National Broadcasting Company
NBC Logo History (1926-present)
All NBC logo’s, but not the NBC TV Presents from March 17, 1949.
The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) is an American commercial broadcast television and radio network that is the flagship property of NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast. The network is headquartered in the Comcast Building (formerly known as the GE Building) at Rockefeller Center in New York City, with additional major offices near Los Angeles (at Universal City Plaza) and in Chicago (at the NBC Tower). NBC is sometimes referred to as the “Peacock Network”, in reference to its stylized peacock logo, which was originally created in 1956 for its then-new color broadcasts and became the network’s official emblem in 1979.
Founded in 1926 by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), NBC is the oldest major broadcast network in the United States. In 1986, control of NBC passed to General Electric (GE) – which previously owned RCA and NBC until 1930, when it was forced to sell the companies as a result of antitrust charges – through its $6.4 billion purchase of RCA. Following the acquisition by GE (which later sold RCA), Bob Wright served as chief executive officer of NBC, remaining in that position until his retirement in 2007, when he was succeeded by Jeff Zucker. In 2003, French media company Vivendi merged its entertainment assets with GE, forming NBC Universal. Comcast purchased a controlling interest in the company in 2011, and acquired General Electric’s remaining stake in 2013. Following the Comcast merger, Zucker left NBCUniversal and was replaced as CEO by Comcast executive Steve Burke.
NBC has eleven owned-and-operated stations and nearly 200 affiliates throughout the United States and its territories, some of which are also available in Canada via pay television providers or in border areas over-the-air; NBC also maintains brand licensing agreements for international channels in South Korea and Germany.
Radio – Earliest stations: WEAF and WJZ
During a period of early broadcast business consolidation, radio manufacturer Radio Corporation of America (RCA) had acquired New York City radio station WEAF from American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T). Westinghouse, a shareholder in RCA, had a competing outlet in Newark, New Jersey pioneer station WJZ (no relation to the radio and television station in Baltimore currently using those call letters), which also served as the flagship for a loosely structured network. This station was transferred from Westinghouse to RCA in 1923, and moved to New York City.
WEAF acted as a laboratory for AT&T’s manufacturing and supply outlet Western Electric, whose products included transmitters and antennas. The Bell System, AT&T’s telephone utility, was developing technologies to transmit voice- and music-grade audio over short and long distances, using both wireless and wired methods. The 1922 creation of WEAF offered a research-and-development center for those activities. WEAF maintained a regular schedule of radio programs, including some of the first commercially sponsored programs, and was an immediate success. In an early example of “chain” or “networking” broadcasting, the station linked with Outlet Company-owned WJAR in Providence, Rhode Island; and with AT&T’s station in Washington, D.C., WCAP.
New parent RCA saw an advantage in sharing programming, and after getting a license for radio station WRC in Washington, D.C., in 1923, attempted to transmit audio between cities via low-quality telegraph lines. AT&T refused outside companies access to its high-quality phone lines. The early effort fared poorly, since the uninsulated telegraph lines were susceptible to atmospheric and other electrical interference.
In 1925, AT&T decided that WEAF and its embryonic network were incompatible with the company’s primary goal of providing a telephone service. AT&T offered to sell the station to RCA in a deal that included the right to lease AT&T’s phone lines for network transmission.
Red and Blue Networks – NBC Red Network and Blue Network
RCA spent $1 million to purchase WEAF and Washington sister station WCAP, shut down the latter station and merged its facilities with surviving station WRC; in late 1926, it subsequently announced the creation of a new division known as the National Broadcasting Company. The division’s ownership was split among RCA (a majority partner at 50%), its founding corporate parent General Electric (which owned 30%) and Westinghouse (which owned the remaining 20%). NBC officially started broadcasting on November 15, 1926.
WEAF and WJZ, the flagships of the two earlier networks, were operated side-by-side for about a year as part of the new NBC. On January 1, 1927, NBC formally divided their respective marketing strategies: the “Red Network” offered commercially sponsored entertainment and music programming; the “Blue Network” mostly carried sustaining – or non-sponsored – broadcasts, especially news and cultural programs. Various histories of NBC suggest the color designations for the two networks came from the color of the pushpins NBC engineers used to designate affiliates of WEAF (red) and WJZ (blue), or from the use of double-ended red and blue colored pencils. A similar two-part/two-color strategy was utilized in the recording industry, dividing the market between classical (cf. RCA Red Seal) and popular offerings.
On April 5, 1927, NBC expanded to the West Coast with the launch of the NBC Orange Network, also known as the Pacific Coast Network. This was followed by the debut of the NBC Gold Network, also known as the Pacific Gold Network, on October 18, 1931. The Orange Network carried Red Network programming, and the Gold Network carried programming from the Blue Network. Initially, the Orange Network recreated Eastern Red Network programming for West Coast stations at KPO in San Francisco. The Orange Network name was removed from use in 1936, and the network’s affiliate stations became part of the Red Network. At the same time, the Gold Network became part of the Blue Network. In the 1930s, NBC also developed a network for shortwave radio stations, called the NBC White Network.
In 1927, NBC moved its operations to 711 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, occupying the upper floors of a building designed by architect Floyd Brown. The space that NBC occupied was designed by Raymond Hood, who based the appearance of its multiple studio facilities on “a Gothic church, the Roman forum, a Louis XIV room and, in a space devoted to jazz, something ‘wildly futuristic, with plenty of color in bizarre designs.'” NBC outgrew the Fifth Avenue facilities in 1933.
In 1930, General Electric was charged with antitrust violations, resulting in the company’s decision to divest itself of RCA. The newly separate company signed leases to move its corporate headquarters into the new Rockefeller Center in 1931. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., founder and financier of Rockefeller Center, arranged the deal with GE chairman Owen D. Young and RCA president David Sarnoff. When it moved into the complex in 1933, RCA became the lead tenant at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, known as the “RCA Building” (now the GE Building), which housed NBC’s production studios as well as theaters for RCA-owned RKO Pictures.
Chimes – NBC Chimes
The iconic three-note NBC chimes came about after several years of development. The three-note sequence, G-E’-C’, was first heard over Red Network affiliate WSB in Atlanta, with a second inversion C Major triad as its outline. An executive at NBC’s New York headquarters heard the WSB version of the notes during the networked broadcast of a Georgia Tech football game and asked permission to use it on the national network. NBC started to use the chimes sequence in 1931, and it eventually became the first audio trademark to be accepted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
A variant sequence with an additional note, G-E’-C’-G, known as “the fourth chime”, was used during significant events of extreme urgency (including during World War II, especially in the wake of the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor; on D-Day and during disasters). The NBC chimes were mechanized in 1932 by Rangertone founder Richard H. Ranger; their purpose was to send a low-level signal of constant amplitude that would be heard by the various switching stations manned by NBC and AT&T engineers, and to be used as a system cue for switching individual stations between the Red and Blue network feeds. Contrary to popular legend, the G-E’-C’ notes were not originally intended to reference to the General Electric Company (an early shareholder in NBC’s founding parent RCA and whose Schenectady, New York radio station, WGY, was an early affiliate of NBC Red). The three-note sequence remains in use by the NBC television network, most notably incorporated into the John Williams-composed theme music used by NBC News, “The Mission” (first composed in 1985 for NBC Nightly News).
New Beginnings: The Blue Network becomes ABC
Further information: Blue Network and American Broadcasting Company
In 1934, following the government agency’s creation, the Mutual Broadcasting System filed a complaint to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), claiming it ran into difficulties trying to establish new radio stations in a market largely controlled by NBC and the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). In 1938, the FCC began a series of investigations into the monopolistic effects of network broadcasting. A report published by Commission in 1939 found that NBC’s two networks and its owned-and-operated stations dominated audiences, affiliates and advertising in American radio; this led the Commission to file an order to RCA to divest itself of either NBC Red or NBC Blue.
After Mutual’s appeals were rejected by the FCC, RCA filed its own appeal to overturn the divestiture order. However in 1941, the company decided to sell NBC Blue in the event its appeal was denied. The Blue Network was formally named NBC Blue Network, Inc. and NBC Red became NBC Red Network, Inc. for corporate purposes. Both networks formally divorced their operations on January 8, 1942, with the Blue Network being referred to on-air as either “Blue” or “Blue Network”, and Blue Network Company, Inc. serving as its official corporate name. NBC Red, meanwhile, became known on-air as simply “NBC.” Investment firm Dillon, Read & Co. placed a $7.5 million bid for NBC Blue, an offer that was rejected by NBC executive Mark Woods and RCA president David Sarnoff.
After losing on final appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court in May 1943, RCA sold Blue Network Company, Inc., for $8 million to the American Broadcasting System, a recently founded company owned by Life Savers magnate Edward J. Noble. After the sale was completed on October 12, 1943, Noble acquired the rights to the Blue Network name, leases on landlines, the New York studios, two-and-a-half radio stations (WJZ in Newark/New York City; KGO in San Francisco and WENR in Chicago, which shared a frequency with Prairie Farmer station WLS); contracts with actors; and agreements with around 60 affiliates. In turn, to comply with FCC radio station ownership limits of the time, Noble sold off his existing New York City radio station WMCA. Noble, who wanted a better name for the network, acquired the branding rights to the “American Broadcasting Company” name from George B. Storer in 1944. The Blue Network became ABC officially on June 15, 1945, after the sale was completed.
Defining Radio’s Golden Age – NBC Radio Network
NBC became home to many of the most popular performers and programs on the air. Al Jolson, Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen, Bob Hope, Fred Allen, and Burns and Allen called NBC home, as did Arturo Toscanini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra, which the network helped him create. Other programs featured on the network included Vic and Sade, Fibber McGee and Molly, The Great Gildersleeve (arguably broadcasting’s first spin-off program, from Fibber McGee), One Man’s Family, Ma Perkins and Death Valley Days. NBC stations were often the most powerful, and some occupied unique clear-channel national frequencies, reaching hundreds or thousands of miles at night.
In the late 1940’s, rival CBS gained ground by allowing radio stars to use their own production companies to produce programs, which became a profitable move for much of its talent. In the early years of radio, stars and programs commonly hopped between networks when their short-term contracts expired. During 1948 and 1949, beginning with the nation’s top radio star, Jack Benny, many NBC performers – including Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Burns and Allen and Frank Sinatra – jumped to CBS.
In addition, NBC stars began migrating to television, including comedian Milton Berle, whose Texaco Star Theater on the network became television’s first major hit. Conductor Arturo Toscanini conducted ten television concerts on NBC between 1948 and 1952. The concerts were broadcast on both television and radio, in what perhaps was the first such instance of simulcasting. Two of the concerts were historic firsts – the first complete telecast of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, and the first complete telecast of Verdi’s Aida (starring Herva Nelli and Richard Tucker), performed in concert rather than with scenery and costumes.
Aiming to keep classic radio alive as television matured, and to challenge CBS’s Sunday night radio lineup, which featured much of the programs and talent that had to moved that network following the defection of Jack Benny to CBS, NBC launched The Big Show in November 1950. This 90-minute variety show updated radio’s earliest musical variety style with sophisticated comedy and dramatic presentations. Featuring stage legend Tallulah Bankhead as hostess, it lured prestigious entertainers, including Fred Allen, Groucho Marx, Lauritz Melchior, Ethel Barrymore, Louis Armstrong, Ethel Merman, Bob Hope, Danny Thomas, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Ella Fitzgerald. However, The Big Show ’s initial success did not last despite critical praise, as most of its potential listeners were increasingly becoming television viewers. The show lasted two years, with NBC losing around $1 million on the project (the network was only able to sell advertising time during the middle half-hour of the program each week).
NBC’s last major radio programming push, beginning on June 12, 1955, was Monitor, a creation of NBC President Sylvester “Pat” Weaver, who also created the innovative programs Today, The Tonight Show and Home for the companion television network. Monitor was a continuous all-weekend mixture of music, news, interviews and features, with a variety of hosts including well-known television personalities Dave Garroway, Hugh Downs, Ed McMahon, Joe Garagiola and Gene Rayburn. The potpourri show tried to keep vintage radio alive by featuring segments from Jim and Marian Jordan (in character as Fibber McGee and Molly); Peg Lynch’s dialog comedy Ethel and Albert (with Alan Bunce); and iconoclastic satirist Henry Morgan. Monitor was a success for a number of years, but after the mid-1960s, local stations, especially those in larger markets, were reluctant to break from their established formats to run non-conforming network programming. One exception was Toscanini: The Man Behind the Legend, a weekly series commemorating the great conductor’s NBC broadcasts and recordings which ran for several years beginning in 1963. After Monitor ended its 20-year run on January 26, 1975, little remained of NBC network radio beyond hourly newscasts and news features, and Sunday morning religious program The Eternal Light.
On June 18, 1975, NBC launched the NBC News and Information Service (NIS), which provided up to 55 minutes of news per hour around the clock to local stations that wanted to adopt an all-news radio format. NBC carried the service on WRC in Washington, and on its owned-and-operated FM stations in New York City, Chicago and San Francisco. NIS attracted several dozen subscribing stations, but by the fall of 1976, NBC determined that it could not project that the service would ever become profitable and gave its affiliates six months’ notice that it would be discontinued. NIS ended operations on May 29, 1977. In 1979, NBC launched The Source, a modestly successful secondary network providing news and short features to FM rock stations.
The NBC Radio Network also pioneered personal advice call-in national talk radio with a satellite-distributed evening talk show, TalkNet; the program featured Bruce Williams (providing personal financial advice), Bernard Meltzer (personal and financial advice) and Sally Jessy Raphael (personal and romantic advice). While never much of a ratings success, TalkNet nonetheless helped further the national talk radio format. For affiliates, many of them struggling AM stations, TalkNet helped fill evening time slots with free programming, allowing the stations to sell local advertising in a dynamic format without the cost associated with producing local programming. Some in the industry feared this trend would lead to increasing control of radio content by networks and syndicators.
General Electric acquired RCA in 1986, and with it NBC, signaling the beginning of the end of NBC Radio. Three factors led to the radio division’s demise: GE decided that radio did not fit its strategy, while the radio division had not been profitable for many years. In addition, FCC ownership rules at the time prevented companies acquiring broadcast properties from owning both a radio and television division. In the summer of 1987, GE sold NBC Radio’s network operations to Westwood One, and sold off the NBC-owned stations to various buyers. By 1990, the NBC Radio Network as an independent programming service was pretty much dissolved, becoming a brand name for content produced by Westwood One, and ultimately by, ironically, CBS Radio. The Mutual Broadcasting System, which Westwood One had acquired two years earlier, met the same fate, and essentially merged with NBC Radio.
GE’s divestiture of NBC’s entire radio division was the first cannon shot of what would play out in the national broadcast media, as each of the Big Three broadcast networks were soon acquired by other corporate entities. NBC was a particularly noteworthy case in that it was the first to be acquired – and was bought by a conglomerate outside the broadcast industry as GE otherwise primarily served as a manufacturing company. Prior to the GE acquisition, NBC operated its radio division partly out of tradition, and partly to meet its then-FCC-mandated requirement to distribute programming for the public good (the broadcast airwaves are owned by the public; as that broadcast spectrum is limited and only so many broadcast stations existed, this served as the basis for government regulation requiring broadcasters to provide certain content that meets the needs of the public). Syndicators such as Westwood One were not subject to such rules as they did not own any stations. GE’s divestiture of NBC Radio – known as “America’s First Network” – in many ways marked the “beginning of the end” of the old era of regulated broadcasting and the ushering in of the new, largely unregulated industry that is present today.
By the late 1990’s, Westwood One was producing NBC Radio-branded newscasts on weekday mornings. These were discontinued in 1999, and the few remaining NBC Radio Network affiliates became affiliates of CNN Radio, carrying the Westwood-owned service’s hourly newscasts 24 hours a day. In 2003, Westwood One began distributing NBC News Radio, a new service featuring minute-long news updates read by television anchors and reporters from NBC News and MSNBC, with content written by Westwood One employees.
On March 1, 2012, Dial Global announced that it would discontinue CNN Radio, and replace it with an expansion of NBC News Radio on April 1, 2012. This marked the first time since Westwood One’s purchase of NBC Radio and its properties that NBC would have a 24-hour presence on radio. A previous program, First Light, placed new emphasis on the NBC brand after diminishing it over the years. With the change, NBC News Radio expanded its offerings from 60-second news updates airing only on weekdays to feature two hourly full-length newscasts 24 hours a day. Subsequently, on September 4, 2012, Dial Global launched a sports-talk radio service, NBC Sports Radio.
For many years, NBC was closely identified with David Sarnoff, who used it as a vehicle to sell consumer electronics. RCA and Sarnoff had captured the spotlight by introducing all-electronic television to the public at the 1939–40 New York World’s Fair, simultaneously initiating a regular schedule of programs on the NBC-RCA television station in New York City. President Franklin D. Roosevelt appeared at the fair, before the NBC cameras, becoming the first U.S. president to appear on television on April 30, 1939 (an actual, off-the-monitor photograph of the FDR telecast is available at the David Sarnoff Library). The broadcast was transmitted by NBC’s New York television station W2XBS Channel 1 (later WNBC-TV; now WNBC, channel 4) and was seen by about 1,000 viewers within the station’s roughly 40-mile (64 km) coverage area from its transmitter at the Empire State Building.
The following day (May 1), four models of RCA television sets went on sale to the general public in various department stores around New York City, which were promoted in a series of splashy newspaper ads. DuMont Laboratories (and others) had actually offered the first home sets in 1938 in anticipation of NBC’s announced April 1939 television launch. Later in 1939, NBC took its cameras to professional football and baseball games in the New York City area, establishing many “firsts” in television broadcasting.
Reportedly, the first NBC Television “network” program was broadcast on January 12, 1940, when a play titled Meet The Wife was originated at the W2XBS studios at Rockefeller Center and rebroadcast by W2XB/W2XAF (now WRGB) in Schenectady, which received the New York station directly off-air from a tower atop a mountain and relayed the live signal to the Capital District. About this time, occasional special events were also broadcast in Philadelphia (over W3XE, later called WPTZ, now known as KYW-TV) as well as Schenectady. The most ambitious NBC television “network” program of the pre-war era was the telecast of the Republican National Convention held in Philadelphia in the summer of 1940, which was fed live to the New York City and Schenectady stations. However, despite major promotion by RCA, television sales in New York during 1939 and 1940 were disappointing, primarily due to the high cost of the sets, and the lack of compelling regularly schedule programming. Most sets were sold to bars, hotels and other public places, where the general public viewed special sports and news events.
Television’s experimental period ended, as the FCC allowed full-fledged commercial television broadcasts to begin on July 1, 1941. NBC station W2XBS in New York City received the first commercial license, adopting the call letters WNBT. The first official, paid television advertisement broadcast by any U.S. station was for watch manufacturer Bulova, which aired that day, just before the start of a Brooklyn Dodgers baseball telecast on WNBT. The ad consisted of test pattern, featuring the newly assigned WNBT call letters, which was modified to resemble a clock – complete with functioning hands – with the Bulova logo (featuring the phrase “Bulova Watch Time”) in the lower right-hand quadrant of the test pattern (a photograph of the NBC camera filming the test pattern-advertisement for that ad can be seen at this page). Among the programs that aired during the first week of WNBT’s new, commercial schedule was The Sunoco News, a simulcast of the Sun Oil-sponsored NBC Radio program anchored by Lowell Thomas; amateur boxing at Jamaica Arena; the Eastern Clay Courts tennis championships; programming from the USO; the spelling bee-type game show Words on the Wing; a few feature films; and a one-time-only, test broadcast of the game show Truth or Consequences, sponsored by Lever Brothers.
Prior to the first commercial television broadcasts and paid advertisements on WNBT, non-paid television advertising existed on an experimental basis dating back to 1930. NBC’s earliest non-paid television commercials may have been those seen during the first Major League Baseball game ever telecast, between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds, on August 26, 1939 over W2XBS. In order to secure the rights to televise the game, NBC allowed each of the Dodgers’ regular radio sponsors at the time to have one commercial during the telecast. The ads were conducted by Dodgers announcer Red Barber: for Ivory Soap, he held up a bar of the product; for Mobilgas he put on a filling station attendant’s cap while giving his spiel; and for Wheaties he poured a bowl of the product, added milk and bananas, and took a big spoonful.
Limited, commercial programming continued until the U.S. entered World War II. Telecasts were curtailed in the early years of the war, then expanded as NBC began to prepare for full-time service upon the end of the war. Even before the war concluded, a few programs were sent from New York City to affiliated stations in Philadelphia (WPTZ) and Albany/Schenectady (WRGB) on a regular weekly schedule beginning in 1944, the first of which is generally considered to be the pioneering special interest/documentary show The Voice of Firestone Televues, a television offshoot of The Voice of Firestone, a mainstay on NBC radio since 1928, which was transmitted from New York City to Philadelphia and Schenectady on a regular, weekly basis beginning on April 10, 1944. The series is considered to be the NBC television network’s first regularly scheduled program.
On V-E Day, May 8, 1945, WNBT broadcast several hours of news coverage, and remotes from around New York City. This event was promoted in advance by NBC with a direct-mail card sent to television set owners in the New York area. At one point, a WNBT camera placed atop the marquee of the Hotel Astor panned the crowd below celebrating the end of the war in Europe. The vivid coverage was a prelude to television’s rapid growth after the war ended.
The NBC television network grew from its initial post-war lineup of four stations. The 1947 World Series featured two New York City area teams (the Yankees and the Dodgers), and television sales boomed locally, since the games were being telecast in the New York market. Additional stations along the East Coast and in the Midwest were connected by coaxial cable through the late 1940’s, and in September 1951 the first transcontinental telecasts took place.
The post-war 1940’s and early 1950’s brought success for NBC in the new medium. Television’s first major star, Milton Berle, whose Texaco Star Theatre began in June 1948, drew the first large audiences to NBC Television. Under its innovative president, Sylvester “Pat” Weaver, the network launched Today and The Tonight Show, which would bookend the broadcast day for over 50 years, and which still lead their competitors. Weaver, who also launched the genre of periodic 90-minute network “spectaculars”, network-produced motion pictures and the live 90-minute Sunday afternoon series Wide Wide World, left the network in 1955 in a dispute with its chairman David Sarnoff, who subsequently named his son Robert Sarnoff as president.
In 1951, NBC commissioned Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti to compose the first opera ever written for television; Menotti came up with Amahl and the Night Visitors, a 45-minute work for which he wrote both music and libretto, about a disabled shepherd boy who meets the Three Wise Men and is miraculously cured when he offers his crutch to the newborn Christ Child. It was such a stunning success that it was repeated every year on NBC from 1951 to 1966, when a dispute between Menotti and NBC ended the broadcasts. However, by 1978, Menotti and NBC had patched things up, and an all-new production of the opera, filmed partly on location in the Middle East, was telecast that year.
While rivals CBS and the DuMont Television Network also had plans to begin offering color television broadcasts, RCA convinced the FCC to approve its color system in December 1953. NBC was ready with color programming within days of the Commission’s decision. NBC began the transition with a few shows in 1954, and broadcast its first program to air all episodes in color beginning that summer, The Marriage.
In 1955, NBC broadcast a live production in color of Peter Pan, a new Broadway musical adaptation of J. M. Barrie’s beloved play, on the Producers’ Showcase anthology series, The first such telecast of its kind, the broadcast starred the musical’s entire original cast, led by Mary Martin as Peter and Cyril Ritchard in a dual role as Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. The broadcast drew the highest ratings for a television program for that period. It was so successful that NBC restaged it as a live broadcast a mere ten months later; in 1960, long after Producers’ Showcase had ended its run, Peter Pan, with most of the 1955 cast, was restaged again, this time as a standalone special, and was videotaped so that it would no longer have to be performed live on television.
During a National Association of Broadcasters meeting in Chicago in 1956, NBC announced that its owned-and-operated station in that market, WNBQ (now WMAQ-TV), had become the first television station in the country to broadcast its programming in color (airing at least six hours of color broadcasts each day). In 1959, NBC premiered a televised version of the radio program The Bell Telephone Hour, which aired in color from its debut; the program would continue on the NBC television network for nine more years until it ended in 1968.
In 1961, NBC approached Walt Disney about acquiring the rights to his anthology series, offering to produce the program in color. Disney was in the midst of negotiating a new contract to keep the program (then known as Walt Disney Presents) on ABC, however ABC president Leonard Goldenson said that it could not counter the offer, as the network did not have the technical and financial resources to carry the program in color. Disney subsequently struck a deal with NBC, which began airing the anthology series in the format in September 1961 (as Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color). As many of the Disney programs that aired in black-and-white on ABC were actually filmed in color, they could easily be re-aired in the format on the NBC broadcasts. In January 1962, NBC’s telecast of the Rose Bowl became the first college football game ever to be telecast in color.
By 1963, much of NBC’s prime time schedule was presented in color, although some popular series (such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which premiered in late 1964) were broadcast in black-and-white for their entire first season. In the fall of 1965, NBC was broadcasting 95% of its prime time schedule in color (with the exceptions of I Dream of Jeannie and Convoy), and began billing itself as “The Full Color Network.” Without television sets to sell, rival networks followed more slowly, finally committing to an all-color lineup in prime time in the 1966–67 season. Days of Our Lives became the first soap opera to premiere in color, when it debuted in November 1965.
NBC contracted with Universal Studios in 1964 to produce the first feature-length film produced for television, See How They Run, which first aired on October 17, 1964; its second television movie, The Hanged Man, aired six weeks later on November 28. Even while the presentations performed well in the ratings, NBC did not broadcast another made-for-TV film for two years.
In 1967, NBC reached a deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) to acquire the broadcast rights to the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. CBS, which had televised the film annually since 1956, refused to meet MGM’s increased fee to renew its television rights. Oz had been, up to then, one of the few programs that CBS had telecast in color. However by 1967, color broadcasts had become standard on television, and the film simply became another title in the list of specials that NBC telecast in the format. The film’s showings on NBC were distinctive as it televised The Wizard of Oz without a hosted introduction, as CBS had long done; it was also slightly edited for time in order to make room to air more commercials. Despite the cuts, however, it continued to score excellent television ratings in those pre-VCR days, as audiences were generally unable to see the film any other way at that time. NBC aired The Wizard of Oz each year from 1968 to 1976, when CBS, realizing that they may have committed a colossal blunder by letting a huge ratings success like Oz go to another network, agreed to pay MGM more money to re-acquire the rights to show the film.
The late 1960’s brought big changes in the programming practices of the major television networks. As baby boomers reached adulthood, NBC, CBS and ABC began to realize that much of their existing programming had not only been running for years, but had audiences that skewed older. In order to attract the large youth population that was highly attractive to advertisers, the networks moved to clean house of a number of veteran shows. In NBC’s case, this included programs like The Bell Telephone Hour and Sing Along With Mitch, which both had an average viewer age of 50. During this period, the networks came to define adults between the ages of 18 and 49 as their main target audience, although depending on the show, this could be subdivided into other age demos: 35–45, 18–25 or 18–35. Regardless of the exact target demographic, the general idea was to appeal to viewers who were not close to retirement age and to modernize television programming, which the networks felt overall were stuck in a 1950’s mentality, to closely resemble contemporary American society.