Tiffany and the Peacock
Yesterday, I read the chapters on the establishment of the big networks: NBC, CBS, ABC, and then later FOX and the WB/UPN/CW. And then this morning I watched two episodes of the PBS doc series, Pioneers in Television — one on the early sitcoms and the other on the evolution of the late night talk show.
One of the more interesting things I garnered is how those networks’ early personas (specifically the big 4) are still somewhat evident today. NBC was seen as an early innovator, trying new formats (like the Steve Allen’s Tonight show), and it was the first to transition its radio stars over to television, bringing in an already-engaged audience. They also had an advantage in that NBC was owned by the very company to bring this new form of technology into homes: RCA. The company sold televisions, and was able to have an edge on branding, marketing, and innovate technology like color TV. I can still see this effort of early adaptation (clearly not as highly innovative, but prominent nonetheless) with the network’s embrace of web access and use. NBC was one of the first to start adding exclusive content on their websites and was an early adapter of Hulu, an innovative force in allowing networks to capitalize in the revenue it was losing by people illegally downloading or posting shows of theirs online. As far as programming, NBC has had some of the most influential, unique sitcoms of the past, as well as the last 2 decades ( as well as some obvious duds hahaha): Seinfeld, Friends, Cheers, The Office, 30 Rock, Law & Order, Saturday Night Live, The Cosby Show, A Different World, Mad About You, Wings, Frasier, Will & Grace, My Name is Earl, ER, Hill Street Blues, and Scrubs.
And as much as I like NBC programming, they are still balls in ratings.
CBS, on the other hand, is basically uncool to me. This is the network of grandmas everywhere. There are shows on CBS right now that I know are pretty funny — in fact we have a friend who works on one of the network’s most successful shows. But still, nothing to me makes me HAVE to tune in or record anything that’s on CBS. It just doesn’t feel right to me. In the early days, CBS got by on its broad programming, a staple that is very clearly still its mission as the most-watched network on television.
And then there’s ABC, which started off as NBC’s severed conjoined twin, and then FOX, the loud, brash one of the big four. Each has their merits, but for some reason, I have always been partial to the peacock.