Brief History Of Network Entertainment Business
Last week CBS promoted Nina Tassler from President to Chairman of CBS Entertainment. For me as a local CBS programmer this was the best news of the week and maybe the entire year.
There is no other network television entertainment executive today that is more savvy and successful than Tassler in a world of hundreds of channels, multiple viewing distribution options, and vastly different viewing patterns from the past.
CBS began providing a full prime time schedule for stations in 1948, many of which had been on network radio or programs produced by CBS News. Jack Benny had 15 years on TV with a weekly show after a successful network radio career. Groucho Marx and Lucille Ball, whose theatrical film careers had dried up in the 1940‘s, moved to network radio and then took their shows to TV. Hubbell Robinson was one of the early CBS Television programmers who later produced the show Thriller for NBC.
By the late 1950’s, network radio was dying due to television’s rapid growth. When it changed to national radio news service in the 1960’s, the job of network television programming became more high profile yet increasingly complicated with the stakes for success or failure higher, both in terms of advertising, audience reach, and for those in charge of that responsibility.
As a local programmer since 1984, my job is to acquire the best syndicated programming and then schedule it in the best time period that attracts the highest audience possible and the highest advertising rates. What constitutes “best” is subjective at times because we never know how a new show will work until we schedule it. Oftentimes the pilots we see from program distributors don’t look anything like the final version that is launched. But the role of a network programming executive is more than what we do locally.
In a nutshell, network entertainment divisions typically have mid-level executives who report to the top entertainment executive that have expertise in different genres of filmed entertainment: drama, comedy, reality, alternative programming, specials, etc. It’s very similar to a radio corporate programming structure for overseeing formats like all news or CHR/Top 40. Some executives are responsible for certain “dayparts” or time periods such as CBS Daytime or CBS Late Night. The individuals holding these positions are those who typically have creative backgrounds, know good writing, character and storyline development, and good talent, and work closely with the producers of these shows. CBS News and CBS Sports are separate divisions within CBS who supply programming to the Network and are overseen by other non-entertainment executives.
CBS continues to have the most stable lineup of programming of any network, but there are at times instances when new shows are green lighted, scheduled for air, yet fall short of the Network’s expectations for success for any number of reasons. Successful networks like CBS always plan for some fallout during a season in the event something doesn’t work out as planned originally, and then they are ready to execute Plan B!
When it comes to prime time entertainment on TV, no one does it better than CBS Entertainment and Nina Tassler. See you next time.
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