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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Changes in U.S. Programming
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.
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
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Morning (7:00-10:00 A.M.)
Audience: adults preparing for work; pre-school children. Programming:
news, talk; local or network
(10:00 A.M.-6:00 P.M.)
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.)
elders and adults returning from work.
Programming: news; local and network
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)
first hour, "family"; progressively "adult".
Programming: comedy, into melodrama, action-adventure, etc.; network.
Fringe (11:00-11:30 P.M.)
Programming: news; local.
Night (11:30 P.M.-12:30 A.M.)
Adults, "liminal adults" (maturing adolescents)
Programming: talk shows, fiction; network, syndicated.
Adults, liminal adults.
Programming: syndicated talk, comedy, drama, and "old movies";
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"
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
in Other National Contexts
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.
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.
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
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