and The Home Show, a failed afternoon program--which made programming an ever-present commodity. Weaver also undertook a concerted effort to popularize television through expensive, attention-grab-bing, variety show "spectaculars." His expensive strategies were effective, so much so that by 1955 they were no longer needed, and he was succeed-ed, quickly, by a new generation of executives who boosted profitability through routinization.

In 1954 and 1955, the U.S. networks turned to a new program source which would become a central part of modern television worldwide: Hollywood. The first routinely filmed television show, I Love Lucy, had begun in 1951, but filming remained the exception rather than the rule. By 1955, Hollywood--as part of its long-term response to the Paramount Decree of 1948, an anti-trust agreement which forced the studios to sell their highly lucrative theater chains--was ready to con-sider television a crucial new client and point of exhibi-tion. The result of the partnership was a new standard of television programming, the telefilm mass-produced by newly formed divisions of the Hollywood studios.

The concerted move to products of the Hollywood factory system altered the look and production of programming. The plays which had comprised much of earlier television program-ming drew frequently on writers and actors available from Manhattan theater, radio, and literary circles. Live tele-vision, moreover, had frequently depended on "anthology" pro-grams which could vary considerably from week to week. The telefilm's use of recurrent actors, sets, stock footage and dramatic formulas, by contrast, helped establish the recur-ring series as the basis of television programming, and emphasized programming's standardization. The results prompt-ed many critics to consider earlier live TV a "Golden Age" of television drama. Others have subsequently questioned the aesthetic superiority of live TV, granting its spontaneity and occasional dramatic ambitions, but pointing to the persistent incursion of ads within sponsor-produced shows, and questioning, ironically, the consistency of its achievements.

Programming in the 1960s reflected a stabilizing network oligopoly. Series had longer average runs than shows in later decades. The number of cancellations per season declined steadily. Even the networks' relative position remained fixed: CBS continued building a remarkable (and given later events, a decidedly induplicable) 20 years as the number one network in television ratings. ABC, the smallest and youngest network, remained the perennial third; NBC re-mained in the middle. Throughout the decade, however, all three networks' ratings converged. Their programming philoso-phy was summed up by NBC's Paul Klein, who articulated a policy: Least Objectionable Programming. Viewers, the philoso-phy assumed, will watch anything unless they are offended into changing channel. Many critics have consequently regard-ed 1960s programming--characterized by the most popular show in television history, The Beverly Hillbillies--as assembly -line, escapist TV, though others are re-examining the pre-sumed homogeneity of programming in the period. The perennial third place network, ABC, was in some respects the most interesting, introducing shows which titillated (Bracken's World, Love American Style), sought out young au-diences (The Flying Nun) or highlighted the spectacular (ABC's Wide World of Sports).

A decisive break in programming came in 1970. That year, three milestone developments--the Cigarette ad ban, the Prime Time Access Rule, and the Financial Interest and Syndication Rules---prompted the networks to address an inevitable question: how could continued network growth come from the finite amount of advertising time available on television, and the inevitable plateauing of demand by advertisers. The primary answer was to develop finer demographic targeting, a strategy which could make some shows more expensive than the prevailing norm. The consequence was a new emphasis on programming which would attract varying demographics. Differentiation rather than standardization, and active attraction rather than innocuousness, became the basis of network strategies. In 1969, CBS president Robert Wood canceled 13 shows appealing to older and rural audiences in favor of a more urban, higher-income audience. Among the replacements were the three innovative sitcoms which served as the basis for what later critics have called the "Television Renaissance": The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, and M*A*S*H, programs which ultimately found broad appeal, yet did so through ambi-tious character development, topical controversy, and innova-tive production styles. "Quality" television had emerged as a desirable, even neces-sary commodity for the networks to develop.

CBS's move contradicts a common tenet that the last--place network in the oligopoly was the most likely to experi-ment with innovative programming in an effort to raise its standing. Third place standing could be a powerful motive for some innovations, but it was probably only the perennial first-place network, CBS which could have risked such an ab-rupt and wholesale change in programming philosophy.

Not only did television programming develop a more complex hierarchy of qual-ity after 1970, it became less of an anonymous, industrial product. Some producers, like Norman Lear, Steven Cannell, Aaron Spelling, and Steve Bochco, became household names, and were credited with functioning as television authors. At the same time, the first generations of TV children were achiev-ing adulthood, and brought to their viewing a cumulative, retrospective acquaintance with the history of programming. Producers and viewers alike became more self-conscious about television programming's variety, its capacities as an ex-pressive medium, and its historical depth.

For producers, these developments marked a codification of unstated industry practices, into more self-consciously assumed production "styles", "authorial" qualities, and, increasingly, "innovative" distribution and mode of exhibition. Independent producer Stephen Cannell, for example, began to develop an entire menu of programs--some for prime time, some for syndication, some exclusively for cable, each with different target appeals, and each observing different budgetary constraints according to expected income. Yet all bore the Cannell imprimatur--made explicit by a trailer fol-lowing each show, in which Cannell flourishingly ripped a script from a typewriter. In one show designed for fringe hour cable, Cannell appeared personally as host, using his name recognition to attract audiences to a highly tongue-in--cheek suspense anthology reminiscent of old Alfred Hitchcock Show. The show's appeal--actively dwelling on its divergence from prime time budgets, topics, and taste--presumed a much more complex sense of televisual position and quotation than would have normal in 1960s programming.

By 1988, the networks, surrounded by new competition, were in the historically unique position of having to react to program trends, rather than working to select and cultivate them. The emergence of the FOX broadcast network in 1986--the Big Three's first viable competition--was based in programming which parodied or transgressed the oligopoly's genres. It used irreverence to target, and imply, a savvy, urban, youthful audience. When FOX did use more rou-tine forms, it put in a twist by featuring black characters, assuring disproportionately large and loyal black audiences. Prime time television on the Big Three--which, despite falling audiences, still constituted the industrial, finan-cial and aesthetic point of reference--began to reflect the influence of FOX, music videos, syndicated tabloid shows, and producers (often arriving from filmmaking) whose projects were conceived for multiple distribution. From 1988 to 1990, the networks actively experimented with new generic hybrids and outre programming with shows like Twin Peaks; Homestead; Gary, Indiana; Bagdad Cafe; and Northern Exposure.

Accompany-ing these changes was a profound shift in the cultural role of programming. Given the medium's persistent popularity, the finite amount of programming available under the three-net-work oligopoly had served as a prominent and recognizable so-cial touchstone, a set of social facts which most Americans acknowledged and shared as part of their national culture. In the days before videotape, such programming had also been ephemeral, assuming the aspect of an occasion or experience; and programming's simultaneous broadcast nationwide made that ephemeral experience a uniquely collective one. Programming, then, possessed the attributes of a public ritual, through which viewers collectively attended to experiences constitut-ing a sense of social connection through the establishment of collective representations.

Just as pronounced was the sense of comparative proprie-ty and circumspection in programming prevailing under the network oligopoly. Aware that their most unique commodity was widespread acceptance by audiences--and that the U.S. regulatory framework defined broadcasting as a public resource serving the public interest--networks used censors to enforce what they regarded as prevailing public mores of sexuality, violence, and sensationalism. Individual networks occasionally sought to boost ratings through titillation or scandal, but these attempts were measured departures from conventional TV standards which remained far more circum-scribed than the license taken routinely in films or novels.

As television programming began to expand beyond the three-channel network system, its ritual aspects and its highly conventionalized moral circumspection began to dissolve. Shows were no longer singular, punctual experiences, once they could be recorded, viewed later the same day in syndication, or bought at a video store. Audiences were no longer collective and mass, but fragmented according to the particular time and venue they chose to engage a program. Moreover, viewers choosing from many, rather than just three options, were arguably less of a public, and more of a self--elected fractional interest group, likely to be watching pro-gramming which could diverge dramatically from "mainstream" interests or values. With the decline of the three networks, then, programming became less of a central social ritual at-tended by wide audiences, and more of a varied, highly dif-ferentiated medium circulating commodities which could be more casually engaged by viewers. Scholars of the 1970s had identified television programming as a public forum and a modern bard. By the 1990s, television programming arguably constituted a variegated cul-tural "newsstand." The profound alterations outlined here have been paralleled by an equally important set of institutional arrangements and developments designed to best control television programming at any given time.

Institutional Changes in Proadcast Programming

As a commodity, commercial programming is produced fol-lowing familiar priorities of standardization (to control costs), differentiation (to penetrate markets), and innova-tion conceived largely as variation within repetition (to contain risk). While some critics regard these attributes as evidence of programming's lamentable role in manifesting the values of the marketplace, others see them as "enabling conditions" establishing some of television pro-gramming's most unique and recognizable pleasures.

Weekly schedule, season, and series: Perhaps the strongest symptom of commercial programming's commodity status is its common organization into recurrent daily or weekly ser-ies. U.S. television is not generally filled with unique, one-time programs. Such programming would frustrate not only producers and networks, who are trying to extract reliably continuous income from television, but viewers too, who (many commenta-tors would argue) are accustomed by consumer society to pleasure organized around a continual but measured introduc-tion of novelty. Unlike a painting or a novel, a television show which appears once is unsatisfyingly ephemer-al, while a show which is exactly reproduced is just a re-run. The series format, in which episodes invoke familiar settings and characters in slightly varied situations, satis-fies ambitions both for more of the same and for something new. The series allows producers to develop long-term elaborations and complications of characters and situa-tions which (most notoriously in the case of the soap opera), can make a program's fictional world part of the viewer's own. Such involvement also makes viewers' loyalty to the show into a reliable commodity which networks can either sell to advertisers or use to secure reliable sub-scriber fees. At the same time, the series routinizes produc-tion schedules and standardizes the costs which producers and networks must expect to pay to produce a new week of program-ming.

The seasonal schedule long prevalent in the U.S. also served to routinize production, viewing, and ad-vertising sales not just week to week, but on a yearly calen-dar which concentrated the industry's introduction of novelty in a single spectacular moment. The impending fall season could foment substantial bidding wars for the coming years' commercial slots, by advertisers involved in active speculation over the popularity of future programs. Definite seasons were a strong fixture of the industry when it was dominated by the oligopoly of ABC, NBC, and CBS, but new developments such as overnight ratings systems, competition from cable and syndication, and the rise of new networks such as FOX have blurred the outlines of these markers.

Conventions like the length of a series and the integri-ty of the season alter, in fact, with changing pressures within the industry. In the 1960s, during the height of a stable three-way network monopoly, U.S. TV functioned on a reliable calendar inherited from radio, in which a 39 week season was interrupted by a 13 week summer rerun period (the lack of new summer production costs enhanced profits for networks). As competition for network growth became more in-tense after 1970, and as viewers began to abandon network television for cable and syndication after 1976, networks be-came more reluctant to make long-term mistakes, and tried routinely to contract a minimum of episodes--as few as four at a time in 1990.

If series programming forms a major part of the schedule in order to regularize viewership and cultivate loyalty over the long term, shorter-run formats like the docudrama, min-iseries, the sports special and feature film introduce a sense of novelty and occasion, of divergence from one's own routine and that of competitors. Often they represent at-tempts to capitalize on timely, singular events--a sports championship, a scandalous murder, political intrigue--which are likely to have sufficient recognition to assure a large immediate audience. (Here entertainment blurs indissolubly into information.) Historically, the most persistent comple-ment to standard series programming have been feature films licensed from Hollywood studios, and run under titles such as the Wednesday Movie of the Week.

The commodity form of television programming is evident not just in the rhythm of seasons and the length of series, but in the specific distribution of shows among eight "dayparts." Scheduling strategies and purchases of advertis-ing time vary with dayparts, each of which foster unique gen-res in an effort to attract the presumably distinctive audi-ences available at different times of the day. Many critics suggest that television's dayparts ultimately represent the penetration of rationalized economic organization into the most mundane, casual and intimate activities of domestic life; others suggest that they form the basis for familiar pleasures and ease of use. The composition of dayparts has changed historically, but since the mid-1980s typical dayparts for an ideal typical U.S. network affiliate station have remained relatively stable.

 

Early Morning (7:00-10:00 A.M.)

Audience: adults preparing for work; pre-school children. Programming: news, talk; local or network

Daytime (10:00 A.M.-6:00 P.M.)

Audience: mid-morning until mid-afternoon, "housewives."
Programming: talk, fiction (soap operas) networks, syndicated.
Audience: mid-afternoon until early evening, children.
Programming: cartoons and light drama; local, network, and syndicated.

Early Fringe (6:00-7:00 P.M.)

Audience: elders and adults returning from work.
Programming: news; local and network

Prime Access (7:00-8:00 P.M.)

Audience: busy adults in the home, children Programming: "infotainment," game shows, comedies; syndicated, local.

Prime Time (8:00-11:00)

Audience: first hour, "family"; progressively "adult".
Programming: comedy, into melodrama, action-adventure, etc.; network.

Late Fringe (11:00-11:30 P.M.)

Audience: Adults
Programming: news; local.

Late Night (11:30 P.M.-12:30 A.M.)

Audience: Adults, "liminal adults" (maturing adolescents)
Programming: talk shows, fiction; network, syndicated.

Overnight (12:30-7:00 A.M.)

Audience: Adults, liminal adults.
Programming: syndicated talk, comedy, drama, and "old movies"; network, syndicated.

Though these conventionally labeled audiences reflect the hoped-for targets of advertisers, from the viewer's perspective they constitute modes of address which do not necessarily conform with actual identities. Many teenagers, for example, probably indulge in late night programming explicitly to feel more like liminal adults; while many single adults enjoy the warm and fuzzy feelings of early-evening shows "aimed" at children.

The highly familiar succession of genres and im-plied audiences associated with dayparts reflects the U.S. medium's priority on maximizing available viewership at all times, in order to maximize the fees advertisers will pay. Important dayparts accrue an identifiable tone: early morning, a hale, nation-wide conviviality which orients viewers to the day; early fringe, a local-community focus supported by the plethora of local ads sold by affiliates; prime access, the netherworld of syndicated tabloid and game shows. Prime time, of course is the costliest, most-watched period of tele-vision, featuring the most elaborately produced dramas, come-dies, or films, and harboring the greatest sense of public event. Late Night engages in moral license for off-color humor in the part of the day most distant from work and school, and having a presumably adult audience.

Systems with less stake in appealing to audiences often develop a less differentiated programming day. Even within the United States, the tendency to target dayparts remains most pronounced on the major networks and their affiliates, and is less consistent on cable and independent channels whose appeal may already lie in a particular audience seg-ment, programming genre, or for that matter, in programming against the norm set by broadcast television.

In the United States between 1950 and 1984, the overwhelming majori-ty of profitable stations were affiliates of one of the three major networks. New network shows were the most ambi-tious production on television, and their contractually-se-cured prominence in favored dayparts made them the most fa-miliar to audiences. All network programs, however, eventual-ly lost enough of their popularity to be removed from network schedules. The most successful then entered into circulation in the piece-meal syndication market which sold programs for rebroadcast on U.S. stations during dayparts not filled by network feeds--or to interna-tional markets. Syndication was thus responsible for a dis-tinctive kind of programming based on the re-use of proven commodities: the re-run.

Syndication of network programs was highly profitable, since it involved the recycling of commodities whose production costs had been almost entirely paid for by network fees. Originally, U.S. networks tried to secure syndication profits by demanding part ownership of a show as a condition for airing it, but this became illegal because of anti-trust concerns in 1970. As product suppliers assumed control, syndication quickly became less of an appendage to network pro-gramming, and more of a competitor. When the number of tele-vision stations in the United States increased dramatically in 1984 (because of relaxed regulation of television licenses) a wholly alternative market for syndicated programming sudden-ly emerged. Demand for additional shows was sufficient to stimulate a boom in first-run syndication--programs produced exclusively for individual bidding stations, and never in-tended for network release. The syndication market was a somewhat poorer one than the traditional network oligopoly, and so first-run syndication frequently constituted a kind of B-grade programming.

As networks audiences continued to decline throughout the 1980s, suppliers became less concerned with a long-standing convention governing re-runs. Networks had typically pre-ferred their programming to be exclusive, and had discouraged early episodes of a current program from airing in syndica-tion while the show still remained part of the network lineup. In the mid-1980s, offers from independent stations and cables channels for network-quality programming became too lucrative to ignore, and so it became common for viewers to be able to see a show on the same day from two radically dif-ferent perspectives: as the wholly novel experience of a new network episode, and as a re-encounter with syndicated epi-sodes from the show's past. This accentuated the series na-ture of programming, and made retrospective evaluation of dramatic characters and situations a routine part of viewing. It also undermined the networks' sense of exclusive venue by emphasizing the independence of shows from particular chan-nels.

In sum, syndication--the attempt to increase profits through re-use of old programming or to develop cheaper al-ternatives to network programming--complicated and enriched the body of television programming, introducing historical depth; a new "low end" of programming inviting self-conscious irony in viewing; multiple, simultaneous views of individual series; and a divorce of specific shows from previously inev-itable network lineups. Changes which demanded that program-ming serve as a commodity in new ways, also altered how pro-gramming would be used as a text.

 

Programming Strategies

Commercial television generally profits from advertising revenues, which increase with audience size. Both local sta-tions and networks thus devote considerable effort to struc-turing their programming to hold the largest desirable audi-ences possible.

The premium on holding audiences leads to one of the most identifiable characteristics of commercial U.S. tel-evision: its continual interruption by commercials. The in-dustry has long presumed that viewers are alienated by com-mercials and will only watch them if they are interspersed with other programming. The length, frequency, and grouping of ads is a constantly renegotiated aspect of the television ad market. Networks try to limit ads to keep prices high and viewers tuned in, while advertisers try to secure many commercials--short, cheap, and well separated from those of the competition. In the long term, advertisers' demands have steadily de-creased the length, increased the frequency, and fragmented the grouping of ads, making commercial television seem in-creasingly like a cluttered "flow" of programming.

Programming strategies are not, of course, limited to the distribution of advertisements. Station and network programmers work concertedly not just to select attractive programming, but to sequence shows in a way which will hold audiences once they've tuned in. A number of tactics have been developed to build a profitable schedule.

Block programming involves scheduling a series of relat-ed shows which are likely to attract and hold a given audi-ence for an entire daypart. U.S. stations and networks, for example, have traditionally filled Saturday mornings with cartoons aimed at children, and Sunday afternoons with (presumably) male-oriented sports. A block may be defined by particular demographics, but its definition can take other forms. From 1984 to 1987, NBC scheduled a famous Thursday evening lineup featuring five critically acclaimed series in a row: Cosby, Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court, and Hill Street Blues. The first four were sitcoms which attracted such inclusive audiences that they ended most years in the top 20. The last program was an innovative drama with a much smaller, but quite exclusive audience whose demographics made Hill Street Blues' advertising rates the highest of the sea-son. Despite their differences, all five programs were treat-ed as an identifiable block of programming because they fos-tered NBC's strategy of offering a night of high-quality television.

Block programming has become increasingly overt, and now it is quite common for cable or broadcast networks to package particular nights of programming as blocks devoted to "Our television heritage," "Bette Davis night," of "All Come-dy Night." Such promotions potentially highlight aspects of shows which viewers may not have conceived alone: as in the case of reruns, programming's nature as a packageable commod-ity can affect the public's appreciation of shows.

Counter-programming involves running an attractive al-ternative to competitors' shows. CBS, for example, has tried several times to develop Monday night as a lineup of shows attractive to women, whom they presume are alienated by ABC's ratings-leading Monday Night Football.

Hammocking refers to scheduling a new or comparatively unpopular show between two established popular programs, on the theory that audiences are less likely to change channels for a single time slot. Hammocking has historically been a reliable strategy, raising the ratings of the middle show, if not always making it into a hit. The risk is that the weak show will diminish audiences which would have stayed if the two popular programs had formed a block.

Lead-ins and Lead-outs, like hammocking, try to achieve success through asso-ciation, lead-ins by placing a popular program right before a lower-rated one, lead-outs by placing the popular program im-mediately after the less successful show. Historically, lead-ins have proved more successful.

Bridging staggers the start of a long-format program so that viewers would have to abandon it in the middle in order to tune in to the beginning of the competitor's show.

Rigdgepoling distributes the individual shows comprising a successful block across different nights of the week, where they can serve as lead-ins (or -outs) for additional program-ming.

New or ailing stations and networks have frequently reversed their fate by combining these strategies: after establishing a minimal block of two or three programs, they will ex-tend the block by hammocking a new show. Then each of the shows in the block will be ridgepoled to establish a foothold on several nights of the week.

Stunting refers to a variety of exceptional tactics used to boost viewership during key weeks of the season, or when a network, station, or program is in special trouble. Frequent stunts involve programming a highly promoted miniseries or feature film to attract concentrated viewer attention; having one show's star appear on another program; or mounting highly promoted, end-of-season weddings, births, or cliffhangers. More dramatic stunts involve delaying the season debut of a highly popular program a few weeks in order to build suspense--and, hopefully, steal audiences decisively away from competitors' just-rolling season. In 1990, CBS pulled a stunt which experimented with long-held presumptions about the acceptable frequency and amount of repetition allowed on network prime time. Following the example of syndication and cable channels, it ran each episode of a new series (The Flash) in two different time slots each week. The idea was both to save money, and to give the show twice the chance for its audience to discover it and build loyalty. The experiment failed. The seeming incongruity of such an attempts attests to how strongly the conventional season and schedule format organizes producers and viewers' expectations for different varieties of television programming: what works for syndica-tion did not work for network prime time.

All of these strategies, of course, have been developed through experimentation, trial and error, throughout the history of the medium. They reflect adaptations to the changing circumstances that have defined U.S. television.

Programming in Other National Contexts

This history of programming in the U.S. television system should serve to emphasize its differences from other national systems grounded in different forms of financial support and different regulatory circumstances. In the public service tradition, for example, most closely identified with the British Broadcasting Corporation, programmers are mandated to provide diversity. Free of the advertiser's necessary search for the largest audience or the audience with the most purchasing power, alternative forms of programming may be provided minority audiences. More attention may be paid to children and elder groups. Linguistic distinctions can be more readily recognized and honored. Moreover, programming schedules need not be so regularized and routinized; "seasons" and "dayparts" need not be so rigidly applied. As a result, expectations of creative communities, industries, and audiences may all be different from those attached to the U.S. system.

In the Soviet model, also free from advertiser demands, programming took on yet other configurations, more closely aligned to state agendas and more overtly ideological goals. Here again, the routines and patterns were easily altered by fiat.

Throughout the world mixtures of these systems have been developed, often forged in specific relationships to neighboring nations and almost always in some relation to the U.S. television industry which often supplied supplemental programming, even in systems constructed along lines of the Soviet model. But as ideological, technological, economic, and regulatory shifts have spread, more and more the patterns of industrial and programming arrangements seem to converge. The "newsstand" model is now expanded by satellites to a global level, and it has become possible to acquire "information" and "entertainment" in many languages and forms or to observe changes within specific nations and regions that are the direct result of new technolgoical configurations.

In India, for example, the publicly operated state broadcast channels long offered an "official" version of news. As household videotape machines became more common, however, alternative monthly video newsmagazines emerged, supported by subscribers. These video magazines offered full-er exposes into important events. Because they were also di-rected at those wealthy enough to own videotape machines, they also served to constitute a self-conscious elite, newly defined by its well-informedness. Here programming is again tied to the shifting in-stitutional arrangements which enable production, distribu-tion, and exhibition and the specific kind of com-modity formed by programming delimits, not just its financial viability, but its historical aesthetic, social, and cultural import.

In this process the struggle of nations and regions to maintain forms of aesthetic, social, and cultural autonomy and distinction--to place their own items on the global newsstand or to construct a continuing local identity--are now carried out in relation to international media conglomerates. These organizations make use of new technologies that blur national boundaries as easily as they blur program genres and once again throw television programming into a process of significant redefinition.

-Michael Saenz

FURTHER READING

Allen, Robert. 1985. Speaking of Soap Opera. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985.

Anderson, Christopher. Hollywood TV. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.

Barker, David. "Television Production Techniques as Communication." In, Newcomb, Horace, editor. Television: The Critical View. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976; 4th edition, 1987.

Bergreen, Laurence. Look Now, Pay Later. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1980.

Boddy, William. Fifties Tele-vision: The Industry and Its Critics. Urbana: Univers-ity of Illinois Press, 1990.

Jameson, Frederic. Signatures of the Visible. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Feuer, Jane. 1983. "The Concept of Live TV: Ontology as Ideology." In, Kaplan, E. Ann, editor. Regarding Television. Fredrick, Maryland: The American Film Institute and University Publications of America.

Feuer, Jane, Paul Kerr, and Tise Vahimagi, editors. MTM "Quality Television". London: British Film Institute, 1984.

Fiske, John, and John Hartley. Reading Tele-vision. London: Methuen, 1978.

Gitlin, Todd. Inside Prime Time. New York: Panthe-on, 1983.

_______________. 1987. "Prime Time Ideology: The Hegemonic Process in Television Entertainment." In, Newcomb, Horace, editor. Television: The Critical View. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976; 4th edition, 1987.

Kepley, Vance Jr. "From 'Frontal Lobes' to the 'Bob-and-Bob' Show: NBC Management and Programming Strategies, 1949-65." In, Balio, Tino, editor. Hollywood in the Age of Tele-vision. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Unwin-Hyman, 1990.

Newcomb, Horace, and Paul Hirsch. "Television As a Cultural Forum." In, Newcomb, Horace, editor. Television: The Critical View. New York: Oxford Uni-versity Press, 1976; 4th edition, 1987.

Thorburn, David. "Television Melodrama." In, Newcomb, Horace, editor. Television: The Critical View. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976; 4th edition, 1987.

Williams, Raymond. Television: Technology and Cultural Form. New York: Schocken, 1974.

 

See also Arledge, Roone; Australian Programming; British Programming; Canadian Programming in English; Canadian Programming in French; Dann, Michael; Family Viewing Time; Goldenson, Leonard; Genre; U.S. Networks; Independent Production Companies; Paley, William S.; Prime Time; Rerun/Repeats; Sarnoff, David; Silverman, Fred; Syndication; Tartikoff, Brandon