ABC Television Network
500 S. Buena Vista St.
Burbank, CA 91521-7716
The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) is a television and radio network in the United States. Created in 1943 from the former NBC Blue network, ABC is now owned by The Walt Disney Company. Corporate headquarters are in New York, while programming offices are in Burbank, California, adjacent to the Walt Disney Studios and the Walt Disney Company corporate headquarters.
The formal name of the company that operates the network is American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., and that name appears on copyright notices for its in-house network productions. A separate entity named ABC Inc., formerly Capital Cities/ABC Inc., is that firm's direct parent company, and that company is owned in turn by Disney. The network today, in fact, is the last of the Big Three broadcasting networks to use the full name based upon this initialism (after the Columbia Broadcasting System in 1974, and the National Broadcasting Company in 2004). The network is sometimes referred to as the Alphabet Network, due to the letters "ABC" being the first three letters of the Latin alphabet.
From the organization of the first true radio networks in the late 1920s, broadcasting in the United States was dominated by two companies, CBS and RCA's NBC. Prior to NBC's 1926 formation, RCA had acquired AT&T's New York station WEAF (later WNBC, now WFAN). With WEAF came a loosely organized system feeding programming to other stations in the northeastern U.S. RCA also took control of a second such group, fed by Westinghouse's WJZ in New York. These were the foundations of RCA's two distinct programming services, the NBC "Red" and NBC "Blue" networks. Legend has it that the color designations originated from the color of the push-pins early engineers used to designate affiliates of WEAF (red pins) and WJZ (blue pins).
After years of study the FCC in 1940 issued a "Report on Chain Broadcasting." Finding that two corporate owners (and the co-operatively owned Mutual Broadcasting System) dominated American broadcasting, this report proposed "divorcement," requiring the sale by RCA of one of its chains. NBC Red was the larger radio network, carrying the leading entertainment and music programs. In addition, many Red affiliates were high-powered, clear-channel stations, heard nationwide. NBC Blue offered most of the company's news and cultural programs, many of them "sustaining" or unsponsored. Among other findings, the FCC claimed RCA used NBC Blue to suppress competition against NBC Red. The FCC did not regulate or license networks directly. However, it could influence them by means of its hold over individual stations. Consequently, the FCC issued a ruling that "no license shall be issued to a standard broadcast station affiliated with a network which maintains more than one network." NBC argued this indirect style of regulation was illegal and appealed to the courts. However, the FCC won on appeal, and NBC was forced to sell one of its networks. It opted to sell NBC Blue.
The task of selling of NBC Blue was given to Mark Woods; throughout 1942 and 1943, NBC Red and NBC Blue divided their assets. A price of $8 million was put on the assets of the Blue group, and Woods shopped the Blue package around to potential buyers. One such, investment bank Dillon, Read made an offer of $7.5 million, but Woods and RCA chief David Sarnoff held firm at $8 million. The Blue package contained leases on land-lines and on studio facilities in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles; contracts with talent and with about sixty affiliates; the trademark and "good will" associated with the Blue name; and licenses for three stations (WJZ in New York, San Francisco's KGO, and WENR in Chicago - really a half-station, since WENR shared time and a frequency with "Prairie Farmer" station WLS).
RCA finally found a buyer in Edward Noble, owner of Life Savers candy and the Rexall drugstore chain. In order to complete the station-license transfer, Noble had to sell the New York radio station that he owned, WMCA. Also, FCC hearings were required. Controversy ensued over Noble's intention to keep Mark Woods on as president, which led to the suggestion that Woods would continue to work with (and for) his former employers. This had the potential to derail the sale. During the hearings, Woods said the new network would not sell airtime to the American Federation of Labor. Noble evaded questioning on similar points by hiding behind the NAB code. Frustrated, the chairman advised Noble to do some rethinking. Apparently he did, and the sale closed on October 12, 1943. The new network, known simply as "The Blue Network," was owned by the American Broadcasting System, a company Noble formed for the deal. It sold airtime to organized labor.
In mid-1944, Noble renamed his network American Broadcasting Company. This set off a flurry of re-naming; to avoid confusion, CBS changed the call-letters of its New York flagship, WABC-AM 880, to WCBS-AM in 1946. In 1953, WJZ in New York took on the abandoned call-letters WABC.
ABC began slowly; with few "hit" shows, it had to build an audience. Noble sprang for more stations, among them Detroit's WXYZ; one of the founding stations of the Mutual network. WXYZ was where The Lone Ranger, Sergeant Preston, Sky King and other popular daily serials originated. With this purchase, ABC instantly acquired a bloc of established daily shows. Noble also bought KECA (now KABC) in Los Angeles, to give the network a Hollywood production base. Counter-programming became an ABC specialty, for example, placing a raucous quiz-show like Stop the Music against more thoughtful fare on NBC and CBS. Unlike the other networks, ABC pre-recorded many programs; advances in tape-recording brought back from conquered Germany meant that the audio quality of tape could not be distinguished from "live" broadcasts. As a result, several high-rated stars who wanted freedom from rigid schedules, among them Bing Crosby, moved to ABC. Though still rated fourth, by the late 1940s ABC had begun to close in on the better-established networks.
Enter Leonard Goldenson
Faced with huge expenses in building a radio network, ABC was in no position to take on the additional costs demanded by a television network. To secure a place at the table, though, in 1947 ABC submitted requests for licenses in the five cities where it owned radio stations. All five requests were for each station to broadcast on channel 7; ABC executives thought at the time that the low-band (channels 2 through 6) TV channels would be discontinued, thus making these five stations broadcasting on VHF channel 7 the lowest on the TV dial and therefore the best channel positions (such a move never occurred).
On April 19, 1948 the ABC television network went on the air. Interestingly, the network picked up its first affiliate, WFIL-TV in Philadelphia (now WPVI-TV) before its first owned and operated station, WJZ-TV in New York (now WABC-TV) signed on in August.
For the next several years, ABC was a television network mostly in name. Except for the largest markets, most cities had only one or two stations. The FCC froze applications for new stations in 1948 while it sorted out the thousands of applicants, and re-thought the technical and allocation standards set down in 1938. What was meant to be a six-month freeze lasted until 1952, and until that time there were only 101 stations in the United States. For a late-comer like ABC, this meant being relegated to secondary status in many markets. ABC commanded little affiliate loyalty, though unlike fellow startup network DuMont, it at least had a radio network on which to draw loyalty and revenue. It also had a full complement of five O&Os, which included stations in the critical Chicago (WENR-TV, now WLS-TV) and Los Angeles (KECA-TV, now KABC-TV) markets. Even then, by 1951 ABC found itself badly overextended and on the verge of bankruptcy. It had only nine full-time affiliates to augment its five O&Os--WJZ, WENR, KECA, WXYZ-TV in Detroit and KGO-TV in San Francisco.
Noble finally found a white knight in United Paramount Theaters. Divorced from Paramount Pictures at the end of 1949 by Supreme Court order, UPT had plenty of money on hand and was not afraid to spend it. UPT head Leonard Goldenson immediately set out to find investment opportunities. Barred from the film business, Goldenson saw broadcasting as a possibility, and approached Noble about buying ABC. Since the transfer of station licenses was again involved, the FCC set hearings. At the heart of this was the question of the Paramount Pictures-UPT divorce: were they truly separate? And what role did Paramount's long-time investment in DuMont Laboratories, parent of the television network, play? After a year of deliberation the FCC approved the purchase by UPT in a 5–2 split decision on February 9, 1953. Speaking in favor of the deal, one commissioner pointed out that UPT had the cash to turn ABC into a viable, competitive third network. ABC considers 1953 to be its official birth date.
Shortly after the ABC–UPT merger, Goldenson approached DuMont with a merger offer. DuMont was in financial trouble for a number of reasons, not the least of which was an FCC ruling that barred it from acquiring two additional O&Os because of two stations owned by Paramount. However, DuMont's pioneering status in television and programming creativity gave it a leg up on ABC, and for a time appeared that DuMont was about to establish itself as the third television network. This all changed with the ABC-UPT merger, which effectively placed DuMont on life support. Goldenson and DuMont's managing director, Ted Bergmann, quickly agreed to a deal. Under the proposed merger, the merged network would have been called "ABC-DuMont" for at least five years. DuMont would get $5 million in cash and guaranteed advertising time for DuMont television receivers. In return, ABC agreed to honor all of DuMont's network commitments. The merged network would have had to sell either WJZ-TV or DuMont flagship WABD-TV (now WNYW) as well as two other stations in order to comply with the FCC's five-station limit. However, Paramount vetoed the sale. A few months earlier, the FCC ruled that Paramount controlled DuMont, and there were still lingering questions about whether the two companies were truly separate. By 1956, the DuMont network had shut down.
After its acquisition by UPT, ABC at last had the means to offer a full-time television network service. By mid-1953 Goldenson had begun a two-front campaign, calling on his old pals at the Hollywood studios (he had been head of the mighty Paramount theater chain since 1938) to convince them to move into programming. And he began wooing station owners to convince them that a refurbished ABC was about to burst forth. He also convinced long-time NBC and CBS affiliates in several markets to move to ABC. His two-part campaign paid off when the "new" ABC hit the air on October 27, 1954. Among the shows that brought in record audiences was "Disneyland", produced-by and starring Walt Disney. MGM, Warner Bros. and Twentieth Century-Fox were also present that first season. Within two years, Warners was producing ten hours of programming for ABC each week, mostly interchangeable detective and western series. The middle 1950's saw ABC finally have shows in the top-10 including Disneyland. However, it still had a long way to go. It was relegated to secondary status in many markets until the late 1960s, and in some cases well into the 1980s.
While ABC continued to languish in third place nationally, it often topped local ratings in the larger markets. With the arrival of Hollywood's slickly-produced series, ABC began to catch on with younger, urban viewers. As the network gained in the ratings, it became an attractive property, and over the next few years ABC approached, or was approached, by GE (which would have had to sell its stake in RCA, owner of NBC), Howard Hughes, Litton Industries, GTE and ITT. ABC and ITT agreed to a merger in late 1965, but this deal was derailed by FCC and Department of Justice questions about ITT's foreign ownership influencing ABC's autonomy and journalistic integrity. ITT's management promised that ABC's autonomy would be preserved. While it was able to convince the FCC, antitrust regulators at the Justice Department refused to sign off on the deal. After numerous delays, the deal was called off on January 1, 1968.
As had happened at NBC and CBS, from the mid-1950s ABC's radio audience gravitated to television. By the early 1960s, the radio network schedule consisted of a few long-running serials, Lawrence Welk's musical hour (simulcast from television), and Don McNeill's daily "Breakfast Club" variety show. ABC made a last-ditch effort to retain the radio audience by filling the schedule with talk-shows, but gave in after a few years. In 1968, ABC's remaining programming service was split in four parts, offering customized news and features for pop-music-, news-, or talk-oriented formats. Later, that plan was further broadened to offer seven formats, and ABC returned to programming by offering its more popular local talk shows to national audiences. During this time of expansion, ABC revised its corporate name to American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.
During this period of the 1960s, ABC founded an in-house production unit, ABC Films, to create new material especially for the network. Shortly after the death of producer David O. Selznick, ABC acquired the rights to a considerable amount of the Selznick theatrical film library, including Rebecca and Portrait of Jennie (but not including Selznick's bigger hits, like Gone With the Wind and the 1957 version of A Farewell to Arms).
Success at last
Despite its relatively small size, ABC found increasing success with television programming aimed at the emerging "Baby Boomer" culture. Producer Roone Arledge helped ABC's fortunes with innovations in sports programming, creating Wide World of Sports and Monday Night Football. By doing so he helped to make sport into a multi-billion-dollar industry, and was rewarded by being made head of ABC News and Sports. Continuing the network's upswing in the 1960s were highly rated primetime sitcoms like My Three Sons, That Girl, Bewitched, and The Brady Bunch. ABC's daytime lineup became strong throughout the 1970s and 1980s with the soap operas General Hospital, One Life to Live, All My Children, and Ryan's Hope and the game shows Family Feud and Let's Make a Deal.
By the early 1970s, ABC had formed its first theatrical division, ABC Pictures (having acquired independent studio Palamor Pictures). One of its few moneymaking films was Bob Fosse's Cabaret. The network itself, meanwhile, was showing signs of overtaking CBS and NBC. Broadcasting in color from the mid-1960s, ABC started using the new science of demographics to tweak its programming and ad sales. ABC invested heavily in shows with wide appeal, especially situation comedies like Happy Days, but also offered big-budget, extended-length miniseries, among them QB VII, and Rich Man, Poor Man. The most successful, Roots, based on Alex Haley's novel, became one of the biggest hits in television history. Combined with ratings for its regular weekly series, Roots propelled ABC to a first-place finish in the national Nielsen ratings for the 1976–1977 season— this was a first in the then thirty-year history of the network. In 1983, via its revived theatrical division, ABC Motion Pictures, Silkwood was released in theaters and The Day After (again produced in-house by its by-then retitled television unit, ABC Circle Films) was viewed on TV by 100 million people, prompting discussion of nuclear activities taking place at the time.
Since 1984, the entire family of ESPN networks and franchises have been owned by ABC (80%) and the Hearst Corporation (20%).
In 1984-85, ABC began the transition from coaxial cable/microwave delivery to satellite delivery via AT&T's Telstar 301. ABC maintained a West Coast feed network on Telstar 302, and in 1991 scrambled feeds on both satellites with the Leitch system. Currently, with the Leitch system abandoned, ABC operates clear feeds on Intelsat Americas 5 and Intelsat Americas 6, in addition to digital feeds on both satellites.
Capital Cities (1985 until the Disney Merger)
ABC's dominance carried into the early 1980s. But by 1985, veteran shows like The Love Boat had lost their steam; a resurgent NBC was leading in the ratings. ABC shifted its focus to situation comedies. During this period, ABC seemed to have lost the momentum that once propelled it; there was little offered that was innovative or compelling. Like his counterpart at CBS, William S. Paley, founding-father Goldenson had withdrawn to the sidelines. ABC's ratings and the earnings thus generated reflected this loss of drive. Under the circumstances, ABC was a ripe takeover target. However, no one expected the buyer to be a media company only a tenth the size of ABC, Capital Cities Communications. The corporate name was changed to Capital Cities/ABC.
As the 1990's began, one could conclude this period was more conservative than other times in the company's history. The miniseries faded off. Saturday morning cartoons were phased out. But the network did acquire Orion Pictures' television division in the wake of the studio's bankruptcy, thus ABC Productions was created. Shows produced during this era included My So-Called Life, The Commish, and American Detective (the latter co-produced with Orion before the studio's bankruptcy). In an attempt to win viewers on Friday night, the TGIF programming block was created. The lead programs of this time included America's Funniest Home Videos, Full House, Family Matters, Home Improvement, and Step by Step. This programming was hardly controversial: good parenting, abstinence, and maintaining a nuclear family were common themes.
On the radio side, ABC radio stations also became more conservative. After passing up the rights to syndicate Rush Limbaugh, ABC Radio Networks currently syndicates conservative talk show hosts such as Sean Hannity, John Batchelor, Larry Elder, and Mark Davis. Radio & Records Magazine early in 2005 said that Disney/ABC would sell its radio stations and radio-network operations, and on February 6, 2006, it was announced that ABC Radio would be spun off and merge with the Citadel Broadcasting Corporation.
Acquisition by Disney
In 1996, The Walt Disney Company acquired Capital Cities/ABC, and renamed the broadcasting group ABC, Inc., although the network continues to also use American Broadcasting Companies, such as on TV productions it owns.
ABC's relationship with Disney dates back to 1953, when Leonard Goldenson pledged enough money so that the "Disneyland" theme park could be completed. ABC continued to hold Disney notes and stock until 1960, and also had first call on the "Disneyland" television series in 1954. With this new relationship came an attempt at cross-promotion, with attractions based on ABC shows at Disney parks and an annual soap festival at Walt Disney World. The former president of ABC, Inc., Robert Iger, now heads Disney.
Despite intense micro-managing on the part of Disney management, the flagship television network was slow to turn around. In 1999, the network was able to experience a brief resurgence with the hit game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. However, WWTBAM became overexposed, appearing on the network sometimes five or six nights during a week. ABC's ratings fell dramatically as competitors introduced their own game shows and the public grew tired of the format. In 2004, ABC was able to find its niche in dramas such as Desperate Housewives, Boston Legal and Lost, followed shortly by Grey's Anatomy, which are all popular among viewers and critically acclaimed. However, their reality television programming has not been as successful; despite successes with Dancing with the Stars, the mishandling of The Mole (and the creation of its subsequent spinoffs Celebrity Mole Hawaii and Celebrity Mole Yucatan) and the continued failures of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are of note. Despite this, ABC is currently the United States' second-most watched network. Also of note is ABC's attempted rebuttal of Fox's enormously popular American Idol, The One, which attempts to splice a talent competition with a traditional reality show. The show comes in response to 5 years of utter dominance by American Idol over even ABC's most popular shows.
Borrowing a proven Disney formula, there have been attempts to broaden the ABC brand name. In 2004 ABC launched a news channel called ABC News Now. Its aim is to provide round-the-clock news on over-the-air digital TV, cable TV, the Internet, and mobile phones.
A 2003 Nielsen estimate found that ABC could be seen in 96.75% of all homes in the United States, reaching 103,179,600 households. ABC has 10 VHF and UHF owned-and-operated television stations and 191 affiliated stations in the U.S. and U.S. possessions.
Since the 1950s, ABC has split "live" production between east- and west-coast facilities; ABC Television Center West in Hollywood, (once the Vitagraph film studios) accommodates sets for the daily soap operas; and the ABC Television Center East, once clustered around a former stable on West 66th Street, and now split between several soundstages in the same New York neighborhood. (ABC's corporate headquarters and news studios are located on the north side of West 66th, while its soap facilities are across the street and the stage for The View are further west on 66th near the Hudson River.) Some ABC News programs such as Good Morning America are broadcast from ABC's studios in Times Square. ABC's west coast corporate offices are located in Burbank, California adjacent to the Walt Disney Studios and the Walt Disney Company corporate headquarters.
For most of the network's existence, in regards to children's programming, ABC has aired mostly programming from Walt Disney Television or other producers. The crown jewel of its children's programming lineup was the award-winning School House Rock which aired beginning in 1973 and was finally retired in 2001.
In the early 1990s, ABC abandoned the children's programming lineup on weekday afternoons, relegating the lineup to Saturdays only. Following ABC's sale to Disney, ABC began airing more and more cartoons from Walt Disney Television.
In September 1997, ABC remodeled its Saturday morning children's programming lineup, renaming it Disney's One Saturday Morning. It featured many programs (mostly animated series) from Walt Disney Television. In 2001, ABC began a deal with sister network Disney Channel to air its original programming. Originally, the lineup aired only a couple of Disney Channel series, Lizzie McGuire and Even Stevens. But has since grown to take up the entire lineup which was rebranded back to ABC Kids in September 2002. Now every series on the ABC Kids schedule are series from Disney Channel or Toon Disney. The only exception is NBA Inside Stuff, which moved from NBC in 2002 when it acquired the broadcast NBA contract.
Today, ABC owns nearly all its in-house television and theatrical productions made from the 1970s forward, with the exception of certain co-productions with producers (for example, The Commish is now owned by its producer, Stephen Cannell). Also part of the library is the aforementioned Selznick library, the Cinerama Releasing/Palamor theatrical library and the Selmur Productions catalog the network acquired some years back, and the in-house productions it continues to produce (such as America's Funniest Home Videos, General Hospital, and ABC News productions), although Buena Vista handles international distribution.
Most of the in-house ABC shows produced prior to 1973 are now the responsibility of CBS Paramount Television (via its acquisition of WorldVision Enterprises).
Before its early color transmissions, the ABC identity was a lowercase 'abc' inside a lower case 'A'. That logo was known as the "ABC Circle A." The logo was modified in the fall of 1962 when ABC started using the current "ABC Circle" logo (designed by Paul Rand) with ultra-modern (for its time) lower case 'abc' inside. The typeface used is a simple geometric design inspired by the Bauhaus school of the 1920s; its simplicity makes it easy to duplicate, something ABC has taken advantage of many times over the years (especially before the advent of computer graphics). It does not correspond to a particular font; however, several common geometric typefaces (including Avant Garde and Horatio) are close, and a recently developed typeface is inspired by it. A variation of ABC's logo is used by Brazilian TV network SBT. A radio station in Mexico's Federal District, XEABC, duplicates the 'abc' lettering as its logo.