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Chester Pach

Under the cover of darkness on 9 December 1992, U.S. forces went ashore at Mogadishu, Somalia, and got an unexpected reception. The night suddenly turned bright, as television lights illuminated the landing area and temporarily blinded marines and navy SEALs equipped with night vision goggles. At the water's edge were hundreds of journalists who had been waiting to film the beginning of Operation Restore Hope, a humanitarian mission to distribute food and other vital supplies to starving Somalis. The news media had turned the beach into a kind of outdoor television studio, much to the distress of the troops.

The advance guard of Operation Restore Hope did not know that television journalists would complicate their landing. Yet the reporters were there because Pentagon officials had alerted them. Military officials hoped for favorable publicity from news stories about the beginning of a mission that they thought would win widespread approbation. But while they notified reporters, Pentagon authorities forgot to tell marine and navy commanders to expect a reception of lights and cameras.

This incident illustrates the complex relationship between the news mediaand particularly television journalistsand those who plan and implement U.S. foreign policy. Journalists depend on government officials for information and accessto conferences, briefings, crisis areas, and war zones. Yet they often chafe under the restrictions that policymakers or military commanders impose. Those who formulate or carry out foreign policy depend on TV news to provide them with favorable publicity as well as information about international affairs or channels for building public support. Yet these officials also worry about the power of cameras and reporters to transform events as well as to frame issues, expose secrets, or challenge official policies. Cooperation and mutual dependence is the flip side of tension and conflicting interests.

Since the middle of the twentieth century, television has been closely connected to U.S. foreign policy. What makes TV important is that it is a visual medium that commands large audiences. Continuing technological improvements, including live broadcasting of international events as they take place, have made television a powerful instrument for conveying information, molding public attitudes, and influencing government policies. Yet it is easy to exaggerate or misunderstand the power of television to shape foreign policy. Beginning in the late twentieth century, the U.S. government had to deal with twenty-four-hour news cycles, "real-time" reporting of "breaking" news, and extensive coverage of international events with large significance, such as the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., on 11 September 2001, or with dramatic appeal, such as whether Elián Gonzalez, the six-year-old refugee, should remain with relatives in Miami or return to his father in Cuba. Television has affected the ways that the U.S. government has made foreign policy and built public support for it. Yet presidents and other high officials with clear objectives and sophisticated strategies for dealing with the news mediafor example, George H. W. Bush's administration during the Persian Gulf War and the international crisis that preceded ithave maintained control of foreign policy and commanded public backing for their international agenda.

Yet even before it had such immediacy or reach, television played a significantand sometimes controversialrole in shaping government actions and popular understanding of international affairs. The Vietnam War was a critical event. It began, at least, as an American war, just when television had become the principal source of news for a majority of the U.S. public. It offered lessonscontroversial, to be sureabout the role of TV in shaping public attitudes toward international affairs. And it occurred at a time of significant changes in journalism. Despite their devotion to objectivity, balance, and fairness, TV reporters would no longer insist, as Edward R. Murrow had in 1947, on a contract provision that limited his right to express opinion in his stories. Vietnam, in short, marked a major transition in the relationship between television and foreign policy.


Although it was a novelty in the United States at the end of World War II, television became an important part of American life during the first postwar decade. Fewer than one out of ten American homes had television in 1950. Five years later the proportion had grown to two-thirds. New stations quickly took to the air and usually affiliated with one of the networks: the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), or the short-lived DuMont Television Network.

Even when the networks consisted of a handful of stations, government officials showed keen interest in using television to build public support for U.S. foreign and military policies. Public affairs officers in the State Department said they favored television because it did "a better job than any other medium at depicting foreign policy in action." The department worked with both networks and independent producers to create shows about foreign policy and world affairs or make available for telecast films that it produced itself. Among the most popular series was The Marshall Plan in Action, which premiered on ABC in June 1950 and continued under the title Strength for a Free World until February 1953. Other shows were the interview program Diplomatic Pouch (CBS) and, during the Korean War, The Facts We Face (CBS) and Battle ReportWashington (NBC). In these early days of broadcasting, the networks were eager for programming to fill up their time slots. They also took advantage of opportunities to demonstrate support for American Cold War policies, especially during the McCarthy era.

Evening newscasts became regular features during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Each network aired fifteen-minute programs. CBS and NBC expanded their shows to thirty minutes in September 1963; ABC did not do the same until January 1967. John Daly anchored the ABC broadcast during most of the 1950s. Douglas Edwards held the same position at CBS until Walter Cronkite replaced him in April 1962. The most popular news program in the early 1950s was NBC's Camel News Caravan, with host John Cameron Swayze. With a carnation in his lapel and zest in his voice, Swayze invited viewers to "go hopscotching the world for headlines." After this brisk international tour, there might be stops at a beauty pageant or a stadium for the afternoon's scores. Chet Huntley and David Brinkley succeeded Swayze in October 1956. Anchors and journalists rather than hosts, as Swayze had been, they brought greater depth to the NBC newscasts without making them solemn. They also attracted viewers because of the novelty of their pairing, the contrast in their personalities, and the familiarity of their closing"Good night, Chet;" "Good night, David." They led the ratings until the late 1960s.

International news was important on each of these programs, yet there were difficulties in covering distant stories, especially on film. Fifteen minutes (less time for commercials, lead-in, and closing) allowed coverage of only a few stories and little time for analysis. Cumbersome and complicated cameras and sound equipment made film reports difficult. Before the beginning of satellite communication in the 1960s, it might take a day or two for film from international locations to get on the air. Despite these limitations, the audience for these newscasts grew steadily. By 1961 surveys showed that the public considered television the "most believable" source of news. Two years later, for the first time, more people said that they relied on television rather than newspapers for most of their news.

Many viewers watched in utter astonishment on 22 October 1962, when President John F. Kennedy informed them about Soviet missiles in Cuba and the possibility of nuclear war. Soviet diplomats got a copy of the speech only an hour before Kennedy went before the cameras. The president's decision to make his demand for the removal of the missiles on television made compromise on this fundamental issue all but impossible. Kennedy spoke directly to Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, calling on him to step back from the nuclear brink. It was an extremely skillful use of television as a medium of diplomatic communication. The crisis dominated TV news coverage until its end six days later. The reporting surely influenced public attitudes, but it probably had little direct effect on Kennedy's advisers. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara later revealed that he did not watch television even once during the thirteen days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Yet during the growing difficulties in Vietnam, Kennedy, his advisers, and those who succeeded them in the White House paid close attention to television news.


Vietnam did not become a big story on American television until 1965, but it was a controversial one from the time that U.S. military personnel began to play a significant role in combat in the early 1960s. Officials of both the U.S. and South Vietnamese governments were extremely concerned about coverage of the war. Their criticism at first centered on reporting in newspapers and magazines and on wire services, as these news media began sending full-time correspondents to Vietnam several years before NBC's Garrick Utley became the first television journalist based in Saigon, beginning in mid-1964. Yet even though their assignments were brief and their numbers few, TV journalists still found that South Vietnamese authorities scrutinized their reporting and sometimes objected to it, as Utley's colleague, Jim Robinson, learned during one of his occasional trips to Saigon while stationed in NBC's Hong Kong bureau. Offended by one of Robinson's stories, President Ngo Dinh Diem expelled the correspondent from the country in November 1962, despite protests from both the U.S. embassy and journalists in Saigon.

The Kennedy administration used less heavy-handed methods to manage the news from Vietnam. Administration officials tried to play down U.S. involvement in what it described as a Vietnamese war, even as the president sharply increased U.S. military personnel from several hundred to more than sixteen thousand. Yet Kennedy and his advisers rejected the military censorship of news reporting that had prevailed in previous twentieth-century wars, lest such restrictions call attention to a story whose significance they wished to diminish. Instead, U.S. officials in Saigon mixed patriotic appeals "to get on the team" with upbeat statements about South Vietnamese military success and misleading information about what were ostensibly U.S. military advisers who in reality participated in combat operations.

The administration's efforts at news management collapsed during the Buddhist crisis of 1963, as horrifying images of the fiery suicides of monks protesting government restrictions on religious expression appeared in American television news reports and on the front pages of newspapers. What the U.S. embassy called the "press problem" worsened, as reporters not only mistrusted official sources because of their manipulation of information, but contributed to a public debate about whether the Diem government's liabilities were so great that it might not be able to prevail in the war against the National Liberation Front. In important televised interviews in September with Cronkite of CBS and Huntley and Brinkley of NBC on the day that each of those newscasts expanded to thirty minutes, Kennedy reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to South Vietnam while publicly delivering the message that diplomatic emissaries privately conveyed: that the Diem government should make changes to reclaim popular support so it could more effectively prosecute the war. Kennedy also quietly tried to dampen public criticism of Diem, even as his advisers debated how to step up the pressure on the South Vietnamese leader and whether to encourage a coup, by suggesting that the New York Times remove correspondent David Halberstam, whose critical reports had questioned the administration's backing of Diem. The publisher of the Times refused to buckle to presidential pressure; Halberstam remained in Saigon to cover the coup that ousted Diem on 1 November.

The administration of Lyndon B. Johnson in many ways followed its predecessor's pattern of news management as it expanded U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam in 1964 and 1965. Johnson and his principal advisers believed that domestic support was critical to the U.S. war effort, but worried "that our public posture is fragile." Like its predecessor, the Johnson administration ruled out censorship of the news in favor of a system of voluntary cooperation in withholding certain kinds of military information. "Because we are fools" was the explanation that the president gave one group of journalists for this choice. Yet administration policymakers repeatedly considered censorship and rejected it for fear of damage to official credibility. They also hoped that an ambitious program of public relations would ensure favorable coverage of the U.S. war effort.

Yet the "information problem" continued, even after U.S. policy became "maximum candor and disclosure consistent with the requirements of security." Many reporters distrusted the daily official briefings in Saigon, which they derisively called "The Five O'clock Follies." While some journalists considered these briefings a mixture of spin, exaggeration, and half-truths, others concluded that the information officers told "outright lies." Evidence for this darker interpretation came from Arthur Sylvester, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, who turned an innocuous social occasion in Saigon in July 1965 into a nasty confrontation when he sneered at reporters, "Look, if you think that any American official is going to tell you the truth, you're stupid."

Some White House officials worried about "fragmentary" reports lacking "perspective" on TV newscasts as the networks rapidly increased their news operations in South Vietnam in 1965. Their fears about what TV cameras might reveal became acute when the CBS Evening News showed correspondent Morley Safer's sensational film report about U.S. marines using cigarette lighters to burn civilian huts in a search-and-destroy operation in the village of Cam Ne in August. Pentagon officials charged Safer with staging the incident and tried unsuccessfully to get him removed from his assignment because his Canadian nationality supposedly made it impossible for him to report fairly on what they now called an "American" war.

Safer's story was exceptional. Few reports on TV newscasts in 1965 and 1966 directly questioned U.S. objectives or methods of warfare. Most concentrated on combat that involved what anchors commonly called "our" troops or pilots. Many of these "bang-bang" stories lauded the sophisticated military technology that gave U.S. forces advantages in firepower and mobility or the scale of the U.S. war effort, as troops and supplies poured into South Vietnam. Television news often entertained as it informed by providing many appealing human interest stories about American war heroes or ordinary GIs. Reporters and anchors usually accorded commanders in the field and high policymakers in Washington deferential treatment. Critics of the warespecially those in the more radical organizationsoften got skeptical or patronizing coverage, if they got any at all.

Yet TV news also showed the difficulties, dilemmas, and horrors of Vietnam, if only occasionally, from the time that the Johnson administration committed large numbers of U.S. combat troops to the war in 1965. Some reporters quickly recognized fundamental strategic problems, as when ABC's Lou Cioffi asserted in October 1965 that "the United States has brought in a fantastic amount of military power here in Vietnam. But so far we've not been able to figure just exactly how to use it effectively in order to destroy the Vietcong." There were stories about the persistent troubles with pacification programs and the many ways that the war was distortingand destroyingthe lives of Vietnamese civilians. The difficulties and dangers of filming heavy fighting, along with the "queasy quotient" of network production staffs that edited reports for broadcast at the dinner hour, ensured that TV news programs would not show daily, graphic scenes of human suffering. But the newscasts did provide glimpses of severely wounded soldiers, as in Charles Kuralt's report for CBS about an artillery sergeant who clenched a cigar and grimaced as medics dressed the wounds in a leg that surgeons later amputated. A few stories also concerned atrocities, as when CBS's Don Webster described how U.S. troops severed ears from enemy corpses. And some stories could be unsettling, even if they contained no graphic images, as when the CBS Evening News showed a soldier's widow, baby in arms, reading one of her husband's last letters from Vietnam. Such stories were infrequent, yet their power came from what NBC News executive Reuven Frank said television journalism did best, which was the transmission of experience.

Johnson was concerned about the impact of dramatic images and the simplification inherent in half-hour newscasts. He also knew that television audiences were increasing; more than half the American people said they got most of their news from TV. The president's thinking was an example of what sociologist W. Phillips Davison has called "the third-person effect," a belief that mass communications have their greatest influence "not on 'me' or 'you,' but on 'them'" and a tendency to exaggerate the impact "on the attitudes and behavior of others." Johnson, who frequently watched the newscasts on banks of monitors tuned simultaneously to all three major networks, worried about the effects of even a single critical story and sometimes expressed his dismay directly to network news executives, anchors, or reporters. He also repeatedly found what he considered evidence of one-sidedness, unfairness, and bias.

As the war became more controversial and public support for his Vietnam policies declined, Johnson made more extreme charges. He told the president of NBC News in February 1967 that "all the networks, with the possible exception of ABC, were slanted against him," that they were "infiltrated," and that he was "ready to move on them if they move on us." The following month, he alleged that CBS and NBC were "controlled by the Vietcong," and later that year he insisted, "I can prove that Ho [Chi Minh] is a son-of-a-bitch, if you let me put it on the screenbut they [the networks] want me to be the son-of-a-bitch."

When many reporters began to describe the war as a stalemate in mid-1967, the Johnson administration launched a new public relations campaign aimed at persuading the American people that the United States was indeed making progress in achieving its goals in Vietnam. Believing that the "main front" of the war was "here in the United States," Johnson urged his advisers "to sell our product," since he insisted that "the Administration's greatest weakness was its inability to get over the complete story" on Vietnam. The Progress Campaign produced increased public support for Johnson's Vietnam policies. The improvement in the polls reflected the hopeful statements of high officials, including General William C. Westmoreland's famous declaration in a speech at the National Press Club in November 1967 that "we have reached the point when the end begins to come into view."

Such assertions of progress contributed to public disbelief and confusion and to further decline in the president's credibility when the Tet Offensive began in January 1968. TV showed startling scenes of South Vietnam under "hard, desperate, Communist attack," in the words of NBC's Brinkley, as fighting occurred in Saigon as well as in more than one hundred other locations. Some of the film was the most spectacular of the war, including footage on NBC and ABC of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, the chief of the South Vietnamese police, executing a captured NLF officer after a street battle. Several disturbing reports showed TV journalists suffering wounds on camera.

Some observers have been highly critical of the news coverage of Tet. "The dominant themes of the words and film from Vietnam," wrote Peter Braestrup, "added up to a portrait of defeat for the allies. Historians, on the contrary, have concluded that the Tet offensive resulted in a severe military-political setback for Hanoi in the South." Yet historians continue to debate the results of the Tet fighting; there is no scholarly consensus, despite Braestrup's assertion. Moreover, TV journalists who assessed the battles did not find allied defeat. The most famous evaluation came from Walter Cronkite, who declared in a special, prime-time program on 27 February that "the Vietcong did not win by a knockout, but neither did we." "We are mired in stalemate," he concluded, and the time had come for negotiations to end U.S. involvement in the war.

"If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost the country," Johnson said gloomily. Cronkite's call for disengagement did influence the president, but only in combination with many other indications of deep divisions within the public, the Congress, the Democratic Party, and even his own administration over the war. Fearing that he could not govern effectively for another term, Johnson made his dramatic announcement to millions of stunned television viewers on the evening of 31 March 1968 that he sought negotiations to end the war and would not run again for president.

President Richard M. Nixon believed that he faced even greater opposition than Johnson from the news media in general and television journalists in particular, especially over his handling of the Vietnam War. Nixon usually read daily news summaries rather than watching the newscasts themselves. His marginal comments frequently indicated his displeasure and instructed assistants to "hit" or "kick" a particular correspondent or network for a story that he considered inaccurate or unfair. Presidential aides also maintained lists of journalistsmainly network anchors, White House correspondents, and syndicated columnists or commentatorsranked according to their friendliness toward the administration and that could be used for inflicting retaliation or providing "a special stroke."

Nixon followed a two-pronged strategy to deal with the alleged hostility of television news and to build public support for his Vietnam policies. One part involved direct, often hard-hitting, attacks on the networks. Beginning with his famous speech in Des Moines on 13 November 1969, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew tried to channel popular frustration with the war toward the networks by charging that the executives who ran them were "a tiny and closed fraternity" who "do not represent the views of America." The second part of the strategy was to use television as a medium of direct communication with the American people in order to bypass as much as possible critical reporters, editors, and commentators. As he withdrew U.S. forces from South Vietnam, Nixon urged his aides to use public relations initiativesincreasingly centered on televisionto create an image of him "as a strong leader of boldness, courage, decisiveness, and independence" who would settle for nothing less than "peace with honor."

Television coverage of the war diminished as U.S. troops came home and U.S. casualties declined. Those stories that did air gave more attention to the social, political, and economic dimensions of a war that was again becoming mainly a Vietnamese conflict, one that to many Americans lacked the significance of earlier years, one that had simply gone on too long. In a report on the CBS Evening News about fighting in Quang Tri province in April 1972, the camera showed the crumpled bodies of children, refugees who died when their truck hit a land mine. There would be more fighting, correspondent Bob Simon declared, and more that generals, journalists, and politicians would say about those battles. "But it's difficult to imagine what those words can be," Simon concluded. "There's nothing left to say about this war. There's just nothing left to say."

Some critics blamed the extensive, uncensored television coverage for U.S. failure in Vietnam. Robert Elegant, who reported about Vietnam for the Los Angeles Times, insisted that partisanship prevailed over objectivity as journalists "instinctively" opposed the U.S. government and "reflexively" supported "Saigon's enemies." The television screen rather than the battlefield, according to Elegant, determined the outcome of the war by creating a "Vietnam syndrome" that "paralyzed American will" during Saigon's final crisis and that may have led to further troubles in Angola, Afghanistan, and Iran. Elegant offered little evidence to support these inflammatory charges, and Daniel C. Hallin, who carefully studied news media coverage of Vietnam, found many compelling reasons to conclude that television did not somehow lose the war. Hallin argued in The "Uncensored War": The Media and Vietnam (1986) that public opinion had turned against Johnson's handling of the war by early 1967, during a time that TV news coverage was most favorable to administration policies. Moreover, public support for the Korean War diminished even more quickly, yet "television was in its infancy, censorship was tight, and the World War II ethic of the journalist serving the war effort remained strong."

Hallin had the stronger argument, but Elegant's point of view had a greater effect on U.S. policy. Military officials resented the portrayal, as time went on, of the Vietnam War as part of what Hallin called the "sphere of legitimate controversy." Their belief that TV coverage undermined popular support for the war led to new restrictions on reporting when U.S. troops invaded Grenada in October 1983. Military commanders refused to transport reporters to the combat zone and barred them from the island for several days. Most journalists simply did not believe the official explanation that their exclusion was mainly to ensure their safety. ABC correspondent Steve Shepard was one of several reporters who chartered a boat, only to be turned away by the U.S. Navy as he approached Grenada. The Pentagon provided TV news programs with the only available video of the military operations in Grenada, but it did not include any scenes of combat. Walter Cronkite, who had retired in March 1981 as CBS anchor, deplored the abridgment of the public's right to know. Yet these protests did little to detract from the main story, which closely followed the Reagan administration's positionthat U.S. forces had conducted a successful military operation against a potential Cuban-Soviet satellite. The restrictions on the reporting of the Grenada operation were an indication that in government-media relations, there would be no more Vietnams.


No international story other than war dominated television news for as long as the Iranian hostage crisis. The seizure of the staff of the U.S. embassy in Tehran on 4 November 1979 marked the beginning of fourteen months of concentrated, dramatic, and controversial news coverage that affected both public understanding of the hostage crisis and government efforts to resolve it.

TV's treatment of the Iranian hostage crisis invites comparison with its reporting about a similar eventthe seizure of the USS Pueblo on 23 January 1968 and the imprisonment of its crew of eighty-two (another crew member died of wounds incurred during the ship's capture). The North Korean capture of this intelligence ship got extensive coverage for several days on all three networks. Yet even when it led the news, the Pueblo seizure seemed to be related to the biggest continuing story at the timethe Vietnam War. Some reporters, such as ABC's diplomatic correspondent John Scali, told viewers that senior U.S. officials believed that the North Koreans had coordinated their action with the North Vietnamese, who were massing troops around the U.S. marine base at Khe Sanh. The beginning of the Tet Offensive a week later eclipsed the Pueblo story, although newscasts occasionally reported about the negotiations to free the crew. No one, at least on TV, counted the days (335) that the sailors remained in captivity. No Western journalist could go to Pyongyang to interview government officials or gauge popular attitudes toward the United States. Without such film reports, the Pueblo story simply could not hold a prominent, continuing position on TV newscasts. Film of some crew members did occasionally appear on the evening news programs. But the North Korean government approved its release; it contained confessions of wrongdoing and apologies, and the network journalists who narrated it made clear that the film was highly suspect. A few interviews with family members dwelled less on their distress or outrage than on whether the face or voice in the film was really their relative's and whether he appeared any different since being imprisoned. The Pueblo was an important story, but in 1968a year of "horrors and failures," according to CBS's Harry Reasonerit was not nearly as sensational or shocking or troubling as the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the violence at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, or the war in Vietnam.

The Iranian hostage crisis, by contrast, became a dominant story quickly and remained so throughout its duration, even during the 1980 presidential election campaign. Some journalists did not imagine that it would become a news event of such magnitude. Ted Koppel, who covered the State Department for ABC, thought that this incident, like the detention of U.S. diplomats during an earlier invasion of the embassy in Tehran on 14 February 1979, would be over in hours. Yet the Sunday evening edition of ABC's World News Tonight on the first day of the crisis showed some of the images that did much to stoke public outrage: glimpses of hostages in handcuffs and blindfolds, the burning of an American flag, and a photograph of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who reportedly approved the takeover of the embassy.

Network competition had a notable effect on ABC's coverage of the crisis. In 1977 ABC News, traditionally third in ratings and reputation, got a new president, Roone Arledge, who also headed the network's highly successful sports division. Arledge considered expanding World News Tonight to a full hour as a way of giving it more prominence, but local affiliates were unwilling to cede to the network an additionaland highly profitablehalf hour. Arledge then experimented with late night news programming by airing half-hour specials with increasing frequency at 11:30 p.m. (EST). The hostage crisis gave Arledge the opportunity to secure permanent hold of that time slot. ABC, however, did not show its first late-night special until 8 November 1979 nor make it a nightly offering until six days later. The title of the show was both revealing and influential: America Held Hostage.

On 24 March 1980 the program got a new, permanent host, Koppel, and a new name, Night-line. It continued to provide daily coverage, even if the hostage crisis sometimes was not the lead story. Koppel hoped to use the growing capabilities of satellite technology and his skills as an interviewer to create "intercontinental salons" on live TV. Yet the discussion on the debut program was hardly genteel, as Dorothea Morefield, wife of a hostage, asked Ali Agah, the Iranian chargé in Washington, how his government could "continue to hold these innocent people." Some critics found such verbal confrontations contrived and mawkish, with news taking a back seat to show business. Yet television newscasts have long been a mixture of entertainment and information; Nightline expanded the limits of an established genre. And like ABC, the other networks covered the hostage crisis as a human drama as well as an international event, devoting considerable time both to interviews with family members and to the diplomatic efforts to secure the hostages' release. While ABC may have provided the hostage crisis with a melodramatic title, CBS's Walter Cronkite, television's most respected journalist, popularized what became the standard for measuring its duration. He added to his famous sign-off"and that's the way it is"a count of the days, eventually 444, that the fifty-two hostages endured captivity.

The Carter administration at first welcomed the heavy news coverage. Administration officials had many chances to explain to viewers that they were taking strong, but measured actiondiplomatic initiatives, economic sanctionsto try to resolve the crisis without resorting to military force. Jimmy Carter could concentrate on his role as president, rather than as candidate facing a vigorous challenge for his party's presidential nomination from Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Indeed, Carter conspicuously refrained from campaign travel in favor of a Rose Garden strategy that played up his responsibilities as national leader. Carter's approval rating surged from 30 to 61 percent during the first month of the hostage crisis. Never before had the Gallup Poll recorded such a sharp improvement.

Yet administration officials soon deplored the extensive television coverage. Hodding Carter, the State Department spokesperson, complained that news reports were complicating negotiations. White House officials found considerable evidence that Iranian demonstrators were playing to the cameras. Yet their efforts to shift public attention away from the hostage crisis simply would not work because of what presidential counsel Lloyd Cutler called "the constant drumbeat of TV news." Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher believed that television intensified public anger and frustration as it reported about the failed rescue effort in April 1980, described diplomatic initiatives that seemed ineffective, and relentlessly counted the days. Press secretary Jody Powell expressed his frustration at the end of one long day when there had been demonstrations across from the White House by two antagonistic groups that had shouted and scuffled. He crossed Pennsylvania Avenue late at night, walked into Lafayette Park, and unexpectedly encountered CBS reporter Jed Duvall. The reason for these prolonged difficulties, Powell blurted out, was "the networks with their nose up the Ayatollah's ass."


"No more Vietnams" was a popular slogan in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but there were strong disagreements about the meaning of that simple phrase. Some people wanted to avoid another long, costly, andmost importantunsuccessful war. Like Ronald Reagan's first secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger, they believed that the United States should use its military forces only to achieve clear objectives that commanded public support and that would lead to victory. Others wanted to refrain from intervention in Third World revolutions or civil wars where no outside power could hope to impose a lasting settlement. Some counseled against a major effort, even to stop the spread of communism, in a peripheral area. Still others were wary of situations in which limited measuresmilitary aid, the dispatch of advisers, covert actionmight create pressures for progressively deeper involvement culminating in the commitment of combat troops.

Television viewers often learned about these perspectives as their advocates addressed a major, recurring question: Would Central America become "another Vietnam"? On the evening newscasts, the range of views on this issueand, more generally, on U.S. policy toward Nicaragua or El Salvadorwas much greater than in the early 1960s when television covered the expanding U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Changes in broadcast journalism did not account for this difference. Reporters still relied heavily on official sources of information. Quantitative studies of television newscasts show that officials of the Carter or Reagan administrations and members of Congress most frequently appeared in stories about Central America. What was different was that the sphere of legitimate controversy was broader, in large measure because of the legacy of Vietnam.

Television reporting did occasionally have a notable effect on public attitudes or U.S. policy concerning Central America. One shocking example involved ABC correspondent Bill Stewart, who was reporting about the civil war in Nicaragua. Carrying a white flag and media credentials, Stewart approached a National Guard roadblock in Managua on 20 June 1979. A guard officer ordered him to lie on the ground and then shot him and his interpreter. Stewart's crew filmed the killings from its van; the tape ran not just on ABC but on CBS and NBC as well. The footage was uniquely horrifying; the only comparable incidents that TV had shown were Jack Ruby's shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald and General Loan's execution of the NLF prisoner during the Tet Offensive. Speaking the next day to the Organization of American States, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance deplored "the mounting human tragedy" in Nicaragua. "This terror was brought home vividly to the American people yesterday with the cold-blooded murder of an American newsman." Vance then issued the Carter administration's first public call for the resignation of Nicaraguan president Anastasio Somoza and his replacement with a "government of national reconciliation."

Eight years later in very different circumstances, television focused on another individual who affected public views about U.S. policy toward Nicaragua. Colonel Oliver North, fired from his position with the National Security Council, testified for several days in July 1987 during televised congressional hearings into the Iran-contra scandal. Dressed in marine uniform, North was poised and passionate. He admitted that he had misled Congress, but was unrepentant. He presented himself as a patriot who had served his country and his president by maintaining the contras, "body and soul." Polls revealed a significant shift in public attitudes toward continued U.S. military aid to the contras, with opponents outnumbering supporters by a margin of more than two to one before North's testimony but opinion almost equally divided after his appearance. Television, however, helped focus attention more on North's personality than on public issues. Polls showed that many Americans agreed with Ronald Reagan, who called North "a national hero." "Olliemania," as some journalists called the phenomenon of his sudden celebrity, helped launch North on a new career as radio talk show host after appeals overturned three felony convictions.


President Ronald Reagan became known as the Great Communicator, a distinction that earned him both plaudits and derogation. Reagan's speeches moved, inspired, and reassured millions of people. Critics, however, insisted that Reagan was an acting president, a performer who brought to the White House the theatrical skills that he had learned in Hollywood and who followed scripts that he had done little, if anything, to create. Reagan, like most contemporary presidents, usually read texts that speechwriters had prepared. Yet sometimes the words and often the ideas were his own. Opponents deplored the troubling oversimplifications in his folksy anecdotes and uplifting stories. Yet many viewers found an authenticity that came from the president's sincerity and conviction. Reagan was extraordinarily successful at using the White House and, indeed, the world, as a stageor perhaps, more accurately, a studioas he exploited the medium of television to build public support for his presidency.

White House aides planned Reagan's public appearances with meticulous care as television events. They chose the best camera angles, chalked in toe marks so the president would know exactly where to stand, and positioned reporters to minimize opportunities for unwanted questions. The preparations reflected what the president's assistants called the "line of the day," the story that they wanted to lead the news in order to advance their legislative or international agenda. What viewers saw, Reagan's communications experts thought, was more important than what they heard. When the CBS Evening News ran a critical story in October 1984 about Reagan's use of soothing images to obscure unpopular policies, reporter Lesley Stahl was astounded when White House aide Richard Darman telephoned to congratulate her. "You guys in Televisionland haven't figured it out, have you?" Darman said. "When the pictures are powerful and emotional, they override if not completely drown out the sound. Lesley, I mean it, nobody heard you."

Televised images mattered so much to the Reagan White House partly because of changes in TV news. By the early 1980s about two-thirds of the American public said that television was their primary source of news. Viewers could watch a growing number of news programs, including morning and midday shows as well as the traditional evening broadcasts. During prime time there were popular magazine programs, such as 60 Minutes (CBS) and 20/20 (ABC), as well as brief updates called "newsbreaks." And at the end of the day, there was Nightline. Cable TV, which reached 20 percent of television households in 1981 and more than twice that proportion in 1985, offered more choices. On 1 June 1980 the Cable News Network became the first 24-hour news channel. Greater competition and corporate pressures made network news executives more concerned with ratings and willing to try to increase them by altering the balance between information and entertainment. At CBS, for example, when ratings plunged after Cronkite's retirement, the news director urged the new anchor, Dan Rather, to dress in a sweater to appear friendly and informal and insisted on more "feel-good" features. CBS producers dropped a report about State Department reaction to Israeli bombing in Lebanon to open a slot on the evening news of 30 November 1982 for a story about singing sheep. On all the networks, lighter features, striking visuals, and ten-second sound bites increasingly became ways to attract and hold viewers who had more choices, remote controls, and seemingly shorter attention spans. The communications experts in the White House exploited these trends, packaging presidential appearances to fit the changes in TV news.

Reagan's international trips produced many dramatic and memorable television scenes. The advance planners created public occasions, often in striking surroundings, where the president would be in the spotlight. For example, on the rocky coast of Normandy, Reagan gave a magnificent speech in which he commemorated the fortieth anniversary of D-Day on 6 June 1984 by saluting "the boys of Pointe du Hoc the champions who helped free a continent the heroes who helped end a war." White House aide Michael Deaver made sure that the French scheduled Reagan's address so it would air live during the network morning news programs. In another stirring scene, Reagan expressed his fervent anti-communism and his commitment to freedom when he stood before the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin on 12 June 1987 and cried, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Other trips produced less exalted, but nonetheless effective events. During a trip to South Korea in November 1983, Reagan attended an outdoor service at a chapel within sight of the North Korean border. One military police officer explained that a nearby armored personnel carrier was there for "backdrop." In one notorious case, advance planning failed. Presidential assistants did not learn that SS troops were buried at Bitburg cemetery in West Germany before the White House announced Reagan's visit. The president refused to change his plans, but he also went to Bergen-Belsen, the site of a Nazi concentration camp, where he gave one of his most moving addresses.

Reagan's summits with Mikhail Gorbachev were international media events with considerable symbolic significance. At their first meeting in Geneva in November 1985, Reagan said that he recognized from Gorbachev's smile that he was dealing with a different kind of Soviet leader. Televised images of their close and friendly relations symbolized the international changes that were occurring as the Cold War began to wane. At their summit in Washington, D.C., in December 1987, the most important substantive achievement was the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty. But what mattered as well was what the news media called "Gorby fever," which the Soviet leader stoked by stopping his limousine and plunging into welcoming crowds in downtown Washington. When Reagan reciprocated by traveling to Moscow in May 1988, he followed a schedule that was the result of elaborate planning, including the use of polling and focus groups to test the themes of his speeches. Cameras followed Reagan and Gorbachev as they strolled through Red Square answering questions that appeared to be spontaneous, but some of which had been planted. When a reporter asked about the "evil empire," as Reagan had described the Soviet Union in a famous speech in March 1983, the president replied, that was "another time, another era." The televised scenes beginning in late 1989 of revolutions in Eastern Europe and the opening of the Berlin Wall confirmed Reagan's pronouncement.


On 1617 January 1991, viewers around the world watched the beginning of a war for the first time ever on live television. As allied bombs and cruise missiles hit targets in Iraq, CNN reporters described what they saw from their hotel in Baghdad during the first hours of the Persian Gulf War. The explosions had severed communications with other U.S. network reporters in the Iraqi capital. Using the telephone, CNN correspondents Peter Arnett, John Holliman, and Bernard Shaw acted much like radio reporters, since they were unable to transmit pictures of what they saw. "Now there's a huge fire that we've just seen," Holliman exclaimed. "And we just heardwhoa. Holy cow. That was a large air burst that we saw. It was filling the sky." "Go for it, guys," a CNN producer told the reporters. "The whole world's watching." One of those viewers was President George H. W. Bush, who said with relief that the war had begun, "just the way it was scheduled."

The reporting on that first night from Baghdad was exceptional, in part because government restrictions did not impede it. But Iraqi authorities established censorship within twenty-four hours after the start of the bombing and U.S. military officials imposed a system of restraints on the news media that had been years in the making.

Its outlines emerged in 1984, when the Pentagon responded to complaints about the exclusion of reporters from Grenada by creating a committee chaired by General Winant Sidle, who had served as a military information officer during the Vietnam War. The Sidle panel recognized that technological innovationsportable satellite antennas that made possible live broadcasting from the battlefieldmight jeopardize the security of U.S. military operations or the safety of U.S. troops. It called on journalists to refrain from reporting sensitive information as a condition of their accreditation. If commanders decided that military considerations required limited access to combat areas, the Sidle panel recommended that small groups of journalists be allowed into battle zones and then share their reporting with their colleagues.

This pool system got its first test when U.S. troops invaded Panama in December 1989. Military transports carried reporters to base areas, but kept them sequestered during the first days of Operation Just Cause. Complaints about a system that seemed to keep reporters away from military action rather than to facilitate their access to it led to extended discussions between news organizations and military authorities during the buildup of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia during late 1990. On the eve of Operation Desert Storm, the Pentagon announced new guidelines, which required journalists to participate in pools, exclude restricted information from their articles and broadcasts, and submit their reports to military officials for security review.

The legacies of Vietnam exerted a powerful influence on the Bush administration as it prepared for war. General Colin Powell, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believed that Vietnam had shown that the American public simply would not tolerate a prolonged, televised war with heavy casualties. Bush thought that Vietnam had also proven other lessons. He insisted that the United States and its coalition partners must use overwhelming military force that would produce decisive results. The president did a masterly job of building public support for his demand that Iraqi troops withdraw from Kuwait and his determination to use force, if necessary, to achieve that goal. He portrayed Saddam Hussein as a kind of Middle Eastern Hitlera dictator who brutalized Iraqis, an outlaw who defied fundamental principles of international order, and an aggressor who wanted weapons of mass destruction to threaten other nations. TV news provided other view-points, other voices, including Hussein's, as the Iraqi president granted interviews to several Western journalists, including news anchors Peter Jennings of ABC and Rather of CBS. The newscasts also covered the debate over the use of force, which Congress authorized on 12 January 1991. Polls showed that substantial majorities favored military action and endorsed Bush's handling of the crisis. Once the war began, the president enjoyed overwhelming public support for his policies.

TV's war coverage in some ways resembled a miniseries. The networks had distinctive titles"War in the Gulf," " Showdown in the Gulf"and accompanying music. A good deal of the coverage emphasized the drama of warthe danger of a sudden attack of Iraqi Scud missiles, the risks of flying into hostile fire, the heroism of U.S. troops and the sacrifices of their relatives at home.

Yet in all this reporting about war, TV provided an extremely limited view of the fighting. The Defense Department supplied most of the video of the air war. Recorded with night vision equipment, it seemed fantastic and futuristic, something that reminded many viewers of a video game. The pool system ensured that reporters would have few unregulated opportunities to cover combat. A handful of correspondents, like CBS's Bob Simon, went out into the Saudi desert without escorts. Simon's first such excursion produced a report from Khafji, near the border with Kuwait, where U.S. marines were under attack. On his next unescorted trip, Iraqi troops captured him; Simon and his crew remained prisoners until the end of the war. Although network newscasts ran several reports about what they bluntly called censorship, there was little public dissatisfaction with the Pentagon's restrictions. Viewers were far more interested in seeing the briefings of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commanding and apparently authoritative performances that made the general the greatest hero of the Gulf War.

The television journalist who got the most attentionmuch of it unwelcomewas CNN's Peter Arnett. When most reporters decided to put personal safety ahead of the story, Arnett decided to stay in Baghdad. When Iraqi authorities decided to expel the remaining Western TV correspondents during the first week of fighting, they excepted CNN, mainly because producer Robert Wiener had spent months building cooperative relations with government officials in Baghdad. Arnett had no competition, but he did have "minders," information officials who limited his movements and censored his reporting. Repeatedly Arnett pushed against those limits, for example, by arguing that his reports would have greater credibility if he could respond more freely to questions from CNN anchors during live broadcasts. His stories about civilian casualties during allied bombing raidsat a baby milk formula factory and an air raid shelterstirred enormous controversy in the United States. The most extreme of many attacks on the alleged impropriety of reporting from behind enemy lines came from Republican representative Lawrence Coughlin of Pennsylvania, who denounced Arnett as "the Joseph Goebbels of Saddam Hussein's Hitler-like regime." Arnett disliked becoming part of the story, yet he stayed in Baghdad until the end of the ground war.

Arnett's reporting notwithstanding, Bush administration officials were pleased with television coverage of the Gulf War. Pete Williams, the Pentagon's chief public affairs officer, concluded that the news media had provided "the best war coverage we've ever had." Secretary of State James A. Baker spoke more candidly when he described "that poor demoralized rabbleoutwitted, outflanked, outmaneuvered by the U.S. military. But I think, given time, the press will bounce back."


By the early 1990s many people had concluded that television news possessed formidable powers to influence the U.S. government's foreign policy. The "CNN effect," as it is usually called, actually has several dimensions. The first is providing a new channel of diplomatic communication, one that allows governments to transmit proposals or engage in dialogue, sometimes with extraordinary speed. Officials in the Bush administration, for example, sometimes used TV to send messages to Saddam Hussein after the invasion of Kuwait, hoping that a public channel might increase the pressure on the Iraqi leader to accede to U.S. demands. Government leaders, however, have long used the news media as channels of diplomacy. Radio, for example, carried Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Point Address of 8 January 1918 to an international audience.

The second dimension of the "CNN effect" is setting the foreign policy agendagiving certain issues urgency or importance through news reports that capture the interest of millions of viewers and elicit a strong response. The ability to provide live reports from almost anywhere in the world, to transmit dramatic, emotional images, and to show them repeatedly seems to provide television with powers that exceed the other news media to alter the priorities that the government gives to international issues. The third dimension is accelerating official action. Even before the advent of CNN and other twenty-four-hour news channels, Lloyd Cutler, a counsel to President Carter, found that TV news had led to "foreign policy on deadline," as White House officials hurried to take actionto make a statement, to announce a new initiativebefore the next newscast.

The finaland most controversialdimension of the "CNN effect" is forcing government action. George F. Kennan, the foreign service officer who was an architect of containment during the early Cold War, summarized this perspective in a diary entry about U.S. intervention in Somalia in December 1992. Kennan maintained that television pictures of starving Somali children had produced "an emotional reaction, not a thoughtful or deliberate one," but one strong enough to take control of foreign policy decisions from "the responsible deliberative organs of our government."

A closer look at U.S. involvement in Somalia, however, suggests different conclusions than Kennan's about the effects of televised images on government policy decisions. Quantitative studies show that extensive coverage of the famine and fighting in Somalia followed the policy initiatives of the Bush administration in 1992 rather than preceded them. Television coverage surely affected the views of administration officials and gave them confidence that what they thought would be a limited, low-risk humanitarian intervention would have considerable public support. But television pictures of suffering Somalis did not determine the president's decision to dispatch troops. Television had a more decisive effect on President William Jefferson Clinton's decision to terminate Operation Restore Hope when newscasts showed shocking tape in early October 1993 of a crowd in Mogadishu desecrating the corpse of a U.S. soldier who had been killed in a firefight. The U.S. casualties took the president by surprise, and he was not prepared to appeal to angry members of Congress for the continuation of a mission that had suddenly grown dangerous. Instead, Clinton announced that U.S. forces would come home by 31 March 1994.

Television showed the horrors of ethnic cleansing and civil war in Bosnia, and those reports were influential but not decisive in shaping U.S. government action. Scenes of Serb camps with emaciated Muslim and Croat prisoners in August 1992 produced condemnations from the Bush administration. Yet the president and his principal advisers were unwilling to take military action, as they believed that there was no clear exit strategy. Clinton, too, reacted intensely to graphic TV reports of atrocities, such as the casualties that occurred when a mortar shell exploded in a Sarajevo marketplace on 5 February 1994. But he followed no consistent policy. Not until mid-1995 did the Clinton administration approve strong measures, including continuing NATO air strikes, to bring the Bosnian war to an end. Available evidence suggests that the president acted to eliminate a major problem that burdened U.S. foreign policy and that threatened his political prospects. Almost four years later, in March 1999, the United States and its NATO allies again used military force in an air war against Yugoslavia to persuade President Slobodan Milosevic to halt ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. News reports, including many on TV, of brutality against Kosovars contributed to public support for this war. But concern about popular reaction to potential U.S. casualties led Clinton to rule out the use of ground troops, except for peacekeeping.

The "CNN effect" influenced U.S. interventions in Somalia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. TV reports helped set the agenda; at times, officials of the Bush and Clinton administrations had to reactsometimes quicklyto events that dominated the newscasts. But the "CNN effect" was variable, and it was only one of many factors in the process of formulating foreign policy.


The new millennium began with televised celebrations on every continent, hopeful events that suggested that modern communications were bringing closer the creation of Marshall McLuhan's global village. Yet the twenty-first century also brought almost unimaginable scenes of horror and suffering when terrorists flew hijacked airplanes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001. Enormous audiences in the United States and around the world relied on television for news about these disasters. Even government officials watched television because it provided more information more quickly than other available sources. Round-the-clock coverage on the broadcast as well as the cable news channels quickly spread the disbelief, outrage, grief, and uncertainty about the future that were immediate products of these startling events.

Technological changesespecially greater Internet access and the increasing convergence of the computer and the televisionmay alter viewing habits and change sources of news and information. But for the immediate future, at least, during conflicts, crises, and other important international developments, both public officials and citizens will turn to television news.


Arlen, Michael J. Living-Room War. New York, 1982.

Arnett, Peter. Live from the Battlefield: From Vietnam to Baghdad, 35 Years in the World's War Zones. New York, 1994. A superb memoir by a reporter who covered the Vietnam War for the Associated Press and the Persian Gulf War for CNN.

Barnouw, Erik. Tube of Plenty: The Evolution of American Culture. 2d rev. ed. New York, 1990.

Baughman, James L. The Republic of Mass Culture: Journalism, Filmmaking, and Broadcasting in America Since 1941. 2d ed. Baltimore, 1997.

Bernhard, Nancy E. U.S. Television News and Cold War Propaganda, 19471960. New York, 1999.

Braestrup, Peter. Big Story: How the American Press and Television Reported and Interpreted the Crisis of Tet 1968 in Vietnam and Washington. 2 vols. Boulder, Colo., 1977.

Cannon, Lou. President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime. New York, 2000.

Cutler, Lloyd N. "Foreign Policy on Deadline." Foreign Policy no. 56 (fall 1984): 113128.

Davison, W. Phillips. "The Third-Person Effect in Communication." Public Opinion Quarterly 47 (spring 1983): 115.

Dennis, Everette E., et al. The Media at War: The Press and the Persian Gulf Conflict. New York, 1991.

Elegant, Robert. "How to Lose a War." Encounter 57 (August 1981): 7390. A harsh and often polemical critique of reporting of the Vietnam War.

Halberstam, David. War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton, and the Generals. New York, 2001.

Hallin, Daniel C. The "Uncensored War": The Media and Vietnam. New York, 1986. The best analysis of news media reporting of Vietnam.

. We Keep America on Top of the World: Television Journalism and the Public Sphere. New York, 1994. A collection of excellent essays.

Hammond, William M. Public Affairs: The Military and the Media, 19621968. Washington, D.C., 1988.

. Public Affairs: The Military and the Media, 19681973. Washington, D.C., 1996.

Isaacs, Arnold R. "The Five O'Clock Follies Revisited: Vietnam's 'Instant Historians' and the Legacy of Controversy." The Long Term View 5 (summer 2000): 92101. Explains how Vietnam created lasting distrust of the news media among military officers.

Kimball, Jeffrey P. Nixon's Vietnam War. Lawrence, Kans., 1998.

Koppel, Ted, and Kyle Gibson. Nightline: History in the Making and the Making of Television. New York, 1996. Contains an insider account of the birth of the ABC news show Nightline during the Iranian hostage crisis.

MacArthur, John R. Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War. New York, 1992. A scathing critique of the pool system and the news media's cooperation with it.

Maltese, John Anthony. Spin Control: The White House Office of Communications and the Management of Presidential News. 2d ed. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1994.

Mermin, Jonathan. "Television News and American Intervention in Somalia: The Myth of a Media-Driven Foreign Policy." Political Science Quarterly 112 (autumn 1997): 385403.

Neuman, Johanna. Lights, Camera, War: Is Media Technology Driving International Politics? New York, 1996.

O'Neill, Michael J. The Roar of the Crowd: How Television and People Power Are Changing the World. New York, 1993.

Pach, Chester J., Jr. "And That's the Way It Was: The Vietnam War on the Network Nightly News." In David Farber, ed. The Sixties: From Memory to History. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1994.

. "Tet on TV: U.S. Nightly News Reporting and Presidential Policymaking." In Carole Fink, Philipp Gassert, and Detlef Junker, eds. 1968: The World Transformed. New York, 1998.

. "The War on Television: TV News, the Johnson Administration, and Vietnam." In Marilyn Young and Robert Buzzanco, eds. Blackwell Companion to the Vietnam War. Malden, Mass., 2002.

Small, Melvin. Covering Dissent: The Media and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement. New Brunswick, N. J., 1994.

Stahl, Lesley. Reporting Live. New York, 1999.

Strobel, Warren P. Late-Breaking Foreign Policy: The News Media's Influence on Peace Operations. Washington, D.C., 1997. Includes excellent analysis of TV coverage of military interventions in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia.

Tallman, Gary C., and Joseph P. McKerns. "'Press Mess:' David Halberstam, the Buddhist Crisis, and U.S. Policy in Vietnam, 1963." Journalism and Communication Monographs 2 (fall 2000): 109153.

Utley, Garrick. You Should Have Been There Yesterday: A Life in Television News. New York, 2000. A highly informative memoir by one of television's most important international affairs correspondents.

Woodward, Bob. The Commanders. New York, 1991.

Wyatt, Clarence. Paper Soldiers: The American Press and the Vietnam War. New York, 1993.

See also Dissent in Wars; The National Interest; The Press; Public Opinion.


On 28 April 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered U.S. marines to the Dominican Republic to protect U.S. citizens during political violence and to prevent communists from seizing power. Johnson was extremely concerned about news coverage of the intervention. He tried unsuccessfully to get CBS to remove television correspondent Bert Quint, whose reports from Santo Domingo cast doubt on whether there was a significant communist threat. But Johnson found other ways to affect television reporting. In an oral history interview, NBC correspondent John Chancellor revealed the following about events of 2 May 1965: "We had a program, a television program on a Sunday afternoon. I had gone down to stand in front of the White House and speak a little essay into the camera on what the President's reaction was. As I stood out there waiting for the program to begin, what I didn't know was that the President was upstairs. He was alone and looking at me out the window, and he got very curious about what I was doing. And the guard in the West Wing came out and got me, and I went inside. He said, 'There's a telephone call for you,' and it was the President."

According to the tape of the telephone conversation, Johnson said:

John, I don't want to be quarrelsome, but I want you to know the facts. If we don't watch out, the bellyachers are going to run the country and we'll lose our democracy. Our mission down there [in the Dominican Republic], evacuation, is not half-way through.. [U.S. Ambassador John Bartlow Martin] says that the Latin American ambassadors, generally, are very favorable to us because we've saved their hide. While they can't come out and say we're against mother or we support marines in Latin America, they're very happy. And he's [Martin] going to point out [at a press conference] some of them that have been imported and are known Castro leaders. Fifty are identified as of last night. I have to be very careful because I don't want to say a guy [who] disagrees with me is a Communist, or I'm a McCarthy. The point, though, that I want to get over with you is those on the ground are very happy that their lives have been spared and we're there. Number twothe mission is not com pleted or about to be completed.

Chancellor replied, "All right, I have that clearly in mind," and Johnson said, "Okay, partner."

Chancellor recollected: "And I went out and stood out thereit didn't sound right, what he had told me, but nonetheless I put it into the piece I'd written. Then I went back and the following day I was able to determine pretty accurately that what he'd told me was an absolute fabrication, a big lie! I've rarely been as angry. I really was just furious! Presidents use all kinds of tools on reporters to do their work.. I've never really told this to anybody before except a few close friends because you don't go around calling the president a liar. In this case, he was."

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TELEVISION This entry includes 2 subentries:
Programming and Influence

Programming and Influence

By 1947, the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), the Du Mont Network, and the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) had started regularly scheduling television programs on a small number of stations. Many more channels soon commenced operations, and a TV boom began. By 1960 just under 90 percent of all households had one or more sets. Because most channels had network affiliation agreements—96 percent of all stations in 1960—the networks dominated the medium for over thirty years. (Du Mont ceased operations in 1955.) Especially in the evening, when most Americans watched TV, consumers very likely viewed a network program.

In the late 1940s, relatively few advertisers were prepared to follow the American radio model of producing and underwriting the cost of shows. Within a few years, however, and often by accident, the networks and a few advertisers developed individual programs that sparked interest in the medium. This, in turn, encouraged more companies to advertise on TV.

At first, television betrayed both a class and regional bias. The coaxial cable permitting simultaneous network telecasts did not reach Los Angeles, the center of the nation's motion picture industry and home to most popular entertainers, until September 1951. As a result, most network shows originated from New York. And programs tended to have a New York accent. At the same time, programmers often confused their own, more cosmopolitan, tastes with those of viewers. Network executives assumed audiences wanted culturally ambitious fare, at least some of the time. Some simply believed the TV audience was more educated and well-to-do, despite studies indicating little class bias to set ownership.

In the 1950s, television relied on a variety of program types or "genres." The first was the variety program, telecast live with a regular host. Milton Berle and Ed Sullivan starred in two of the most durable variety hours. Individual sponsors produced "dramatic anthologies," original dramas aired live. Although many TV plays were uneven or pretentious, some proved memorable, notably Marty, which was later remade as a feature film starring Ernest Borgnine. Other program types came from network radio: the dramatic series, situation comedy, and quiz (later game) show. They relied on one of radio's oldest objectives: create a consumer habit of tuning to a specific program every day or week. (Many closed with the admonition, "Same time, same station.") CBS, of the four networks, adhered most dutifully to this model of programming.

The success of CBS's situation comedy I Love Lucy (1951–1957) confirmed the network's strategy. More tellingly, repeats of episodes proved almost as popular. This greatly undermined another broadcast industry "rule": that audiences always wanted original programming, even in the summer when replacement series heretofore had been offered. By the late 1950s, most series were filmed. They had an additional advantage over the live telecast. They could not only be rerun in the summer but then rented or "syndicated" for re-airing by individual stations in the United States and overseas. Lucy, it should be noted, was the single most rerun series in the history of television.

TV's dependency on film accelerated in the late 1950s. ABC banked heavily on filmed action/adventure series—first westerns, then detective dramas—many of which gained large followings. CBS and NBC quickly seized on the trend. During the 1958–1959 season, seven of the ten most popular programs, according to the A. C. Nielsen ratings service, were westerns. Most were considerably more sophisticated than television's earliest westerns, such as Hopalong Cassidy and The Lone Ranger, which were plainly aimed at pre-adolescents. The new "adult" westerns and detective series also possessed higher production values. The large audiences especially for westerns also indicated a change in the television audience, as TV spread into smaller cities and towns in the South and West. Filmed programming satisfied small-town audiences, which, as movie exhibitors had long known, greatly preferred westerns over nightclub comedy or original drama.

By the end of the 1950s, the economics of television had become clear. Networks and stations derived most of their revenues from the sale of time to advertisers. Indeed, the stations that the networks owned were their most profitable properties. Producing successful programs was far more risky—too much for most stations to do extensively. Most new television series failed. Yet a popular program could be a moneymaker in syndication. With this prospect in mind, as well as a wish to wrest control from advertisers, the networks gradually began producing more of their own programming. Government regulations, however, severely restricted network participation in entertainment programming in the 1970s and 1980s.

News programming was the great laggard in early TV. The networks produced fifteen-minute early evening weekday newscasts and telecast special events, including the national party conventions and presidential inaugurations. Informational shows were considered "loss leaders," presented to satisfy TV critics and federal regulators. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) assigned TV licenses, including the limited number that the agency permitted the networks to own. The FCC expected each license holder to devote a small proportion of its schedule to "public interest" programming, including news. Under no pressure to win audiences, news program producers had great latitude in story selection. That said, TV news personnel tended to be political centrists who took their cues from colleagues working at the prestigious newspapers.

For all its shortcomings, early television news had one great journalist, Edward R. Murrow of CBS. Revered for his radio coverage of World War II, Murrow coproduced and hosted the documentary series See It Now, beginning in 1951. Although widely praised and courageous in its treatment of domestic anti-Communism, See It Now never won a large audience. His less critically admired interview program Person to Person, was far more popular and, indeed, anticipated similar, more celebrity-centered efforts by Barbara Walters of ABC several decades later.

In the early 1960s, NBC and CBS began pouring more of their energies into their early evening newscasts, lengthening them from fifteen to thirty minutes in 1963. (ABC did not do so until 1967 and waited another decade before investing substantially in news.) The early evening newscast strategy reflected the "habit" rule of broadcasting, while proving very profitable. Although audiences did not equal those for entertainment shows later in the evening, the nightly newscasts drew enough viewers to interest advertisers. Similarly successful was NBC's Today show, which premiered in 1952. Aired in the early morning for two hours, Today offered a mix of news and features. ABC eventually developed a competitor, Good Morning America.

In the late 1950s and 1960s, all three networks occasionally produced documentaries, usually an hour long, that explored different public issues. Although they rarely had impressive ratings, documentaries mollified critics and regulators dismayed by the networks' less culturally ambitious programming. The opportunity costs (the value of goods or services that one must give up in order to produce something) of airing documentaries, however, grew with heightened advertiser demand for popular series in the late 1960s. The networks quietly reduced their documentary production. Although most TV critics were dismayed, the FCC, which had earlier encouraged such programming, said nothing. Partly relieving the networks of their former obligations was the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), created by Congress in 1969. Although chronically underfinanced, PBS managed to produce some public affairs and informational programming, once the preserve of the commercial networks. The commercial network documentary had all but vanished by 1980.

In its place came a new type of news show. CBS's 60 Minutes, which debuted in 1968, was the trendsetter. The documentary's great weaknesses, according to 60 Minutes producer Don Hewitt, was its slow pacing. Largely because of its devotion of an hour or more to one "serious" issue like German unification, it bored the majority of viewers. Hewitt wanted to make news programming engaging. "Instead of dealing with issues we [will] tell stories," he remarked (Richard Campbell, 60 Minutes and the News, p. 3). And he determined to mix it up. On 60 Minutes, no single topic would absorb more than a quarter hour. The topics covered, in turn, would vary to attract as many in the audience as possible. It came to be known as the first TV "magazine" and eventually, 60 Minutes nurtured a large following. Indeed, it became the first news program to compete successfully with entertainment series in evening prime time.

All three networks found airing newsmagazines irresistible. They were considerably cheaper than entertainment programming and the network could own and produce the program, and not pay fees to an independent company. (At the time, the FCC limited network ownership of entertainment programs.) This meant higher profits, even if a 60 Minutes imitator accrued smaller ratings than a rival entertainment series.

The tone of network news changed over time. In the 1950s and early 1960s, TV news programs tended to be almost stenographic. A network newscast report on a cabinet secretary's speech was largely unfiltered. This approach had several explanations. Excessively critical coverage might upset federal regulators. Then, too, broadcast news people tended to share in many of the assumptions of newsmakers, especially in regards to the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Television's coverage of America's involvement in Vietnam, especially during the escalation of U.S. participation (1963–1967), was hardly hostile. Nor was TV's combat footage especially graphic. Still, the inability of the U.S. military to secure South Vietnam, despite repeated claims of progress, shattered the Cold War consensus while fostering a new skepticism toward those in power. So did the attempts by the Nixon administration to cover up scandals associated with the Watergate break-in of 1972. The networks did not cover the Watergate affair as searchingly as some newspapers, the Washington Post or Los Angeles Times, for example. Yet the scandals further damaged relations between government officials and network TV news correspondents. But correspondents had not become leftist ideologues, as many conservatives assumed; network reporters' politics remained strikingly centrist. Rather, TV correspondents tended to mediate government news more warily—regardless of which party controlled the executive branch. Network TV news also became more correspondent-centered. The reporter's interpretation of an announcement—not the announcement itself—dominated most network news accounts.

Still, in times of grave national crisis, network newscasters self-consciously assumed a special role. After the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the resignation of Richard M. Nixon in 1974, television journalists sought to reassure and unite the nation. The sociologist Herbert J. Gans dubbed this the "order restoration" function of the national news media. The terrorist attacks of September 2001 prompted a similar response, as well as demonstrations of patriotism not seen on television news since the early Cold War.

Local news programming became especially important to individual stations. Stations initially aired news programs as a regulatory concession. Most followed the networks in expanding their newscasts from fifteen minutes in the 1960s. They were of growing interest to advertisers, and became the single most profitable form of local programming. Stations extended the length and frequency of their newscasts. Production values and immediacy increased as stations switched from film to videotape for their stories. As the competition among stations for ratings grew, the news agenda changed. Little time went to serious issues—which were often difficult to capture visually—as opposed to features, show-business news, and, in larger markets, spectacular fires and crimes.

Sporting events had long been a convenient means of filling the schedule. Because their audiences were disproportionately male, however, most sports telecasts could not command the same ratings as popular entertainment series, except for the championship series in baseball and the National Football League (NFL). Moreover, in airing sporting contests, television played favorites. Football proved to be the most "telegenic" sport, and began luring viewers on Sunday afternoons, which had long been considered a time when people would not watch television. Professional football broke another rule by achieving ratings success in prime time, with the debut of Monday night NFL telecasts on ABC in 1970. Cable television in the 1980s and 1990s created more outlets devoted to sports.

With a cable connection, subscribers could improve their TV's reception and greatly increase their programming choices. In the 1980s, the non-cable viewer could select from seven channels; the cable home had thirty-three. More and more consumers preferred to have more options, which multiplied in the 1990s. In the late 1980s, cable reached about half of all households. A decade later, just under 70 percent of all homes had cable.

Although cable offered an extraordinary range of choices, viewer preferences were strikingly narrow. Channels playing to certain, specialized tastes enjoyed the greatest success. Eight of the fifteen most watched cable telecasts the week of 17–23 December 2001, were on Nickelodeon, which programmed exclusively for young children. Professional wrestling and football programs placed five shows that week.

With cable's spread, the networks saw their share of the evening audience fall from 90 percent in the mid-1970s to just over 60 percent twenty years later. The network early evening newscasts suffered even larger declines. The creation of all-news cable channels, beginning with the Cable News Network (CNN) in 1980, ate away at the authority of the network news programs. Still, CNN's effects should not be overstated. Except during a national crisis, relatively few watched CNN. Entertainment cable channels actually posed the larger problem. The availability of such channels gave viewers alternatives to the newscasts they had not previously had.

All in all, cable had contradictory effects on the networks. News producers, anxious to retain audiences, made their newscasts' agenda less serious and more fixated on scandal (a trend also explained by the end of the Cold War). At the same time, entertainment programs, similarly losing viewers to cable, became more daring. This was not because cable programs, with a few exceptions on pay cable services, violated moral proprieties. Many cable channels aired little other than reruns of network programs and old feature films. For the networks, however, only a more relaxed standard could hold viewers, especially younger ones. While still voluntarily honoring some moral strictures, television series handled violence and sexual relations with a realism unimaginable a generation earlier. Old prohibitions against the use of profanity and nudity were partially relaxed.

No network hurried this trend along more enthusiastically than Fox. Formed in 1986, Fox carried a number of comedies, action dramas, and reality shows (When Good Pets Go Bad), some of which consciously crossed mainstream boundaries of good taste. Fox owner Rupert Murdoch, an Australian publisher of tabloid newspapers, lacked the self-conscious sensibility of his older rivals.

Fox's rise coincided with the relaxation of federal regulations. Between the 1920s and 1970s, the relative scarcity of on-air channels justified government oversight of broadcasting. The radio spectrum only permitted so many stations per community. With cable eliminating this rationale, the FCC in the 1980s systematically deregulated broadcasting. In the late twentieth century, television license holders aired news programs to make money, not to please federal officials. Congress approved this course, and the 1996 Telecommunications Act weakened remaining FCC rules limiting the number of stations that networks and others could own.

Institutional Impacts of Television

The nation's established mass media—radio, films, and newspapers—reacted differently to television's sudden presence in the American home. Radio felt the effects first, as audiences for radio programs, particularly in the evening, dropped sharply in the first half of the 1950s. Radio's relative portability allowed some recovery, especially with the development of the transistor. Then, too, in the 1950s, most Americans only owned one television. Those unhappy with what another family member insisted on watching could listen to a radio elsewhere in the house. Moreover, radio could be a diversion for those doing the dishes or cleaning a room. At the same time, radio listening while driving became much more common as more automobiles were equipped with radios, and the percentage of Americans who owned cars increased. In addition, some radio stations broke with an older industry tradition by targeting a demographic subgroup of listeners, specifically, adolescents. Stations hired disc jockeys who continuously played rock and roll music. Television stations and networks could only offer a few programs tailored to teens. Advertisers prized their parents more. Radio, in that regard, anticipated the direction of television's competitors after the 1960s. Radio stations continued to narrow their formats by age, race, and politics.

Television presented an enormous challenge to the film industry. Theater attendance dropped sharply in the late 1940s and early 1950s. however, box office receipts were declining even before television arrived in many communities. With marginal theaters closing, the studios responded by reducing the number of movies produced per year. To compete with TV, more films had elaborate special effects and were produced in color. (Not until 1972 did most homes have color televisions.) The collapse of film censorship in the mid-1960s gave Hollywood another edge: violence and sexual situations could be portrayed with an unprecedented explicitness that TV producers could only envy.

Although most large studios at first resisted cooperating with the television networks, by the mid-1950s virtually every movie company was involved in some TV production. With some exceptions, most of Hollywood's initial video work resembled the old "B" movie, the cheaper theatrical release of the 1930s and 1940s produced as the second feature for a twin billing or for the smaller theaters, most of which had ceased operations in the late 1950s. In the late 1960s, motion picture firms began producing TV movies, that is, two-hour films specifically for television. At first, they were fairly cheaply mounted and forgettable. But a few had enormous impact. ABC's Roots, telecast in 1977, chronicled the history of an African American family and prompted a new appreciation for family history. Although the TV films remained popular through the 1980s, higher costs caused the networks to lose their enthusiasm for the genre, which all but disappeared from the small screen in the 1990s.

No major mass medium responded more ineffectively to the challenge of television than newspapers. For more than two decades, newspaper publishers refused to regard TV as a threat to their industry. Indeed, the diffusion of television did not initially affect newspaper circulation. In the long run, however, TV undermined the daily newspaper's place in American life. As "baby boomers," those Americans born between 1946 and 1963, reluctantly entered adulthood, they proved less likely to pick up a paper. If they did, they spent less time reading it. Publishers belatedly responded by making their papers more appealing to a generation raised with television. They shortened stories, carried more pictures, and used color. Assuming, not always correctly, that readers already knew the headlines from television, editors insisted that newspaper stories be more analytical. Yet they were losing the war. The more interpretive journalism failed to woo younger readers, while many older readers deemed it too opinionated. Although Sunday sales were fairly stable, daily circulation per household continued to drop.

Like many newspaper publishers, America's political class only slowly recognized television's impact. John F. Kennedy's video effectiveness during the 1960 presidential campaign, however, changed many minds, as did some powerful television political spots by individual candidates later in the decade. TV advertising became an increasingly common electoral weapon, even though its actual impact was debated. Nevertheless, to candidates and their consultants, the perception that television appeals could turn an election mattered more than the reality. And, as the cost of television spots rose, so did the centrality of fundraising to politicians. TV, in that regard, indirectly contributed to the campaign finance problem besetting both political parties by making their leaders more dependent on the monies of large corporations and their political action committees.

Advertisers of goods and services, and not political candidates, were far and away commercial television's greatest patrons. (Political campaigns accounted for 7 percent of all advertising spending—print as well as video—in 1996.) During TV's first decade, sponsors had great power. They likely underwrote entire programs, and often involved themselves in aspects of the production. They sought product placement on the set, and sometimes integrated the middle commercial into the story. They also censored scripts. For example, a cigarette manufacturer sponsoring The Virginian forbade a cast member from smoking a cigar on camera.

In the early 1960s, sponsors lost their leverage. The involvement of some in the rigging of popular quiz shows had embarrassed the industry. Members of Congress and others insisted that the networks, and not sponsors, have the ultimate authority over program production (a power the networks themselves had long sought). Concomitantly, more advertisers wanted to enter television, creating a seller's market. Then, too, as the costs of prime time entertainment series rose, so did the expense of sole sponsorship. Advertisers began buying individual spots, as opposed to entire programs. The new economics of television, even more than the fallout over the quiz scandals, gave the networks sovereignty over their schedules. Yet the entry of so many more potential sponsors, demanding masses of viewers, placed added pressure on the networks to maximize their ratings whenever possible. Networks turned away companies willing to underwrite less popular cultural programming, such as The Voice of Firestone, because more revenue could be earned by telecasting series with a wider appeal.

The popularity of cable in the 1980s and 1990s marked a new phase in advertiser-network relations. The "niche marketing" of cable channels like MTV and Nickelodeon greatly eased the tasks of advertising agencies' media buyers seeking those audiences. The networks, on the other hand, confronted a crisis. Although willing to continue to patronize network programs, advertisers made new demands. These did not ordinarily involve specific production decisions, whether, for instance, a character on a sitcom had a child out of wedlock. Instead, media buyers had broader objectives. No longer did they focus exclusively on the size of a program's audience; they increasingly concerned themselves with its composition. A dramatic series like Matlock had a large audience, but a graying one. Friends and Melrose Place, on the other hand, were viewed by younger viewers. Advertisers assumed that younger consumers were far more likely to try new products and brands. Increasingly in the 1990s, the demo-graphics of a series' audience determined its fate. This left viewers not in the desired demographic group in the wilderness of cable.


Balio, Tino, ed. Hollywood in the Age of Television. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990.

Baughman, James L. The Republic of Mass Culture: Journalism, Filmmaking, and Broadcasting in America since 1941. 2d ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

Bernhard, Nancy E. U.S. Television News and Cold War Propaganda, 1947–1960. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Bogart, Leo. The Age of Television: A Study of Viewing Habits and the Impact of Television on American Life. 3d ed. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1972.

Hallin, Daniel C. We Keep America on Top of the World: Television Journalism and the Public Sphere. London and New York: Routledge, 1994.

———. The "Uncensored War" :The Media and Vietnam. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Mayer, Martin. About Television. New York: Harper and Row, 1972. The best, most thoughtful journalistic account of the television industry before the cable revolution.

O'Connor, John E., ed. American History/American Television: Interpreting the Video Past. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1983.

Stark, Steven D. Glued to the Set: The Sixty Television Shows and Events That Made Us Who We Are Today. New York: Free Press, 1997.

James L.Baughman

See alsoCelebrity Culture ; Mass Media ; Talk Shows, Radio and Television ; Televangelism ; Videocassette Recorder .


Television is the process of capturing photographic images, converting them into electrical impulses, and then transmitting the signal to a decoding receiver. Conventional transmission is by means of electromagnetic radiation, using the methods of radio. Since the early part of the twentieth century, the development of television in the United States has been subject to rules set out by the federal government, specifically the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and by the marketplace and commercial feasibility.

Early Developments

Image conversion problems were solved in the latter part of the nineteenth century. In 1873 English engineer Willoughby Smith noted the photoconductivity of the element selenium, that its electrical resistance fluctuated when exposed to light. This started the search for a method to change optical images into electric current, and simultaneous developments in Europe eventually led to a variety of mechanical, as opposed to electronic, methods of image transmission.

In 1884 German engineer Paul Nipkow devised a mechanical scanning system using a set of revolving disks in a camera and a receiver. This converted the image by transmitting individual images sequentially as light passed through small holes in the disk. These were then "reassembled" by the receiving disk. The scanner, called a Nipkow disk, was used in experiments in the United States by Charles F. Jenkins and in England by John L. Baird to create a crude television image in the 1920s. Jenkins began operating in 1928 as the Jenkins Television Corporation near Washington, D.C., and by 1931 nearly two dozen stations were in service, using low-definition scanning based on the Nipkow system.

In the 1930s, American Philo T. Farnsworth, an independent inventor, and Vladimir K. Zworykin, an engineer with Westinghouse and, later, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), were instrumental in devising the first workable electronic scanning system. Funding, interference from competitors, and patent issues slowed advances, but Farnsworth came out with an "image dissector," a camera that converted individual elements of an image into electrical impulses, and Zworykin developed a similar camera device called the iconoscope. Although Zworykin's device was more successful, in the end collaboration and cross-licensing were necessary for commercial development of television.

By 1938, electronic scanning systems had overtaken or, in some cases, incorporated elements of, mechanical ones. Advancements made since the early 1900s in the United States, Europe, and Russia by Lee De Forest, Karl Ferdinand Braun, J. J. Thomson, A. A. Campbell Swinton, and Boris Rosing contributed to the commercial feasibility of television transmission. Allen B. DuMont's improvements on the cathode-ray tube in the late 1930s set the standard for picture reproduction, and receivers (television sets) were marketed in New York by DuMont and RCA. The cathode-ray tube receiver, or picture tube, contains electron beams focused on a phosphorescent screen. The material on the screen emits light of varying intensity when struck by the beam, controlled by the signal from the camera, reproducing the image on the tube screen in horizontal and vertical lines—the more lines, the more detail. The "scene" changes at around the rate of 25 to 30 complete images per second, giving the viewer the perception of motion as effectively as in motion pictures.

Early Commercial Broadcasting

In 1939, the National Broadcasting Company in New York provided programming focused on the New York World's Fair. During the 1930s, RCA president David Sarnoff, a radio programming pioneer, developed research on programming for television, which was originally centered on public events and major news stories. In late 1939, the FCC adopted rules to permit the collection of fees for television services, in the form of sponsored programs. In the industry, the National Television Systems Committee (NTSC) was formed to adopt uniform technical standards. Full commercial program service was authorized by the FCC on 1 July 1941, with provisions that the technical standard be set at 525 picture lines and 30 frames per second. After more than forty years of experimentation, television was on the brink of full commercial programming by the beginning of World War II (1939–1945). After World War II, a television broadcasting boom began and the television industry grew rapidly, from programming and transmitting ("airing") to the manufacturing of standardized television sets.

Color Television

The development of color television was slower. Color television used the same technology as monochromatic (black and white), but was more complex. In 1940, Peter Goldmark demonstrated a color system in New York that was technically superior to its predecessors, going back to Baird's 1928 experiments with color and Nipkow disks. But Goldmark's system was incompatible with monochromatic sets. The delay in widespread use of color television had more to do with its compatibility with monochromatic systems than with theoretical or scientific obstacles. By 1954, those issues had been resolved, and in 1957 the federal government adopted uniform standards. For most Americans, however, color televisions were cost-prohibitive until the 1970s.

The Future of Television

The last three decades of the twentieth century were filled with as many exciting advancements in the industry as were the first three: Projection televisions (PTVs) were introduced, both front-and rear-projection and with screens as large as 7feet; videotape, which had been used by broadcasters since the 1950s, was adapted for home use, either for use with home video cameras or for recording programmed broadcasting (by the 1980s video-cassette recorders—VCRs—were nearly as common as TVs); cable television and satellite broadcasting began to make inroads into the consumer market; and in the early 2000s, digital videodiscs (DVDs) began to replace videotape cassettes as a consumer favorite. Also in the 1970s, advancements were made in liquid crystal display (LCD) technology that eventually led to flatter screens and, in the 1990s, plasma display panels (PDPs) that allowed for screens over a yard wide and just a few inches thick.

The 1990s brought about a revolution in digital television, which converts analog signals into a digital code (1s and 0s) and provides a clearer image that is less prone to distortion (though errors in transmission or retrieval may result in no image at all, as opposed to a less-than-perfect analog image). First developed for filmmakers in the early 1980s, high-definition television (HDTV) uses around 1,000 picture lines and a wide-screen format, providing a sharper image and a larger viewing area. Also, conventional televisions have an aspect ratio of 4:3 (screen width to screen height), whereas wide-screen HDTVs have an aspect ratio of 16:9, much closer to that of motion pictures.

Since the late 1980s, the FCC has been aggressively advocating the transition to digital television, largely because digital systems use less of the available bandwidth, thereby creating more bandwidth for cellular phones. Based on technical standards adopted in 1996, the FCC ruled that all public television stations must be digital by May 2003, considered by many to be an overly optimistic deadline. As with the development of color television, the progress of HDTV has been hampered by compatibility issues. The FCC ruled in 1987 that HDTV standards must be compatible with existing NTSC standards. By 2000, however, the focus for the future of HDTV had shifted to its compatibility and integration with home computers. As of 2002, HDTV systems were in place across the United States, but home units were costly and programming was limited.


Ciciora, Walter S. Modern Cable Television Technology: Videos, Voice, and Data Communications. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann, 1999.

Federal Communications Commission. Home page at

Fisher, David E. Tube: The Invention of Television. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1996.

Gano, Lila. Television: Electronic Pictures. San Diego, Calif.: Lucent Books, 1990.

Trundle, Eugene. Guide to TV and Video Technology. Boston: Newnes, 1996.


See alsoElectricity and Electronics ; Telecommunications .

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Among the technical developments that have come to dominate our lives, television is surely one of the top ten. In the United States, more than 98% of households own at least one television set and 61% receive cable television. The average household watches television for seven hours per day, which helps to explain why news, sports, and educational entities, as well as advertisers, value the device for communication.

The device we call the television is really a television receiver that is the end point of a broadcast system that starts with a television camera or transmitter and requires a complicated network of broadcast transmitters using ground-based towers, cables, and satellites to deliver the original picture to our living rooms. The U.S. television picture, whether black and white or color, consists of 525 horizontal lines that are projected onto screens with a four to three ratio of width to height. By electronic methods, 30 images per second, each broken into these horizontal lines, are scanned onto the screen.


The development of the television occurred over a number of years, in many countries, and using a wide application of sciences, including electricity, mechanical engineering, electromagnetism, sound technology, and electrochemistry. No single person invented the television; instead, it is a compilation of inventions perfected by fierce competition.

Chemicals that are conductors of electricity were among the first discoveries leading to the TV. Baron Ȯns Berzelius of Sweden isolated selenium in 1817, and Louis May of Great Britain discovered, in 1873, that the element is a strong electrical conductor. Sir William Crookes invented the cathode ray tube in 1878, but these discoveries took many years to merge into the common ground of television.

Paul Nipkow of Germany made the first crude television in 1884. His mechanical system used a scanning disk with small holes to pick up image fragments and imprint them on a light-sensitive selenium tube. A receiver reassembled the picture. In 1888, W. Hallwachs applied photoelectric cells in cameras; cathode rays were demonstrated as devices for reassembling the image at the receiver by Boris Rosing of Russia and A. A. Campbell-Swinton of Great Britain, both working independently in 1907. Countless radio pioneers including Thomas Edison invented methods of broadcasting television signals.

John Logie Baird of Scotland and Charles F. Jenkins of the United States constructed the first true television sets in the 1920s by combining Nipkow's mechanical scanning disk with vacuum-tube amplifiers and photoelectric cells. The 1920s were the critical decade in television development because a number of major corporations including General Electric (GE), the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), Westinghouse, and American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) began serious television research. By 1935, mechanical systems for transmitting black-and-white images were replaced completely by electronic methods that could generate hundreds of horizontal bands at 30 frames per second. Vladimir K. Zworykin, a Russian immigrant who first worked for Westinghouse then RCA, patented an electronic camera tube based on the cathode tube. Philo T. Farnsworth and Allen B. Dumont, both Americans, developed a pickup tube that became the home television receiver by 1939.

The Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) had entered the color TV fray and battled with RCA to perfect color television, initially with mechanical methods until an all-electronic color system could be developed. Rival broadcasts appeared throughout the 1940s although progress was slowed by both World War II and the Korean War. The first CBS color broadcast on June 25, 1951, featured Ed Sullivan and other stars of the network. Commercial color television broadcasts were underway in the United States by 1954.

Raw Materials

The television consists of four principle sets of parts, including the exterior or housing, the audio reception and speaker system, the picture tube, and a complicated mass of electronics including cable and antennae input and output devices, a built-in antenna in most sets, a remote control receiver, computer chips, and access buttons. The remote control or "clicker" may be considered a fifth set of parts.

The housing of the set is made of injection-molded plastic, although wood cabinets are still available for some models. Metals and plastics also comprise the audio system. The picture tube requires precision-made glass, fluorescent chemical coatings, and electronic attachments around and at the rear of the tube. The tube is supported inside the housing by brackets and braces molded into the housing. The antennae and most of the input-output connections are made of metal, and some are coated with special metals or plastic to improve the quality of the connection or insulate the device. The chips, of course, are made of metal, solder, and silicon.

To the surprise of most people, television transmission began almost 25 years before the end of World War II. John Logie Baird, in England, and C. Francis Jenkins, in the United States, both made public demonstrations of television in 1925. Unlike post-war electronic televisions, these early systems used mechanical scanning methods.

Jenkins made significant contributions to optical transmission research during the 1920s. During 1922-23, he constructed mechanical prismatic disc scanners to transmit images. These scanners focused and refracted light through prisms ground into the edges of overlapping glass discs. As the discs rotated, a point of light scanned horizontally and vertically across a light-sensitive surface. This generated electrical signals necessary for transmission. In 1922 Jenkins sent facsimiles of photographs by telephone, and the following year transmitted images of President Harding and others by radio with an improved scanner. Unlike television, however, these first tests only sent still pictures.

Jenkins publicly broadcast moving images with his equipment in 1925. His first 10-minute broadcast showed in silhouette the motions of a small operating windmill. By 1931, he had experimental television stations operating in New York and Washington D.C. He sold receiver kits to those wishing to view his telecasts and encouraged amateur participation. With other companies, Jenkins contributed to a small, short-lived mechanical television "boom." By 1933, however, the poor image quality of mechanical scanning convinced larger manufacturers to pursue the possibilities of electronic technologies, and the mechanical television era ended.

Erik Manthey


The design of the television requires input and teamwork on the part of a range of design engineers. Audio, video, plastics, fiber optics, and electronics engineers all participate in conceptualizing a new television design and the technical and sales features that will set it apart. A new design of television may have one or many new applications of technology as features. It may only be a different size of an existing model, or it may include an array of new features such as an improved sound system, a remote control that also controls other entertainment devices, and an improved screen or picture, such as the flat black screens that have entered the marketplace recently.

Conceptual plans for the new set are produced by the engineering team. The concept may change and be redrawn many times before the design is preliminarily approved for manufacture. The engineering specialists then select and design the components of the set, and a prototype is made to prove out the design. The prototype is essential, not only for confirming the design, appearance, and function of the set, but also for production engineers to determine the production processes, machining, tools, robots, and modifications to existing factory production lines that also have to be designed or modified to suit the proposed new design. When the prototype passes rigid reviews and is approved for manufacture by management, detailed plans and specifications for design and production of the model are produced. Raw materials and components manufactured by others can then be ordered, the production line can be constructed and tested, and the first sets can begin their ride down the assembly line.

The Manufacturing


  • 1 Almost all television housings are made of plastic by the process of injection molding, in which precision molds are made and liquid plastic is injected under high pressure to fill the molds. The pieces are released from the molds, trimmed, and cleaned. They are then assembled to complete the housing. The molds are designed so that brackets and supports for the various components are part of the housing.

Picture tube

  • 2 The television picture tube, or cathode ray tube (CRT), is made of precision glass that is shaped to have a slightly curved plate at the front or screen. It may also have a dark tint added to the face plate glass, either during production of the glass or by application directly to the inside of the screen. Darker face plates produce improved picture contrast. When the tube is manufactured, a water suspension of phosphor chemicals is allowed to settle on the inside of the face plate, and this coating is then overlaid with a thin film of aluminum that lets electrons pass through. The aluminum serves as a mirror to prevent light from bouncing back into the tube.

    Glass for picture tubes is supplied by a limited number of manufacturers in Japan and Germany. Quantities of the quality of glass needed for picture tubes are limited, and the emergence of large-screen sets has created a shortage in this portion of the industry. The large screens are also very heavy, so flat-panel displays using plasma-addressed liquid crystal (PALC) displays were developed in the 1980s. This gas plasma technology uses electrodes to excite layers of neon or magnesium oxide, so they release ultraviolet radiation that activates the phosphor on the back of the television screen. Because the gas is trapped in a thin layer, the screen can also be thin and lightweight. Projection TVs use digital micro mirror devices (DMDs) to project their pictures.

    A shadow mask with 200,000 holes lies immediately behind the phosphor screen; the holes are precisely machined to align the colors emitted by three electron beams. Today's best picture tubes have shadow masks that are manufactured from a nickel-iron alloy called Invar; lesser quality sets have masks of iron. The alloy allows the tube to operate at a higher temperature without distorting the picture, and higher temperatures allow brighter pictures. Rare-earth elements have also been added to the phosphor coating inside the tube to improve brightness.

    The electrons are fired by three tubular, metal electron guns that are carefully seated in the neck, or narrow end, of the tube. After the electron guns are placed inside the tube, the picture tube is evacuated to a near vacuum so air does not interfere with the movement of the electrons. The small opening at the rear of the tube is sealed with a fitted electrical plug that will be positioned near the back of the set. A deflection yoke, consisting of several electromagnetic coils, is fitted around the outside of the neck of the picture tube. The coils cause pulses of high voltage to direct the scanning electron beams in the proper direction and speed.

Audio system

  • 3 The housing also contains fittings for speakers, wiring, and other parts of the audio system. The speakers are usually made by a specialized manufacturer to the specifications of the television manufacturer, so they are assembled in the set as components or a subassembly. Electronic sound controls and integrated circuitry are assembled in panels in the set as it travels along the assembly line.

Electronic parts

  • 4 When the picture tube and the audio speakers and attachments are assembled in the set, other electronic elements are added to the rear of the set. The antennae, cable jacks, other input and output jacks, the electronics for receiving remote control signals, and other devices are prepared by specialty contractors or as subassemblies else-where on the assembly line. They are then mounted in the set, and the housing is closed.

Quality Control

As with all precision devices, quality control for the manufacture of the television is a rigid process. Inspections, laboratory testing, and field testing are performed during the development of prototypes and throughout manufacture so the resulting television is not only technologically sound but safe for use in homes and businesses.


There are no byproducts from the manufacture of the television, although many other devices are a part of the television "family" and are often produced by the same manufacturer. These include the remote control, computer monitors, video recorders (VCRs), laser disc players, and a host of devices that may require compatible design and components. Specialized televisions are produced for some industries, including television studios and mobile broadcast facilities, hospitals, and for surveillance applications for public safety and use in inaccessible or dangerous locations.

Wastes may include metals, plastics, glass, and chemicals. Metals, plastics, and glass are isolated and recycled unless they have been specially treated or coated. Chemicals are carefully monitored and controlled; often, they can be purified and recycled, so disposal of hazardous wastes can be minimized. Hazardous waste plans are in effect in all stages of manufacture, both to minimize quantities of waste and to protect workers.

The Future

The future of television is now. High Definition Television (HDTV) was developed by the Japanese Broadcast Corporation and first demonstrated in 1982. This system produces a movie-quality picture by using a 1,125-line picture on a "letter-box" format screen with a 16 to nine width to height ratio. High-quality, flat screens suitable for HDTV are being perfected using synthetic diamond film to emit electrons in the first application of synthetic diamonds in electronic components. Other developments in the receiver include gold-plated jacks, an internal polarity switch on large screens that compensates for the effect of Earth's magnetic field on image reception, accessories to eliminate ghosts on the screen, the Invar shadow mask to improve brightness, and audio amplifiers. Liquid crystal display (LCD) technology is also advancing rapidly as an alternative to the cumbersome television screen. Assorted computer chips add functions like channel labeling, time and data displays, swap and freeze motions, parental channel control, touch screens, and a range of channel-surfing options.

Digital television of the future will allow the viewer to manipulate the angle of the camera, communicate with the sports commentator, and splice and edit movies on screen. Two-way TV will also be possible. Current screens may be used thanks to converter boxes that change the analog signal that presently energizes the phosphors on the back of your television screen to digital signals that are subject to less distortion—and are the language of computers. Computer technology will then allow a world of manipulation of the data as well as broadcast of six times as much data.

The future of television manufacture may be anywhere but in the United States. Thirty percent of all televisions manufactured by Japanese companies are made in factories in Mexico. The factories themselves will soon be producing hybrids in which the television, computer monitor, and telephone are a single unit, although this development will take further improvements in compatibility between machines that speak analog versus digital language and the creation of PC-to-video bridges. Proof of the possibility of this integrated future exists now in Internet access that is now available through television cable converters and the living room TV screen.

Where to Learn More


Barker, Dennis P. "High-tech tubes: today's technology delivers the best TV pictures ever." Popular Mechanics, April 1997, p. 60.

"Bell Atlantic puts on its producer's hat." Business Week, April 18, 1994, p. 116E.

Braithwaite, Lancelot. "Ghost busted: a first look at Magnavox's ghost canceler unearths new levels of image clarity." Video Magazine, November 1996, p. 56.

Doherty, Brian. "Made in America?" Reason, August/September 1993, p. 50.

Fisher, David E. and Marshall Jon Fisher. "The Color War." Invention & Technology, Winter 1997, pp. 8-18.

Goldberg, Ron. "Adding TV to the PC." Popular Mechanics, April 1993, p. 138.

Heald, Tom. "The next wave." Video Magazine, September 1996, p. 32.

Levine, Martin. "Dark tubes stake a claim." Video Magazine, November 1993, p. 64.

Lewyn, Mark. "Two-way TV isn't quite ready for Prime Time." Business Week, April 13, 1992, pp. 38-39.

Miller, Michael J. "Yet Another Dinosaur?" PC Magazine, September 14, 1993, p. 81.

"Mi TV es Su TV?" Business Week, November 1, 1993; p. 8.

"Romancing the Stone." Video, December 1993, p. 12.

"TV design receives gas assist." Design News, August 15, 1994, p. 28.

"TV does digital: in a world of bits and bytes, you control the camera angles and everything you see on TV." Science World, February 7, 1997, p. 18.

"Videotest: ProBono." Video, April 1996, p. 53.


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television, transmission and reception of still or moving images by means of electrical signals, especially by means of electromagnetic radiation using the techniques of radio and by fiberoptic and coaxial cables. Television has become a major industry, especially in the industrialized nations, and a major medium of communication and source of home entertainment. Television is put to varied use in industry, e.g., for surveillance in places inaccessible to or dangerous for human beings; in science, e.g., in tissue microscopy (see microscope); and in education.

Evolution of the Scanning Process

The idea of "seeing by telegraph" engrossed many inventors after the discovery in 1873 of variation in the electrical conductivity of selenium when exposed to light. Selenium cells were used in early television devices; the results were unsatisfactory, however, chiefly because the response of selenium to light-intensity variations was not rapid enough. Moreover, until the development of the electron tube there was no way of sufficiently amplifying the weak output signals. These limitations precluded the success of a television method for which Paul Nipkow in Germany received (1884) a patent.

His system employed a selenium photocell and a scanning disk; it embodied the essential features of later successful devices. A scanning disk has a single row of holes arranged so that they spiral inward toward the center from a point near the edge. The disk revolves in front of a light-sensitive plate on which a lens forms an image; each hole passes across, or "scans," a narrow, ring-shaped sector of the image. Thus the holes trace contiguous concentric sectors, so that in one revolution of the disk the entire image is scanned. When the light-sensitive cell is connected in an electric circuit, the variations in light cause corresponding fluctuations in the electric current. The image can be reproduced by a receiver whose luminous area is scanned by a similar disk synchronized with the disk of the transmitter.

Although selenium cells proved inadequate, the development of the phototube (see photoelectric cell) made the mechanical disk-scanning method practicable. In 1926, J. L. Baird in England and C. F. Jenkins in the United States successfully demonstrated television systems using mechanical scanning disks. While research remained at producing pictures made up of 60 to 100 scanned lines, mechanical systems were competitive. These were soon superseded, however, by electronic scanning methods; a television system employing electronic scanning was patented by V. K. Zworykin in 1928. The 1930s saw the laboratory perfection of television equipment that began to reach the market in 1945 after World War II.

The modern scanning process, which is the essence of television accomplishment, operates as do the eyes in reading a page of printed matter, i.e., line by line. A complex circuit of horizontal and vertical deflection coils controls this movement and causes the electronic beam to scan the back of a mosaic of photoelectric cells in a 525-line zigzag 30 times each second. (The 525-line 30-frame-per-second system is used in the United States, Japan, and elsewhere; many other countries use similar but incompatible systems.) Because of persistence of vision only about 30 pictures need be transmitted each second to give the effect of motion. The development of interlaced scanning results in alternate lines being scanned each 1/60 sec, the remaining lines being covered in the next 1/60 sec.

Development of the Television Camera and Receiver

V. K. Zworykin's iconoscope (1923) was the first successful camera tube in wide use. Its functioning involved many fundamental principles common to all television image pickup devices. The face of the iconoscope consisted of a thin sheet of mica upon which thousands of microscopic globules of a photosensitive silver-cesium compound had been deposited. Backed with a metallic conductor, this expanse of mica became a mosaic of tiny photoelectric cells and capacitors. The differing light intensities of various points of a scene caused the cells of the mosaic to emit varying quantities of electrons, leaving the cells with positive charges proportionate to the number of electrons lost. An electron gun, or "scanner," passed its beam across the cells. As it did so, the charge was released, causing an electrical signal to appear on the back of the mosaic, which was connected externally to an amplifier. The strength of the signal was proportional to the amount of charge released. The iconoscope provided good resolution, but required very high light levels and needed constant manual correction.

The orthicon and image-orthicon camera tubes improved on the iconoscope. They used light-sensitive granules deposited on an insulator and low-velocity scanning. These could be used with lower light levels than required by the iconoscope, and did not require the constant manual manipulation. The vidicon was the first successful television camera tube to use a photoconductive surface to derive a video signal.

Solid state imaging devices were first demonstrated in the 1960s. Today's solid-state television cameras use semiconductor charge-coupled devices or CCDs. Each element in a CCD stores a charge that is determined by the illumination incident on it. At the end of the exposure interval, the charge is transferred to a storage register and the CCD is freed up for the next exposure. The charges in the storage register are transferred to the output stage serially during that time. Although almost all consumer video cameras and camcorders use CCD imagers, camera tubes are still common in professional applications.

In the television receiver, the original image is reconstructed essentially by reversing the operation of the video camera. The final image is typically displayed on the face of a cathode-ray tube, where an electron beam scans the fluorescent face, called the "screen," line for line with the pickup scanning. The fluorescent deposit on the tube's inside face glows when hit by the electrons, and the visual image is reproduced. Liquid crystal displays have also been used, mainly on small, portable sets; they are also finding increasing use as light valves on large-screen projectors. Although LCD technology is advancing rapidly, video projectors that use electron tubes can still produce better pictures. Other devices in the receiver extract the crucial synchronization information from the signal and demodulate (separate the information signal from the carrier wave) it.

Development of Color Television

Several systems of color television have been developed. In the first color system approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a motor-driven disk with segments in three primary colors—red, blue, and green—rotated behind the camera lens, filtering the light from the subject so that the colors could pass through in succession. The receiving unit of this system formed monochrome (black-and-white) images through the usual cathode-ray tube, but a color wheel, identical with that affixed to the camera and synchronized with it, transformed the images back to their original appearance. This method is said to be "field-sequential" because the monochrome image is "painted" first in one color, then another, and finally in the third, in rapid enough succession so that the individual colors are blended by the retentive capacities of the eye, giving the viewer the impression of a full colored image. This system, developed by the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), was established in 1950 as standard for the United States by the FCC. However, it was not "compatible," i.e., from the same signal a good picture could not be obtained on standard black-and-white sets, so it found scant public acceptance.

Another system, a simultaneous compatible system, was developed by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). In 1953 the FCC reversed its 1950 ruling and revised the standards for acceptable color television systems. The RCA system met the new standards (the CBS system did not) and was well received by the public. This system is based on an "element-sequential" system. Light from the subject is broken up into its three color components, which are simultaneously scanned by three pickups. However, the signals corresponding to the red, green, and blue portions of the scanned elements are combined electronically so that the required 4.1-MHz bandwidth can be used. In the receiver the three color signals are separated for display. The elements, or dots, on the picture tube screen are each subdivided into areas of red, green, and blue phosphor. Beams from three electron guns, modulated by the three color signals, scan the elements together in such a way that the beam from the gun using a given color signal strikes the phosphor of the same color. Provision is made electronically for forming proper gray tones in black-and-white receivers. The FCC allowed stereo audio for television in 1984.

Broadcast, Cable, and Satellite Television Transmission

Television programs may be transmitted either "live" or from a recording. The principle means of recording television programs for future use is videotape recording. Videotape recording is similar to conventional tape recording (see tape recorder) except that, because of the wide frequency range—4.2 megahertz (MHz)—occupied by a video signal, the effective speed at which the tape passes the head is kept very high. The sound is recorded along with the video signal on the same tape.

When a television program is broadcast, the varying electrical signals are then amplified and used to modulate a carrier wave (see modulation); the modulated carrier is usually fed to an antenna, where it is converted to electromagnetic waves and broadcast over a large region. The waves are sensed by antennas connected to television receivers. The range of waves suitable for radio and television transmission is divided into channels, which are assigned to broadcast companies or services. In the United States the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has assigned 12 television channels between 54 and 216 MHz in the very-high-frequency (VHF) range and 56 channels between 470 and 806 MHz in the ultra-high-frequency (UHF) range (see radio frequency).

Most television viewers in the United States no longer receive signals by using antennas; instead, they receive programming via cable television. Cable delivery of television started as a way to improve reception. A single, well-placed community antenna received the broadcast signals and distributed them over coaxial or fiber-optic cables to areas that otherwise would not be able to receive them. Today, cable television is popular because of the wide variety of programming it can deliver. Many systems now provide more than 100 channels of programming. Typically, a cable television company receives signals relayed from a communications satellite and sends those signals to its subscribers. The first transatlantic television broadcast was accomplished by such a satellite, called Telstar, on July 10, 1962. Some television viewers use small satellite dishes to receive signals directly from satellites. Most satellite-delivered signals are scrambled and require a special decoder to receive them clearly.

See also broadcasting.

Television Technology Innovations

The next great advance in television will be the adoption of a high-definition television (HDTV) system. Non-experimental analog HDTV broadcasting began in Japan in 1991. In 1994 the FCC approved a U.S. standard for an all-digital system, to be used by all commercial broadcast stations by mid-2002. Although it was hoped that the transition to digital broadcasting would be largely completed by 2006, less than a third of all stations had begun transmitting digital signals by the mid-2002 deadline. In 2005 the U.S. government mandated an end to digital broadcasting in Feb., 2009 (changed to June, 2009, shortly before the deadline in 2009), but by Apr., 2008, only 80% of those stations required to end analog broadcasting had begun digital broadcasting.

The most noticeable difference between the current system and the HDTV system is the aspect ratio of the picture. While the ratio of the width of a current TV picture to its height is 4:3, the HDTV system has a ratio of 16:9, about the same as the screen used in a typical motion-picture theater. HDTV also provides higher picture resolution and high quality audio. Each frame of video consists of 720 or 1,125 horizontally scanned lines instead of the current 525. Furthermore, the lines are scanned sequentially, not interlaced as they are now.

The wide availability of television has raised concerns about the amount of time children spend watching TV, as well as the increasingly violent and graphic sexual content of TV programming. Starting in 1999 the FCC required TV set manufacturers to install "V-Chip" technology that allows parents to block the viewing of specific programs; that same year the television industry adopted a voluntary ratings system to indicate the content of each program.

Various interactive television systems have been tested or proposed. An interactive system could be used for instant public-opinion polls or for home shopping. Many cable television systems use an interactive system for instant ordering of "pay-per-view" programming. Others systems poll their subscribers' equipment to compile information on program preferences. Several competing commercial systems have connected televisions to the Internet.


See D. G. Fink and D. M. Lutyens, The Physics of Television (1960); M. S. Kiver, Television Simplified (7th ed. 1973); R. Armes, On Video (1988); K. B. Benson and J. C. Whitaker, Television and Audio Handbook (1990); K. B. Benson, Television Engineering Handbook (1992); D. E. Fisher and M. J. Fisher, Tube (1996).

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Television is one of the most significant communications inventions. Television has fundamentally changed the political process, our use of leisure, as well as social relations among family and friends.

Television was not developed by any single individual or even a group of people working together. Scientists and visionaries imagined a device that would capture images with sound and transmit them into homes since the 1880s. The word television was first used at the 1900 Exhibition in Paris. Scottish inventor John Logie Baird (18881946) was the first person to provide a television transmission in October 1925, and he subsequently demonstrated it to the British public on January 26, 1926. On December 25, 1926, Kenjiro Takayanagi (18991990) displayed the first image in Japan. The technology improved slowly with athletes participating in the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin able to see some poor quality images of the games. In 1936 France and Germany began television programming. In Great Britain King George VIs coronation from Hyde Park Corner on May 12, 1937, was the first broadcast of its kind, and the first U.S. election reported on television was on November 8, 1941, where news of Franklin Delano Roosevelts victory was transmitted to an estimated 7,500 sets.

The development of television was halted during the Second World War in Europe and North America where manufacturers directed their attentions to munitions. Regular television service reached ninety-six countries by 1973.

Many of the things we associate with modern television technology were patented or devised in televisions infancy. In 1928 Vladimir Zworyking (18891982) owned the first U.S. patent for an all-electronic color television; however, the development did not come to fruition for another twenty-five years. During the 1939 Worlds Fair in New York, television could not only receive audio and video images, but it was also designed to record those images, foreshadowing video recording devices (VCRs). And Baird later patented a 600-line electronic high definition color system in Britain in 1945.


The golden age of television is associated with the years 1949 to 1960 when American television viewing consisted of a variety of entertainment programming. The burgeoning prosperity and optimism of post-World War II influenced the spread of television. As more people were able to purchase televisions the demand for content grew. Early television programs offered revamped radio programs. There was some news and information programming, but those tended to be of short duration. A similar golden age is associated with British television. Early programs were reworked vaudeville acts and radio shows. Later situational comedies such as I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners would create new talent and genres.

The shared experience of watching key television programming provided an avenue for discussion and next-day water cooler conversation. As television matured so did the content, with programs such as All in the Family offering political and social commentary on issues ranging from race relations to the Vietnam War. Televisions depiction of the family changed through time as well. While initial programming presented unified traditional families with bread-winning fathers and stay-at-home mothers, later programs depicted the breakdown of the traditional family dealing in both fiction and nonfiction with divorce, remarriage, blended families, and later, with same-sex unions.

Not only did television provide scripted programming, but it also broadcasted major sporting events. The first televised hockey game between the Montreal Canadiens losing six-to-two to the New York Rangers in Madison Square Gardens was seen on February 25, 1940. Television is also closely associated with the increasing popularity of the Olympic games, soccer, American football, and baseball.

With technological improvements, viewing time increased as well as televisions influence on the public and politics. In 1947 there were only 60,000 American homes with television sets; by 1950 this figure grew to 12.5 million. Televisions are now found in nearly every home in the United States and Europe. In the developing world, the allure of television is so great that some want television before other communications devices such as telephones.

The hold of major networks on audiences soon dissipated with the advent of cable and specialty television programming. Rather than having a system where the networks catered to a common denominator of programming, the proliferation of specialty programs allowed people to view content that interested them specifically. Moving from analog to digital signals allowed for a so-called 500-channel universe where any specific interest could be satisfied, from golf to cooking; from sport to fashion; and from all news to pornography. As a result of these technological changes, the era of the mass audience was over. While there remain a few programs that can attain mass audiences, the market has been so fragmented that networks must compete for an ever-shrinking television audience.


The rapid adoption of television fundamentally changed modern society. Television has been blamed for the decline in civil society, the breakdown of the family, suicide, mass murder, childhood obesity, and the trivializing of politics.

Children have been the target of broadcasters since the 1950s. Initially American broadcasters provided twenty-seven hours a week of childrens television programming. By the 1990s there was twenty-four hour a day programming available to children. Children in Canada spend fourteen hours per week (Statistics Canada) watching television, while American children spend twenty-one hours per week (Roberts et al. 2005, p. 34). Some surveys suggest that British children have the highest rate of television viewing in the world. There are several concerns associated with television and childrens viewing patterns. Many researchers have noted the link between the advent of television and increasing obesity and other weight-related illnesses. The time spent watching television is time not spent playing outdoors or in other physically challenging activities.

High television viewership of violence is linked to an increase in violent children. Prolonged exposure to violent television programming has shown that children can become more aggressive, become desensitized to violence, become accepting of violence as a means to solve problems, imitate violence viewed on television, and identify with either victims or victimizers.

Despite the negatives associated with television, it remains a powerful tool in shaping and educating children. While many point to the destructive nature of television, there are others who acknowledge televisions positive impact. Researchers and programmers have developed content that has positively influenced children. Early studies on the PBS program Sesame Street found that children who viewed the program were better readers in grade one than students who had not watched the program. Programs were developed not only to help with literacy, but with other subjects as well as socialization, problem solving, and civic culture.

Notwithstanding the positive effects of children and television viewing, high television viewing has been associated with a decline in civic culture. As people have retreated to their homes to watch television, they have been less inclined to participate in politics either by voting or by joining political parties. In addition television viewing means that people are not interacting as much with friends or neighbors. What is more, television viewing also has been associated with an overall decline in group participation as well as volunteerism.


The issue of ownership of content and transmission was debated from televisions onset. In 1927 the U.S. Radio Act declared public ownership of the airways. They argued that the airwaves should serve the PICNpublic interest, convenience, and necessity. Because of this understanding of the public owning the airwaves, it set the stage for regulatory bodies around the world licensing stations according to content regulations. Taking the issue of public interest one step further, the British government founded the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 1927. Other countries followed establishing their own public broadcasting systems. The United States lagged behind other nations by adopting a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in 1968. With the increasing adoption of television, many countries found the need to create new regulatory agencies. In the United States, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was created as an act of Congress on June 19, 1934.

The most successful television enterprises are closely associated with advertising. From the outset the way in which television content was funded was through the pursuit of advertising dollars. As a result it has often been said that television does not bring content to audiences, but instead it brings audiences to advertisers. The propaganda model of the media, coined by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in their 1988 publication Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, argues that the media uphold the dominant ideology in America. The five pillars of the model focus on ownership, advertising, sourcing, flak, and anticommunism. This model has been linked to other western media systems, but is most fitting in the United States where the power of the media rests with the owners.

Televisions hold on the public imagination stems in part because of its ease of transmission. No one needs any special skill to receive the messages. All that is required is a television that can pick up a signal. More important, television influences our view of the world precisely because images are transmitted into peoples homes. Since its inception, television transmissions have had the power to change our perceptions of world events. Starting with the Vietnam War and continuing to a myriad of events from the arms race to Tiananmen Square, and from the Civil Rights movement to the war in Iraq, television has become synonymous with the phrase the whole world is watching.

SEE ALSO Children; Chomsky, Noam; Communication; Cultural Studies; Entertainment Industry; Hidden Persuaders; Internet; Media; Medium Is the Message; Politics; Race Relations; Sports; Sports Industry; Subliminal Suggestion; Vietnam War; Violence


Giltan, Todd. 1980. The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Gunter, Barrie, and Jill L. McAleer. 1990. Children and Television: The One Eyed Monster? New York: Routledge.

Herman, Edward S., and Noam Chomsky. 1988. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon Books.

Liebert, Robert M., and Joyce Sprafkin. 1988. The Early Window: Effects of Television on Children and Youth. 3rd ed. New York: Pergamon Press.

Postman, Neil. 1986. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: Penguin Books.

Putnam, Robert D. 2000. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Roberts, Donald F. , Ulla G. Goehr, and Victoria Rideout. Generation M: Media in the Lives of 818 Year-olds. Kaiser Family Foundation Study, March 2005.

Signorielli, Nancy. 1991. A Sourcebook on Children and Television. New York: Greenwood Press.

Statistics Canada. 2004. Average Hours per Week of Television Viewing by Children 2 to 11 Years. Table no. 5020002.

Van Evra, Judith. 1990. Television and Child Development. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Lydia Miljan

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Growing up with television, c. 1950s. Worries about the effects of television viewing on young children have been around since the birth of television itself. © H. Armstrong Roberts/CORBIS.

Television was gradually introduced in the United States and Western Europe after World War II, although the medium as such was developed before the war. By the end of the 1950s most countries in the Western hemisphere had access to one or more television channels and in the 1970s the majority of the households were equipped with at least one television set. At the end of the 1990s television was still the most pervasive medium in European households: about 90 percent of children had access to a television in their home. The dissemination of television was also rapid in the Third World and by the end of the twentieth century most people, at least in urban electrified areas, had a set.

Television gradually replaced radio as the medium most used by children; primarily attracting children in the younger ages (up to the teenage years). The amount of television viewing is sensitive to the output of children's programs as well as the output of entertainment programs. Thus, children have increased their viewing time as a consequence of more national channels as well as the deregulation of the television market, which have led to an increased output of globally distributed commercial children's programs, such as animated cartoons and action adventure series. Time spent with television varies between different countries, depending on differences in cultural pattern as well as differences in production. By the 2000s, the average child viewer in the United States watched about three to four hours of television a day, whereas the European viewer watched about three hours, with some national variations.

Television in Europe and the United States has changed its function from the early days, when it was a medium gathering the family in the living room, to a more privatized and individual activity, as many children today have their own television set in the bedroom.

Television's Impact

Children's fascination with television has concerned researchers, parents, educators, and other groups dealing with children's well-being ever since the medium was introduced. Much of the public debate has been focused on the effects of media violence, which has resulted in much scrutiny by psychologists and sociologists and has given rise to a massive body of research. But the debate and research has also dealt with whether television viewing in itself is a passive activity, and sometimes television has been compared to a drug, which has a tranquilizing or seducing effect on the viewer. Television has also been blamed for causing negative effects on reading skills and some claim that too much television use makes children stupid. Other worries have concerned children's physical condition, such as too little exercise or that radiation from the screen may affect the brain or eyes. Television viewing has also been linked to obesity in children.

In the history of media effects, a "direct effects era" was dominant for a long period of time. The reception of television was viewed in a linear and one-dimensional manner. Later, researchers realized that children did not react uniformly to the same program, but there were intervening variables such as age, gender, predispositions, perceptions, social environment, past experience, and parental influence. However, even if years of research has stressed that there are a number of so-called intervening variables, the "direct effects model" has been very influential in the public debate about children and television.

When research was done in more realistic settings, rather than in the laboratory, the effects of exposure to television was attenuated and long-term effects were particularly weak or even nonexistent. Long-term research conducted both in the United States and in Europe came to the conclusion that television violence is but one of a number of factors responsible for violent aggressive behavior among young people. Aggressive behavior is mainly related to other factors than exposure to television violence, such as personality or sociocultural variables, for example, family conditions, school, and peers. However, researchers also point to the fact that the frequent occurrence of screen violence reinforces the idea of violence as a solution of problems. The globalization of the television market contributed to increased production of violent programming and to the worldwide dissemination of such programs (e.g., animated cartoons and action adventures).

Learning and the Social Benefits of Television

At the end of the 1960s and the beginning of 1970s there was a belief that television could be used for promoting learning and social behavior. The medium was deliberately used for preschool learning, often called pro-social learning, and compensatory education in the United States, in Europe, and in some countries in the Third World, for example, in the Latin American countries of Mexico and Brazil. Producers, educators, and researchers started investigating the possibility of using television to reach out to underprivileged groups in society. In the United States, the educational program Sesame Street was developed and became a success also in other countries, where the program sometimes was adjusted to the domestic child audience. For example, Brazil, Germany, Israel, and Spain developed their own versions of Sesame Street. In Scandinavia, the domestic public service companies expressed a certain resistance against Sesame Street, because of the commercial format. However, in Sweden there was a wave of program series inspired by Sesame Street, teaching elementary skills in reading, concept formation as well as promoting pro-social behavior, such as solving conflicts without violence or strengthening children's self-confidence.

Regulation and Public Service

The television market has been more regulated in most European countries than it is in the United States. As a rule, the European broadcasting landscapes are organized as dual systems with public service broadcasters as a central pillar of the broadcasting system, rather than just a supplement to commercial broadcasting. In Northern Europe, children's programs have a particular position and status. Programs for children are offered on a regular basis. For example, in Sweden, about ten percent of the output on public service television was aimed at children and young people by the 2000s. About half of this output was domestic productions, with programs in a variety of genres: fictional dramas, sports, news, documentaries, magazine programs. However, deregulation has been both a challenge and a threat against public service television. The general tendency in Europe is weakened public service television, with fewer investments in domestic children's programs in favor of cheap imports. In recent years public broadcasters have been facing increasing competition by global (American) commercial children's channels like Cartoon Network, The Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and Fox Kids Network. The situation in many countries in the Third World is such that the child audience has no other choice than the output from these channels.

Children's Participation

During the 1950s there was a discussion about whether children should participate in programs or not. In England, it was legislated that children were not allowed to participate or to appear as actors. The legislation originated from the days when child labor was a common phenomenon in society. Children's programs were mainly performed by adults, as well as by various kinds of puppets, which acted as children, for example the puppet Andy Pandy from the BBC's Watch with Mother, one of the very first children's programs. In Sweden, on the contrary, it was stated from the start of broadcasting that children were welcomed to participate in programs. One of the very first television programs for children exhibited a mother with all her children in the studio. Eventually, children came to be heard and seen in children's programs more generally. But the image of the child is highly related to cultural patterns. For example, there are differences between how children in France are portrayed, where there is a preference for well dressed and proper children, as compared to children in Scandinavia, where the idea of the "natural" child is advocated. However, in the output as a whole, children are underrepresented both in the United States and in Europe. Children are rarely addressed directly, except in advertisements, as children do not have prominent roles in programs aimed for an adult audience. When young people are portrayed, they are often represented as a problem and a threat. Another recurrent picture is the good, innocent and sweet child, which reaches its extreme in advertising.

Media Education

The issue of children and the media (particularly television) has also been a target for the United Nations since the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, became valid in 1989. One issue of concern has been to increase children's participation in terms of media education. In the United States and in Europe, media education has been inserted into the school curriculum to varying extents. The implementation of media education has been a slow process, often met with resistance from defenders of established school ideals. Wider access to digital video cameras for domestic use as well as computer editing programs makes it easier for children themselves to produce their own programs, which strengthens their positions and makes their voices heard more easily. However, the unequal distribution of technological resources in the world, makes such a scenario realistic only in more economically developed nations.

See also: Consumer Culture; Media, Childhood and the.


Buckingham, David. 2000. After the Death of Childhood: Growing Up in the Age of Electronic Media. London: Polity Press.

Lesser, Gerald. 1974. Children and Television: Lessons from Sesame Street. New York: Random House.

Livingstone, Sonia, and Moira Bovill, eds. 2001. Children and Their Changing Media Environment: A European Comparative Study. London: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Postman, Neil. 1982. The Disappearance of Childhood. New York: Delacorte Press.

Rydin, Ingegerd. 2000. "Children's TV Programs on the Global Market." News from the UNESCO International Clearinghouse on Children and Violence on the Screen. 1: 1720.

Von Feilitzen, Cecilia, and Ulla Carlsson, eds. 1998. Children and Media Violence: Tearbook from the UNESCO International Clear-inghouse on Children and Violence on the Screen. Gothenburg: The UNESCO International Clearinghouse on Children and Violence on the Screen.

Von Feilitzen, Cecilia, and Ulla Carlsson, eds. 1999. Children and Media: Image, Education, Participation. Gothenburg: The UNESCO International Clearinghouse on Children and Violence on the Screen.

Wartella, Ellen, and Byron Reeves. 1985. "Historical Trends in Research on Children and the Media: 19001960." Journal of Communication 35, no. 2: 118133.

Winn, Marie 1977. The Plug-in-Drug. New York: The Viking Press.

Ingegerd Rydin

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The term television refers to any system for transmitting visual images at a distance. Research on such systems dates back to the 1880s, when German scientist Paul Nipkow (18601940) invented a device known as the Nipkow disk. This device was made of a metal or cardboard disk perforated with a series of square holes in a spiral pattern. As the disk was spun, a light was shined through the holes and onto a target. By looking through the holes, one could see the target revealed as a series of horizontal lines.

Nipkow's invention had no practical applications, but it established a model on which later television systems were based. The modern television system was invented in the 1920s at about the same time by two inventors working independently: American Philo Farnsworth (19061971) and Russian-born American Vladimir Zworykin (18891982). Of the two, Zworykin experienced the greater success in patenting and marketing his ideas.

How television works

A television system consists primarily of two parts: picture transmission and picture reception. A television camera used to photograph a television program is similar in some ways to a still camera. Light bounces off the subject being photographed and enters the lens at the front of the television camera. The lens forms a clear image of the subject being photographed on a screen, which is located behind the lens.

Transmission. The surface of the screen contains millions of tiny particles of selenium or some other photosensitive (sensitive to light) material. These particles act like tiny photocells. That is, when struck by light, they emit a small electrical pulse. An electron gun at the back of the television camera scans back and forth, up and down across the screen at the front of the camera. As it scans, it detects electrical pulses being given off by various parts of the screen. A bright region in the scene being photographed will give off a lot of light. That light will be converted by the selenium into a relatively large electrical pulse. The electron gun will detect that electrical pulse as being greater than other pulses around it.

Words to Know

Coaxial cable: A cable made of a conducting outer metal tube insulated from an inner conducting core that is used to carry telegraph, telephone, and television signals.

Electron gun: A device that gives off a stream of electrons.

Persistence: In terms of human vision, the tendency of an image to remain on the retina of the eye for a fraction of a second after the image has disappeared.

Photocell: A device that emits an electrical pulse when struck by light.

Photosensitive: Affected by light.

The electrical pulses detected by the electron gun are then amplified and sent to the broadcasting tower. In the broadcasting tower, the electrical current from the television camera is converted into radio waves and sent out through the air. The process is similar to the way in which a radio program is transmitted except the frequency is different.

Television reception. At the receiving station, the above process is repeated in reverse order. Radio signals are received, amplified, and then fed into an electron gun in a television picture tube. The electron gun is pointed at the back of a picture tube. It travels back and forth across the picture tube tracing 525 lines on the tube 30 times every second. The back of the tube is covered with a photosensitive material that gives off light whenever it is struck by an electrical pulse. An intense beam from the electron gun (corresponding to an intense beam originally seen by the television camera) produces a strong burst of light. A weaker beam from the electron gun produces a weaker burst of light.

What the electron gun in the picture tube is producing, then, is a series of individual dots, one at a time, spread out across the screen at a very rapid pace. This mass of dots appears as a coherent picture to the human eye because of a phenomenon known as persistence. The term persistence refers to the fact that a visual image projected onto the retina of the human eye tends to remain there for a fraction of a second. Thus, what our eye sees as the electron gun scans the picture tube is a collection of millions of individual spots of light that, taken together, makes up a complete picture. That picture is identical to the one photographed originally by the television camera.

Color television

Color television did not become commercially available until the late 1950s, about 30 years after black-and-white television had been invented. The principles of color television are largely the same as those of black-and-white television. The most important difference is that three different electron guns are required for both color television cameras and color television picture tubes. The three different guns detect and project one color each: red, green, and blue. As the three guns in a television camera scan a scene simultaneously, they detect all possible combinations of the three basic colors that produce all the hues in that scene. When the three guns in a television picture tube project the electrical counterpart of that scene, they produce the same combination of hues in the original scene.

Cable and satellite television

First known as CATV (community antenna television) or simple cable, cable television was developed to deliver a clear signal to rural communities. At the time, a CATV system generally consisted of a single large antenna mounted in a high, clear area to receive signals from distant television broadcasters. Cables were fed to the houses in the community and they usually delivered two or three channels. In the mid-1960s, new technology allowed for up to twelve channels to be carried through a single cable. In order to fill these new channels, cable operators began to bring in television signals from more distant sources. This allowed viewers to watch stations from large cities and neighboring states. With access to a wider variety of stations, the demand for cable increased.

In the early 1970s, several small companies in California and on the East Coast began offering pay-per-view broadcasting: first-run films and major sporting events delivered by cable to a viewer's home for a monthly fee. The popularity of these programs caused demand to skyrocket. By 1975, the first nationwide pay-per-view cable stationHome Box Office (HBO)was in service.

What makes cable transmission practical is its use of coaxial cable. This thick, layered cable allows transmission of a wide band of frequencies and rejects interference from automobiles and electrical appliances. As coaxial technology improved, the number of stations available to cable operators rose from twelve to more than fifty. Now, that number can be increased to almost 150.

The antennas once used to deliver a signal to a cable system are long since gone, replaced by microwave dishes often fed by communications satellites. Once a signal is delivered to a cable company in this manner, it is distributed over cable lines to customers. Broadcasts are often scrambled to prevent nonsubscribers from splicing into a cable line without paying for the service. Cable television's clear image is unaffected by poor weather conditions and most types of interference.

Beginning in the late 1970s, satellite television systems were introduced. The television signals transmitted by a satellite are quite different from the television or radio signals that are broadcast over the air. Satellite television is transmitted by microwaves. Microwaves do not behave like lower frequency radio waves that can bounce off obstructions, clouds, and the ground. Microwaves are strictly line-of-sight. In order for a satellite dish to receive a signal, there can be no obstruction between the transmitting satellite and the receiving satellite dish. Because microwaves are highly directional, the satellite dish and associated components must be properly aligned.

Currently in the United States, there are two major types of satellite television. The first is TVRO (Tele Vision Receive Only). TVRO satellite systems have a large dish6 to 12 feet (1.8 to 3.6 meters) acrossthat is movable. The movable dish enables a TVRO system to view programs on the many satellites that are positioned in orbit above Earth. The second type of satellite television is DBS (Direct Broadcast Satellite). DBS is broadcast by high-powered, high-frequency satellites, which make it possible for the signals to be picked up on a small dish ranging from 18 to 36 inches (46 to 91 centimeters) across. One of the big advantages of DBS systems is that the small dish does not have to move.


Digital television refers to the transmission of pure digital television signals, along with the reception and display of those signals on a digital television set. The digital signals might be broadcast over the air or transmitted through a cable or satellite system. A decoder receives the signal and uses it, in digital form, to directly drive a digital television. A class of digital television is called high-definition television or HDTV. HDTV is high-resolution digital television (DTV) combined with dolby digital surround sound. HDTV is the highest DTV resolution in the new set of standards. Whereas traditional televisions have 525 lines of resolution, HDTV has 720 or 1080 lines of resolution.

HDTV requires new production and transmission equipment at the HDTV stations as well as new equipment for reception by the consumer. Optical fibers have proven to be an ideal method of transmitting HDTV signals. Because its transmission contains twice as much information as those of conventional television, HDTV features much greater clarity and definition in its picture. However, standard television technology cannot transmit so much information at once. Using optical fibers, the HDTV signal can be transmitted as a digital-light pulse, providing a near-flawless image. HDTV reproduction is far superior to broadcast transmission, just as music from a digital compact disc is superior to that broadcast over FM radio.

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Rock band

For the Record

Not a Rebellion, but a Counter-Revolution

Postponed Major Label Deals

Set Apart From Their Contemporaries

Solo Efforts

Selected discography


Punk rock music began in New York City in the mid 1970s. It was then that bands like Television, the Ramones, Patti Smith, and the band that would later become Blondie, the Stilettoes, set the stage for a new kind of music. On the nascent New York p unk-rock circuit of the mid-1970s, wrote Kurt Loder in Esquire, Television was a wondrous curiositya scragged-out Bowery quartet that enriched its witty punk-squak tunes with gorgeous, extended improvisations by two very distinct guitarists, Richard Lloyd and songwriter Tom Verlaine.

In late 1973 Tom Verlaine was walking through New Yorks Bowery section complaining to a friend about the difficulties of finding clubs in which to perform. Together they stumbled upon CBGBs and its owner Hilly Kristal. After a casual discussion, Kristal told Verlaine that his band should come by and audition. Until then the bar featured Irish folk music and was a biker bar a couple nights a week.

The band, consisting of Verlaine and Lloyd on guitars, Billy Ficca on drums, and Richard Hell on bass, placed

For the Record

Members include: Billy Ficca, drums; Richard Lloyd, guitar; Tom Vcrlainc (born Tom Miller, c. 1950 in NJ), vocals and guitar; Fred Smith, bass. Former member: Richard Hell, bass.

Band formed in 1973 in New York City. Began playing at the now-legendary CBGB, 1973; released first single Little Johnny Jewel , 1975; first album Marquee Moon, 1977; disbanded, 1979; reunited for tour and the album Television, 1992.

some mimeographed posters around town and bought their own ads. But after only a month of playing one or two nights a week, other like-minded musicians began showing up. The Ramones were looking for a place to play, as was Patti Smith, and the Stilettoes.

Not a Rebellion, but a Counter-Revolution

Early punk music was not so much a rebellion, as a counter-revolution. The first punks were not a new generation, wrote Bill Flanagan in Musician, but the underbelly of the 60s generation who remembered the glory of their youth and wanted to reclaim rock from Pink Floyd, the Doobie Brothers, the Moody Blueswhoever they felt had blown it.

Many people erroneously think that punk rock began in England, but it was only an Englishman who took the New York look and sound back to England. Malcolm McLaren was managing the campy, glam band called New York Dolls in the mid-1970s. The members of Television wore ripped clothing because they didnt know howto sew, and McLaren was obsessed with their look. It was very much like, Just play and Ill do everything elseyoull have a record out in six months, I guarantee it will be top ten, Verlaine recalled in Musician. Where Hell liked the idea, neither Lloyd nor Verlaine trusted McLaren; they told him no thanks. McLaren went back to England, and within nine months the Sex Pistols surfaced on the London scene, sporting Richard Hells hairdo and Televisions ripped-up look.

In 1974 producer Brian Eno helped record a Television demo. Before long, an A & R (artists and repertory) person at Island Records was calling it half of an album. But none of the band liked the production style of the demo, and asked to begin again with a different producer. Around this time Richard Hell left Television due to friction among the members and formed the Voidoids. When the Stilettoes broke up, Verlaine invited their bass player, Fred Smith to join Television.

Postponed Major Label Deals

Meanwhile, Sire records was offering record deals to many artists. Patti Smith was the first of CBGBs acts to sign with a label, releasing her ground-breaking album Horses on Arista in 1975. Television released a single Little Johnny Jewel in 1975, but instead of accepting a deal with Sire, as the Ramones and the Talking Heads did, Television decided to wait for a better deal.

Finally, in 1977, Elektra records released Televisions Marquee Moon, which is considered a landmark album. Rolling Stones David Fricke wrote, the stunning ice-blue guitarchitecture and defiant spirit of free-jamming wanderlust on Televisions debut album blew wide holes through cream-puff AOR rock and the already calcifying primitivismof punk. In Spin, Andrew Schwartz called Marquee Moon Televisions one uncontestable masterpiece the albums ingeniously orchestrated guitar parts and stark fables of spiritual transcendence amid urban decay left marks still evident in the music of [todays bands] U2, Sonic Youth, and Ride, to name a few.

AlthoughTelevision is always mentioned among the first punkers who vastly influenced British punk and subsequent alternative subgenres, their sound was actually much different from other bands. As James Rotondi wrote in Guitar Player, Televisions improvisational bent and poetic streak set them off from most of their contemporaries. Schwartz felt that Television plays rocknroll, not as high-speed eighth-notes or monolithic bar chords, but as a series of improvisations by a deft, powerful Smith-Ficca rhythm section and two virtuoso guitarists, Verlaine and Lloyd.

Set Apart From Their Contemporaries

As a songwriter, Verlaine has certainly managed to set the band apart from their contemporaries. His lyrics usually begin as odd narrative tales that eventually lose any discernible story line. Most of his influences came from flying saucer songson his childhood radio. Schwartz asserted that Verlaine draws less from [early rocker] Chuck Berry than from 50s films and 19th-century poets such as Arthur Rimbaud. If there was anger and defiance in the music, it was more in the spirit of [poet] Allen Ginsbergs Howl than of teenage rebellion. Pulse! noted that Televisions fat-free twin guitar attack and sparse lyrics helped pave the way for punk rocks economy.

Televisions 1978 follow-up album, Adventure, paled by comparison to their debut, although it too impressed critics. They did not record a third album until 1992. This delay caused people to believe that the band had broken up and later made a comeback, but Television insisted theyd just been on hiatus for 13 years. It was their live performances, however, and not their albums, that made them legendary. They were performances considered rarely equaled in rock. Though they released only two official albumsneither of which sold even 150, 000 copiesat least 16 bootleg releases have surfaced since.

Solo Efforts

All four members worked on various projects during their sabbatical. Verlaine regularly received critical kudos for his solo works. And although not as prolific as Verlaine, Lloyd was also critically lauded for his solo efforts, as well as for his lead guitar work with singer/songwriter Matthew Sweet, and with Xs leadman John Doe on his side projects.

The sparks that flew on stage between Lloyd and Verlaine were considered the same sparks that broke up the band. But their differences were not apparent on 1992s Television. Spins CeliaFarber called Television a damned good, maybe even great, record. Some critics had mixed feelings, but nobody could deny that Television still had their gifts. Surprisingly, reviewers did not romanticize the comeback, but evaluated it with a careful ear. In EsquireLoder said that these gleaming tapestries of (for the most part) straight-through-the-amp Fender guitar soundnow mellowed somewhat, but more compelling than everare one of art-rocks richer rewards.

As of the mid-1990s Televisions status was unclear. Capital Records had produced Television as a one off. Although their reunion tour was well received, the members did not have plans of giving up their solo work. Regardless of Televisions plans, as Guitar Player proclaimed, for their balance of subtly shaped tones, their intertwining of rich melodies, their dynamics, and their jagged rhythmic interplay, they are as crucial to modern guitar as any band of the past 20 years.

Selected discography

Marquee Moon, Elektra Records, 1977.

Adventure, Elektra Records, 1978.

The Blow Up, ROIR CD, 1978.

Television, Capital Records, 1992.

Verlaines solo albums

Flashlight, IRS Records.

Words From the Front, Warner Bros.

Warm and Cool, Rykodisc, 1992.

Lloyds solo albums

Field of Fire, Moving Target, 1985.

Real Time, Celluloid, 1987.


Esquire, January 1993.

Guitar Player, January 1993.

Metro Times, October 21, 1992; March 3, 1993.

Musician, September 1992; June 1995.

Pulse!, September 1992; November 1992.

Rolling Stone, October 29, 1992; January 7, 1993.

Spin, November 1992; January 1993.

Joanna Rubiner

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Television is the most powerful medium of mass communication seen regularly by most persons in the United States. Television signals may be delivered by using antennas (broadcast), communication satellites, or cable systems. Because of television's societal impact, the federal government regulates companies that operate television systems.

Experimental television systems were developed in the 1930s, but commercial exploitation did not occur in the United States until the late 1940s. Initially, television signals were broadcast from antennas and received by a television set in a person's home or business. Improved technology led to the replacement of black-and-white images with color signals in the 1960s.

The federal communications commission (FCC), which was established by the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C.A. § 151 et seq.), originally was charged with the regulation of radio. With the introduction of television and the need for television stations to obtain FCC licenses to use broadcast frequencies, the FCC assumed sole jurisdiction over the television industry.

Television broadcasts may be regulated for content. Typically, this regulation has focused on broadcasts of allegedly obscene or indecent material. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld regulations banning obscene material, as obscenity is not protected by the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It has also permitted the FCC to prohibit material that is "patently offensive" and either "sexual" or "excretory" from being broadcast during times when children are presumed to be in the audience (FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726, 98 S. Ct. 3026, 57 L. Ed. 2d 1073 [1978]).

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 (Pub. L. No. 104-104) mandated the establishment of an advisory committee for the rating of video programming that contains indecent materials for purposes of parental control. The act also required televisions with screens 13 inches or larger, manufactured after 1998, to be equipped with a so-called V chip to allow parents to block programs having a predesignated rating for sex and violence. In 1998, the FCC approved the program rating system developed by the networks to assist parents in monitoring the shows their children watch.

cable television has grown tremendously since the 1980s. Cable television originally served communities in mountainous regions that had difficulty receiving broadcast transmissions. Many communities solved this problem by erecting tall receiving towers to capture broadcast signals and retransmit them over wires running from the tower to homes that subscribed to this service.

During the 1970s and 1980s, large corporations installed cable systems in every large metropolitan area in the United States, as well as in many rural areas. Independent programming was transmitted on cable systems by companies such as Home Box Office (HBO) and Cable News Network (CNN).

Although cable television could not be categorized as broadcasting in the traditional sense, the FCC adopted the first general federal regulation of cable systems. Local government also became involved, as each municipality had to award a cable system franchise to one vendor. Cable operators negotiated system requirements and pricing with local governments, but federal law imposed some restrictions on rates to consumers.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 deregulated cable television rates, in part because of increased interest by telephone companies in entering the cable market by sending programming through existing phone lines. The act permits phone companies to provide video programming directly to subscribers in their service areas.

Even prior to deregulation in 1996, companies in the telecommunications industry had been involved in major mergers. In 1985, Capital Cities acquired the ABC network, and one year later, General Electric acquired NBC. In 1995, two major mergers occurred, as Westinghouse bought CBS for a reported $5.4 billion, and the Walt Disney Company purchased Capital Cities/ABC for a reported $19 billion. Disney went on to purchase or otherwise acquire a wide range of cable networks as well, including ESPN, Fox Family Worldwide, the History Channel, and E! Entertainment Television.

Since deregulation, companies have merged to create even larger media conglomerates. A number of commentators have questioned whether the presence of a few enormous entities would stifle competition in the industry. Others questioned whether federal antitrust policy would need to be adapted to address concerns about such large corporations owning multiple media entities. Many of these questions have gone unanswered, and in many ways consumers have benefited from the products that these conglomerates offer. For instance, since the late 1990s, the ABC network has enhanced its sports coverage through its association with ESPN by offering dual coverage of certain sporting events, such as professional football.

For customers who cannot obtain cable television programming, the transmission of television signals by satellite has been a practical solution. In the 1990s, however, direct broadcast satellite (DBS) systems began to compete with cable television systems by going after a broader consumer base. The DBS systems offer high-quality video and audio signals, and access to a wide range of programming.

The development of digital high-definition television (HDTV) was the broadcast television industry's top priority in the 1990s and into the 2000s. HDTV, which has a significantly finer picture resolution than an ordinary television screen, requires additional broadcast frequencies, which the FCC must license to broadcasters. Broadcast television, which saw its viewership steadily drop as cable and DBS became popular, sees HDTV as a way to reclaim its market share.

further readings

Compaine, Benjamin M., and Douglas Gomery. 2000. Who Owns the Media?: Competition and Concentration in the Mass Media. 3d ed. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Creech, Kenneth. 2002. Electronic Media Law and Regulation. 4th ed. Boston: Focal Press.


Fairness Doctrine; Mass Communications Law.

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television is the most powerful and influential audio-visual medium at the start of the 21st cent. As with so many technologies, no one inventor or country can take full credit for the invention of television. But among the claims of Germany, USA, Russia, and Japan, Britain's reputation will always remain strong due to the dominating presence of John Logie Baird. His dedication through the 1920s to developing ‘seeing-by-wireless’ made him a key figure in the process, though his particular mechanical model was a failure and the television we have today is the electronic model developed by his rivals, the Marconi-EMI Company team, led by Isaac Schoenberg.

From the 1870s, when the idea of the ‘telephonescope’ was first mooted by Edison, progress with ‘seeing by electricity’ was made in various countries. Key developments in Germany— Nipkow's mechanical scanning disc (1884) and Braun's cathode ray tube (1897)—were used by Scottish scientist A. A. Campbell-Swinton in 1908 to elucidate the basic principles of modern television—the conversion of light and shade into electrical signals to be transmitted from a camera to a receiver on the same airwaves as wireless radio.

With developments interrupted by the First World War, it was not till 1923 that Baird took up the running, with his elaboration of Nipkow's mechanical system producing a primitive 30-line picture for public demonstration in 1925 and 1926, and sending images by wire across the Atlantic in 1928. His negotiations with the British Broadcasting Corporation, who held the monopoly on broadcasting, resulted in experimental transmissions in 1930 and 1931, including an outside broadcast of the 1931 Derby, to the handful of TV sets which had begun to be manufactured.

By this time, however, the newly formed EMI had joined forces with the Marconi Co. to develop the alternative electronic scanning system that had come from the cathode ray tube. With its greater number of lines producing a clearer picture, it highlighted the clumsy limitations of Baird's mechanical system. Though Baird was able to push his definition up to 240 lines, the Marconi-EMI team reached 405 lines by the time the Selsdon Commission of 1935 had recommended that the BBC run trials of the two systems with the aim of setting up a national television service.

The world's first continuous television service started broadcasting from Alexandra Palace in November 1936, duplicating the programmes in the two rival systems. After a few months, it was clear that the electrical system had the advantage of power and consistency over Baird's, and the greater potential for future development, so it was duly adopted. Over the next few years, Baird's wayward genius was to demonstrate almost every innovation which would eventually become staples of television—colour, the giant screen, and primitive videotape recording.

Until its close-down with the war in 1939, the BBC broadcast some 20 hours per week to the 20,000 TV sets in the south-east, mixing special events such as the coronation, Remembrance Day, and Chamberlain's Munich flight with a regular diet of sport, drama, and music.

The post-war popularity of television was boosted with coverage of the 1946 Victory Parade, and, especially, the 1953 coronation. But the BBC's monopoly was soon to be broken with the 1954 Television Act introducing commercial television (or Independent Television, ITV)—a series of regional stations throughout Britain, making their own programmes and selling their own advertising, under the central regulation of the Independent Television Authority (later to become the Independent Broadcasting Authority, then the Independent Television Commission). Since then the popularity of television has mushroomed, with viewing generally shared equally by the BBC and ITV, and with new specialist stations coming from the BBC in 1962 (BBC2), and from ITV in 1982 (Channel 4).

Technological advances have included the better definition of 625 lines from 1962; colour on BBC2 from 1967 and on BBC1 and ITV from 1969; domestic video recorders from the late 1970s; and, most crucially, satellite TV, from the experimental launch of Telstar in 1962. Within 25 years, the arrival of Rupert Murdoch's Sky TV and the promise of digital broadcasting has demonstrated the power of satellite and cable, providing a massive choice of channels for the consumer, breaking down national frontiers, and presenting a major challenge to the BBC and the well-regulated traditions of British television broadcasting.

Douglas J. Allen

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television System that transmits and receives visual images by radio waves or cable. A television camera converts the images from light rays into electrical signals. The basis of most television cameras is an image orthicon tube. The electrical signals are amplified and transmitted as very high frequency (VHF) or ultra high frequency (UHF) radio waves. Typically, a television channel has a bandwidth of 5MHz (5 million cycles per second). The television set operates in reverse to the camera. On reception, a cathode-ray tube amplifies the signals and reconverts it to light. Colour television has three synchronized image orthicon tubes in the camera, one for each of the three primary colours – red, blue, and green. The tube of the receiver has three electron guns and the face of the tube is covered with a mosaic of fine phosphors in groups of three, each emitting only red, blue, or green light when struck by a beam. These primary colours merge on the face of the screen to reconstitute the originally transmitted image. See also broadcasting; cable television;satellite television

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tel·e·vi·sion / ˈteləˌvizhən/ • n. 1. a system for transmitting visual images and sound that are reproduced on screens, chiefly used to broadcast programs for entertainment, information, and education. ∎  the activity, profession, or medium of broadcasting on television: neither of my children showed the merest inclination to follow me into television| [as adj.] television news. ∎  television programs: Dan was sitting on the sofa watching television. 2. (also tel·e·vi·sion set) a box-shaped device that receives television signals and reproduces them on a screen. PHRASES: on (the) television being broadcast by television; appearing in a television program: Norman was on television yesterday.

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televisionabrasion, Australasian, equation, Eurasian, evasion, invasion, occasion, persuasion, pervasion, suasion, Vespasianadhesion, cohesion, Friesian, lesion •circumcision, collision, concision, decision, derision, division, elision, envision, excision, imprecision, incision, misprision, precisian, precision, provision, scission, vision •subdivision • television • Eurovision •LaserVision •corrosion, eclosion, erosion, explosion, implosion •allusion, collusion, conclusion, confusion, contusion, delusion, diffusion, effusion, exclusion, extrusion, fusion, illusion, inclusion, interfusion, intrusion, obtrusion, occlusion, preclusion, profusion, prolusion, protrusion, reclusion, seclusion, suffusion, transfusion •Monaghan • Belgian •Bajan, Cajun, contagion, TrajanGlaswegian, legion, Norwegian, region •irreligion, religion •Injun • Harijan • oxygen • antigen •sojourn • donjon • Georgian •theologian, Trojan •Rügen •bludgeon, curmudgeon, dudgeon, gudgeon, trudgen •dungeon • glycogen • halogen •collagen • Imogen • carcinogen •hallucinogen • androgen •oestrogen (US estrogen) •hydrogen • nitrogen •burgeon, sturgeon, surgeon

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