American Broadcasting Company

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American Broadcasting Company

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The "ABC Circle" logo, designed by Paul Rand in 1962.
For other uses, see ABC.

The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) is a television and radio network in the United States. Today, it is owned by The Walt Disney Company, and the company name is ABC, Inc. The studio headquarters are in Burbank, California, linked to the Walt Disney Studios by pedestrian bridge.




Creation of ABC

In the 1930s, radio in the United States was dominated by just a few companies. Among these were Mutual Broadcasting, Columbia Broadcasting, and RCA's National Broadcasting Company, or NBC.

RCA actually owned two networks, each of which operated separate radio stations and a few experimental television stations. RCA's networks were named NBC Red and NBC Blue.

In 1940 the Federal Communications Commission issued the "Report on Chain Broadcasting". The report proposed "divorcement", or the selling of either NBC Red or NBC Blue by RCA. NBC Red was the dominant NBC radio network. The report said RCA used NBC Blue to suppress competition against NBC Red. See Monopoly. At the time, the NBC networks controlled the overwhelming majority of high-powered stations. From 1935 to 1941 the Federal Communications Commission, under chairman James Fly, conducted hearings on chain broadcasting, from which the report was issued. On the point of dividing NBC, the Federal Communications Commission could not regulate networks directly, only indirectly through stations, thus the Federal Communications Commission ordered: "No license shall be issued to a standard broadcast station affiliated with a network which maintains more than one network." As a result NBC would have to be divested of one network to keep the other. NBC argued this indirect style of regulation was illegal and appealed the decision. The Federal Communications Commission was upheld and The Blue Network had to be sold.

The task of selling of NBC Blue was given to Mark Woods. During 1942 and 1943 NBC Red and NBC Blue divided their assets. Edward Noble, the owner of Lifesaver candy and owner of WMCA in New York, was interested, but his initial bid was too low. Woods continued shopping the network around to other interested parties, including the investment bank Dillon, Read and Company who made an offer of $7,500,000. However, when he called his boss, David Sarnoff, with the news, he discovered that Sarnoff had already closed the deal with Noble for $8,000,000.

Three stations were transferred from RCA to Noble, however Noble also had to sell his own radio station, so Federal Communications Commission hearings were necessary. Additionally the new network would have Noble as chairman and Woods as president, a situation which did not please the FCC. The potential for Woods to surreptiously work with his former employers and continuing the anti-competitive behaviour which prompted the FCC to force the sale in the first place had the potential to derail the sale. During the hearings Fly asked Woods if the new network would sell time to the American Federation of Labor; Woods responded no. When Noble was brought before the commission, Fly questioned him on similar subjects, however, Noble hid behind the National Association of Broadcasters Code to avoid answering the questions. Frustrated by stonewalling, Fly threw his papers down and advised Noble to do some rethinking. Which apparently, Noble did, because on October 12, 1943 the sale was approved and the new network sold air time to organized labor.

In 1945, the new network was renamed the American Broadcasting Company, ABC, and its parent company became the American Broadcasting Companies Inc. A few years later, on April 19th, 1948 the ABC network began airing its first television signal in New York City, however, the cash strapped network found it difficult to expand its television offerings into new markets.


Merger with United Paramount Theatres

ABC was in a poor competitive position as the television era began, as there were not enough VHF stations to put three stations on the air in most major cities, much less four (the others being CBS, NBC, and the Dumont Television Network). Once the movie theatres were divested from the studios in the early 1950s, money rich United Paramount Theatres, or UPT made an offer to merge with ABC. The FCC questioned the merger, as it was unsure whether Paramount and the theatres were truly separate and Paramount had a long history of antitrust violations. If the Commission had ruled they were not separate, that would mean Paramount was controlling two networks (it also had a minority stake in the DuMont Network) and ten stations, both of which would violate Commission policy. However, after a year of deliberations, the FCC approved the merger in 5-2 split decision on February 9th, 1953. The merger was approved because Paramount had divested itself fully of the theater group, had the cash to turn ABC into a viable third network, and contribueted to increased competition. Before ABC merged with UPT it had considered merging with International Telephone and Telegraph, CBS (which needed several of ABC's stations), and General Tire. Either of the latter two deals would have divided its assets, however.

Shortly after the ABC-UPT merger, the merged company approached DuMont with a merger offer. By this time, DuMont was in severe financial trouble and was looking for a way to survive. Under the proposed deal, the merged network would have been called "ABC-DuMont" for at least five years. However, Paramount Pictures vetoed the sale. Within a year, DuMont was out of business.


The 1960s

After the merger with United Paramount Theaters, ABC was able to get their TV network off the ground. However, by 1965, color television was becoming commonplace, ABC needed more affiliates to stay afloat, and the network was 3rd in the ratings. Knowing that the network needed money to grow, ABC president Leonard Goldenson spoke to several large corporations of the time (including GE, Litton Industries and GTE), but eventually found ITT calling again.

ABC and ITT finally agreed to a merger in late 1965. This second merger attempt was very nearly successful; however, concerns were raised by the FCC and the US Department of Justice about ITT's foreign ownership influencing ABC's autonomy and journalistic integrity. ITT's management promised the authorities that ABC's autonomy would be preserved, and the merger was initially approved by the FCC, but in the end, the Justice Department was not convinced. The merger was called off on January 1, 1968.

Despite its small size and the corporate maneuvering during the time, ABC began having modest success with television programs aimed at the emerging youth "Baby Boomer" culture. Many of the shows ABC broadcast during this time were later regarded as classics, such as The Addams Family, Batman, The Flintstones, and Leave It to Beaver (a fact later played up in ABC's 1977 Still The One ads). Also, producer Roone Arledge helped ABC's fortunes with his innovations in sports programming; he used his techniques on NCAA football games at first, adding cutting-edge camera work and changing the presentation to better capture the "feel" of the game. He also created Wide World of Sports and Monday Night Football. In the process, he helped to change sports worldwide into a multi-billion dollar industry, and eventually was promoted to President of ABC News and Sports.


ABC finally makes it big

By the early 1970s, ABC was finally catching up to CBS and NBC. The network was now in full color at all times, and ABC started using the new technology of demographics to tweak its ad placement. On the programming side, ABC invested heavily in shows with wide appeal, mainly sitcoms and such, but also made the occasional foray into something more: the big-budget, extended length miniseries. ABC ran several of these gargantuan productions (QB VII, Rich Man, Poor Man), but the biggest one by far ran in January 1977. Roots, a TV version of Alex Haley's novel, became one of the biggest hits in TV history, and combined with the success of other shows like Happy Days, ABC came out number 1 in the Nielsen ratings for the 1976–1977 season – the first time ABC had ever done so.


The 1980s and beyond

ABC's 1970s dominance lasted into the early 1980s. By 1985, however, veteran shows like The Love Boat had lost their steam, Three's Company and Happy Days had ended their runs the previous year, and a resurgent NBC was leading in the ratings. ABC decided to focus once again on comedy, greenlighting the innovative but problematic dramedy Moonlighting that fall. The biggest successes of ABC's late 1980s programming, however, would be more traditional fare like the buddy sitcom Perfect Strangers (and its spinoff Family Matters), as well as the acerbic family sitcom Roseanne and the more child-friendly Full House; Full House and Family Matters proved so popular that ABC eventually devoted their entire Friday night lineup to family-friendly sitcoms.

In 1985 the company merged with media company Capital Cities Communications and changed its name to Capital Cities/ABC.


Acquisition by Disney

In 1996, The Walt Disney Company acquired Capital Cities/ABC, and renamed the group ABC, Inc. ABC had a long relationship with Disney, ever since the airing of the Wonderful World of Disney television program starting in 1954, which was the most popular show on TV. Influences from ABC can be seen all around the Disney company, with attractions based on TV shows at Disney parks and an annual soap festival at The Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World. The President of ABC, Inc., Robert Iger, became the President and COO of The Walt Disney Company in 2000 and is Michael Eisner's hand-picked successor as CEO of the company.

As the 1990s progressed, the network moved away from family favorites like Roseanne and Home Improvement, attempting instead to appeal to the urbane Friends and Frasier audience. Entries like Sports Night and Gideon's Crossing bombed.

A short-lived news channel (ABC Cable News) started in 1995; it was unable to compete with CNN, and shut down in 1997. However, in July, 2004 ABC launched a news channel called ABC News Now. It's aim is to provide round-the-clock news to different forms of mass-media. The channel currently airs on digital cable and the Internet, as well as cell phones which support MobiTV, SmartVideo and GoTV.

For the 1999–2000 season, led by the unexpected success of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, ABC became the first network to bounce in the television ratings from third place to first place in a single season.

Two years later, Millionaire had lost its luster. Since so many shows relied on the multi-night series for their audience windfalls, every highly-rated show on the network took a massive hit. ABC struggled for years to create a hit show. But in the fall of 2004 the network experienced a revitalization, as new series Lost and Desperate Housewives became hits; ABC also has had success with Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, a home-makeover reality show that was nominated for an Emmy Award its first season out.

In 2003 it was estimated that ABC was viewable in 96.75% of all homes in the United States, reaching 103,179,600 households. ABC has 201 VHF and UHF owned-and-operated or affiliate stations in the U.S. and U.S. possessions.

Since the 1950s, ABC has had two main taping facilities; the ABC Television Center West on Prospect Avenue in Hollywood (while another studio in Century City is increasingly used, the Prospect Avenue studios are best known for accommodating the numerous sets of the soap opera General Hospital), and the ABC Television Center East, which is split up into many soundstages across New York City (while many television shows end with a message like "videotaped at the ABC Television Center in New York City," this is highly inaccurate as there is no one strong nucleus of operation in New York).

In 2005, an article on Radio & Records Magazine said Disney/ABC would sell its radio stations and operations. The best way is, they could swap some stations off some companies, and make Disney/ABC able to purchase more TV affiliates. A major candidate to purchase the ABC radio networks is Westwood One, company that purchased in previous years the NBC, Mutual and CBS radio networks.


ABC identity

ABC logo used from 1957 to 1962.

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 for the famous logo is a simple geometric design inspired by the Bauhaus school of the 1920s; its simplicity makes it easy to redraw and duplicate, something ABC has taken advantage of many times over the years (especially before the advent of computer graphics). It doesn't correspond to a particular font; however, several common geometric typefaces (including Avant Garde and Horatio) are close. A recently developed typeface is inspired by the logotype.



Launched September 27, 2004, ABC1 is a British TV station on the Freeview digital terrestrial service, owned and operated by Disney. Its launch schedule is a selection of past and present American shows from 6:00am to 6:00pm. It shares the ABC logo and shows mostly old ABC shows.


See also



  • Sobel, Robert. ITT. New York: Truman Talley Books-Times Books, 1982.
  • Sampson, Anthony. The Sovereign State of ITT. New York: Stein and Day, 1973.

External links

  • ABC website
  • A bio of Former President Fred Silverman
  • Screen captures of ABC logos past and present, as well as footage of vintage promos

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