(Pat) Weaver enjoys a deserved reputation as one of network television's
most innovative executives. His greatest impact on the industry
came during his tenure as programming head at NBC in the late 1940s
and early 1950s. There he developed programming and business strategies
the other networks would imitate for years to come. He is also remembered
for supporting the idea that commercial television could educate
as well as entertain, and he championed cultural programming at
NBC under a policy he labeled "Operation Frontal Lobes."
studied Philosophy and Classics at Dartmouth, graduating magna cum
laude. After military service in World War II, he worked in advertising
at the Young and Rubicam agency. At that time, advertisers owned
the programs that were broadcast on network radio and television,
and Weaver worked on program development for the agency's clients.
This experience prepared him to make the move to network television.
joined NBC in 1949 to help the company develop its new television
network, and held several top-management positions culminating with
his appointment as chairman of the board in 1956. During that time
he maintained close control over television programming at the network
and shaped NBC's entire programming philosophy.
promote growth in the fledgling network, Weaver commissioned a series
of specials he called "Spectaculars." These heavily-promoted, live
specials were designed to generate interest in the NBC schedule
in particular and the television medium in general. He hoped that
families would purchase their first television sets specifically
to watch such events and would then develop regular viewing habits.
The strategy especially promised to benefit NBC's parent company
RCA, which controlled most patents on new receiver sets. Programming
events such as the Mary Martin Peter Pan and the 1952 Christmas
Eve broadcast of Amahl and the Night Visitors, the first
opera commissioned for television, resulted from this plan.
overseeing NBC's growth, Weaver also worked to enhance its power
in relation to advertisers. His experience at Young and Rubicam
convinced him that sponsors rather than network programmers actually
ran the television industry. Because sponsors owned shows outright,
the networks had minimal control over what was broadcast through
their services. Some sponsors could even dictate when a show would
appear in the weekly schedule. Weaver moved to shift this power
to the networks by encouraging NBC to produce programs and then
to offer blocks of time to multiple sponsors. He developed certain
programs such as Today and The Tonight Show to provide
vehicles for this practice. Advertisers could buy the right to advertise
in particular segments of such shows but would not control program
content. Weaver called this the "magazine concept" of advertising,
comparing it to the practice in which print advertisers bought space
in magazines without exercising editorial control over the articles.
His ambition was for NBC to develop a full schedule of programs
and then persuade advertisers to purchase commercial time here and
there throughout that schedule. Any given program would carry commercials
of several different sponsors. Other networks eventually followed
the NBC model and by the 1960s it had become the television industry
standard, commonly known as "participation advertising."
took pride in his classical education, and he championed the idea
that commercial television had an educational mission. He proposed
a series of cultural and public affairs programs for NBC which he
promoted under the banner "Operation Frontal Lobes." The goal, Weaver
announced in 1951, was "the enlargement of the horizon of the viewer."
The campaign included a number of prime-time documentary specials.
For example, Project XX was a full-time documentary production unit
which make feature-length documentaries on historical events. The
Wisdom series consisted of interviews with major artists and intellectuals
(Edward Steichen, Margaret Mead). Weaver even required that educational
material be mixed into the entertainment schedule. For example,
the popular comedy/variety program Your Show of Shows might
include a performance of a Verdi aria among its normal array of
comic monologues and Sid Caesar skits.
Weaver left NBC in 1956 when it became clear that the network could
no longer follow his philosophy of program variety and innovation.
His successor, Robert Kintner, pushed the network schedule toward
more standardized series formats. Weaver's last major effort at
television innovation came in the early 1960s when he headed Subscription
Television, Inc., an early venture into the pay cable industry.
His effort to set up a cable service in California was blocked by
a referendum initiated by traditional broadcasters. Weaver challenged
them in court, and the U.S. Supreme Court subsequently ruled the
referendum unconstitutional. STV, however, was bankrupted by the
process. Although Weaver's cable venture failed, the case helped
remove certain barriers to the eventual development of cable television.
Photo courtesy of Pat Weaver
WEAVER. Born Sylvester Laflin Weaver, Jr., in Los Angeles, California,
U.S.A., 21 December 1908. Educated at Dartmouth College, B.A., magna
cum laude, 1930. Married: Elizabeth Inglis (Desiree Mary Hawkins),
1942; children: Trajan Victor Charles and Susan (Sigourney). Served
in the U.S. Navy, 1942-45. Worked for Young and MacCallister, an
advertising and printing firm; announcer, writer, producer, director,
actor, and salesman, radio station KHJ, Los Angeles, 1932; program
manager, station KFRC, San Francisco, 1934; worked for NBC and the
United Cigar Company, 1935; joined Young and Rubicam advertising
agency, 1935; supervisor of programs, Young and Rubicam's radio
division, 1937; advertising manager, American Tobacco Company, 1938-46;
associate director of communications, Office of the Coordination
of Inter-American Affairs, 1941; vice president in charge of radio
and television for Young and Rubicam, also serving on executive
committee, 1947-49; vice president, vice chair, president, then
chair of NBC, 1949-1956; chair of McCann Erickson, 1958-63; president
of Subscription TV, Los Angeles, California, 1963-66; chair, American
Heart Association, 1959-63; member, board of directors, Muscular
Dystrophy Association, since 1967; president, Muscular Dystrophy
Association, since 1975. Member: Phi Beta Kappa. Recipient: Peabody
Award, 1956; Emmy Award, 1967; named to Television Hall of Fame,
1985. Address: 818 Deerpath Road, Santa Barbara, California 93108,
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Vance, Jr. "The Weaver Years at NBC." Wide Angle (Athens,
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