Children's and Daytime Programming
Children's and Daytime Programming
The television shows that air in the evening hours known as prime time attract the largest audiences and receive the most media attention. But television programming is not limited to the three-hour block between 8:00 and 11:00 p.m. In fact, most stations offer a variety of programs throughout the day, all designed to appeal to the viewers most likely to be watching at a particular time.
During the daytime hours, many Americans are away at work or school. Those who tend to be at home—and available to watch TV—during the day include small children, stay-at-home parents, retired senior citizens, and college students. Since daytime television programming is intended to appeal to these audiences, it is much different than the situation comedies and hour-long dramas that typically air in prime time. In the early 2000s, most daytime programming on the broadcast networks consisted of children's shows, soap operas, talk shows, and game shows.
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the government agency that regulates all types of communications, American children watched an average of three to four hours of television per day in 2005. Watching TV offers children some potential benefits. Educational programs can help prepare them to succeed in school, for example, by introducing such subjects as math, reading, and science. TV shows can also teach children important social skills, such as sharing, cooperating, and accepting differences.
However, television programs can also have a negative influence on kids. Many shows present racial and gender stereotypes (generalized, often negative ideas about a group of people), violent behavior, sexual situations, and strong language that are not appropriate for young viewers. Even programs specifically aimed at children feature commercials, and studies show that young people cannot always tell the difference between entertainment and advertisements. Finally, many critics argue that kids could put the time spent watching television to better use—by reading, interacting with their families, doing homework, or engaging in physical activity.
Television has featured children's programming from its early days in the 1940s. Many of the earliest programs for children were half-hour action-adventure shows such as The Lone Ranger and Lassie. Another popular early kids' program was The Howdy Doody Show, which was broadcast on NBC from 1947 to 1960. It starred a cowboy, Buffalo Bob Smith (1915–1998), and his puppet partner, Howdy Doody. Like many of the popular variety shows of that time, The Howdy Doody Show featured jokes, songs, and skits. The episodes were filmed in front of a live studio audience filled with enthusiastic children and their parents.
While The Howdy Doody Show provided young viewers with entertainment, critics complained that it had no educational value. Conflicting opinions on the show's value began the longstanding debate about children's television. Some people claimed that the broadcast networks had an obligation to educate and inform viewers, but network executives preferred to concentrate on attracting large audiences, which brought the network more money from commercial sponsors.
The popularity of The Howdy Doody Show began to fade during the 1950s, when many children discovered Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Club. This variety series ran on ABC on weekday afternoons from 1955 through 1959. It starred a group of talented young performers, called Mouseketeers, who sang, danced, and performed skits. A few of the Mouseketeers, such as Annette Funicello (1942–), went on to have successful careers in music and film.
The longest-running network children's series, Captain Kangaroo, also got its start in 1955. It starred Bob Keeshan (1927–2004), who had begun his acting career by playing Clarabell the Clown—a silent character who communicated by honking a horn—on The Howdy Doody Show. Keeshan felt that most TV shows aimed at kids were too loud and fast-paced. He wanted to tone down the action and focus on learning.
Captain Kangaroo included many of the same features as other children's programs of that time, including songs, skits, jokes, and puppets. But it was much quieter than other programs because it was not filmed in front of a studio audience. In each episode of Captain Kangaroo, Keeshan wandered through the Treasure House and talked with a variety of characters, such as Mr. Green Jeans, Dancing Bear, Bunny Rabbit, and Mr. Moose. Each show provided young viewers with a positive, educational message, but it was always delivered with gentle humor. Captain Kangaroo lasted for thirty years on CBS, then the program ran for six more years on PBS. During that time, Keeshan personally approved all of the commercials that aired during the program to ensure that the products were good for children.
The creation of PBS
During the 1960s, animated cartoons started to dominate children's programming on the major broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, and CBS), particularly on Saturday mornings. Some of the early shows featured such enduring characters as Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker, Yogi Bear, and Huckleberry Hound. But the networks' emphasis on cartoons led to increased concerns about the quality of children's programming. Critics complained that cartoons had no educational value, and they pointed out that the cartoons often included violence, stereotyped characters, and commercial tie-ins (products for sale that are somehow connected to the program). Many people felt that the networks did not offer enough educational programming for children.
In 1967 the U.S. Congress responded to growing concerns about television quality by passing the Public Broadcasting Act, which provided government funding to create a national public broadcasting service. Unlike commercial broadcasting, in which networks sell advertising time to make money, public broadcasting receives funding from individual viewers, businesses, charities, and the federal government. The Public
Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)
In the early days of television, many people believed that the new technology could become a valuable tool for informing and educating viewers. The first laws affecting the television industry tried to make sure that TV lived up to its potential. The Communications Act of 1934, for example, said that the airwaves which carry TV signals belong to the American people. Since television broadcasters use the public airwaves to distribute their programs, they have a duty to create programs that served the public interest.
When commercial broadcasting began in the late 1940s, though, a combination of factors allowed three powerful networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) to take control of the limited number of Very High Frequency (VHF) channels available for TV broadcasting. The Big Three networks generally served their own interests rather than the public interest. That is, they broadcast whatever type of programs would attract mass audiences and generate advertising revenues. Only a few channels on the less desirable Ultra High Frequency (UHF) band were set aside for public service programming.
In 1967, the U.S. Congress tried to address the lack of educational and informational programs on television by passing the Public Broadcasting Act. This act created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to raise money to support public television and radio services. In 1969, the CPB established the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), a national nonprofit organization designed to create and distribute TV programs that serve the public interest. While not a formal network, PBS eventually grew to include more than 350 member stations across the United States. Many of these stations operate out of colleges and universities. Instead of selling commercial time to make money, PBS stations receive funding from individual viewers, businesses, charities, and the federal government.
PBS started broadcasting in October 1970. From the beginning, PBS stations have aired the types of programs that do not attract large enough audiences to interest the commercial broadcast networks. Typical PBS shows include educational programs for preschoolers, how-to programs about cooking and home repair, cultural programs such as Masterpiece Theater, and news and documentaries. Over the years, PBS has broadcast many highly regarded children's shows, such as Sesame Street, Zoom! Barney and Friends, Reading Rainbow, Arthur, and the Magic School Bus.
While PBS has developed a number of award-winning programs, it has also created some controversy. Politicians occasionally try to discontinue government funding for PBS, claiming that it should be able to support itself through private donations rather than taxpayer money. However, some people argue that PBS should receive more government funding so that it does not have to depend on corporate sponsorships. They claim that corporate sponsors could influence programming choices, which would make PBS move away from educational shows and toward shows with more commercial (money-making) appeal.
Broadcasting Service (PBS) focused on creating programs that would educate, inform, and enrich television viewers. One of the most popular shows on PBS was Sesame Street, which made its debut in 1969 and continued to air original episodes into the 2000s.
Sesame Street was created by Joan Ganz Cooney (1929–), an accomplished New York public TV producer. She conducted extensive studies on children's television viewing habits in order to develop a program for preschoolers that would be both educational and entertaining. Like earlier successful kids' shows, Sesame Street featured puppets, skits, and songs. Each episode was divided into short segments in order to keep young viewers' attention, and it also repeated key concepts in order to promote learning. The show became an immediate popular and critical success. Within a year of its introduction, it was being watched by over half of the nation's children between the ages of three and five. In its thirty-five years on the air, Sesame Street won more Emmy Awards (annual honors presented for excellence in TV programming) than any other show in history.
Of course, not everyone liked Sesame Street. Some early critics complained that children who were used to the show's fast pace and short segments would have trouble paying attention to parents and teachers. Over the years, though, the pace of children's programs grew even more hectic, so that Sesame Street seemed slow by comparison. Other people worried that the show's success on PBS would discourage the broadcast networks from trying to create high-quality, educational programming for children. This prediction proved true, with a few exceptions, until the U.S. government stepped in and required the networks to provide educational programming in the 1990s.
Another popular PBS program was Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. This show was created by Fred Rogers (1928–2003), who believed that television programming could do more to educate, entertain, and support young children. "I got into television because I hated it so," he once told CNN, "and I thought there was some way of using this fabulous instrument to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."
After spending a few years on local stations in Canada and Pennsylvania, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood made its debut on PBS in 1968. Each episode began with Rogers entering his house, taking off his coat and shoes, and putting on a comfortable sweater and sneakers. He reached out to young viewers by speaking directly to the camera in a kind, patient, and soothing manner. By the time the last original episode aired in 2001, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood had won many awards and earned widespread praise for providing children with a safe, calm place in which to learn about the importance of loving themselves and being kind to others.
An innovative network program designed to educate children was Schoolhouse Rock, which aired on ABC from 1973 to 1985. The show consisted of a series of three-minute segments that taught children about topics in math, science, grammar, and history. The series was created by New York advertising executive David McCall (1928–1999), who found that his young son struggled to learn his multiplication tables but had no trouble remembering the lyrics to rock songs. McCall and his colleagues set some educational information to music and added animated cartoons to illustrate the concepts. Schoolhouse Rock segments such as "Conjunction Junction" and "I'm Just a Bill" proved so memorable that college students launched a successful campaign to bring the series back in the 1990s.
Cable television for children
In the 1980s the growth of cable TV and introduction of video cassette recorders (VCRs) began to change children's programming. Several cable networks emerged that featured only kids' shows, such as Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel, and the Cartoon Network. Other cable networks—such as Discovery, USA, the Learning Channel, and the Family Channel—carried a great deal of children's programming as well. The rise of cable thus led to more variety in television offerings for children.
The first all-children's cable channel, Nickelodeon, was launched in 1979. It offered reruns (repeats of episodes that had already appeared on the air) of older network series, as well as original programs that were both entertaining and educational. By the early 2000s Nickelodeon was the clear ratings leader in kids' programming, offering such successful shows as Dora the Explorer, Blue's Clues, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Jimmy Neutron. Nickelodeon also brought in $3 billion from sales of related products in 2004, demonstrating that merchandising (attaching products to TV shows or movies) can be a very profitable aspect of children's programming.
Concerns about quality
Over the years, many people have conducted studies about the effects of television on young people. One important issue that has grown out of this research concerns children's exposure to violence on television. The U.S. Congress held hearings about the level of violence in TV programs as early as 1952. Following additional hearings in 1964, Congress published a report that recognized television's role in children's development and criticized the quality of television programming. In 1972 the U.S. government released the results of a large-scale study about the effects of TV violence on children. This research showed that viewing violent programs on television tended to increase children's aggressive behavior, make them less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, and cause them to become more fearful of the world around them.
Many later studies confirmed these effects of children's exposure to TV violence. Nevertheless, the TV networks continued to air programming with violent content because it grabbed viewers' attention and received high ratings. According to Mary L. Gavin in the 2005 online article "How TV Affects Your Child," an average American child can expect to see two hundred thousand violent acts on TV by the age of eighteen. In response to growing concerns about children's exposure to TV violence, in 1992 the broadcast networks adopted a ratings system that would provide on-screen advisories for all programs with violent content. The Telecommunications Policy Act of 1996 took the effort to protect children from violence on television a step further by requiring all new TV sets to be equipped with a V-chip—a device that can detect program ratings and be set to block programs that contain an unacceptable level of violence.
TV Content Ratings
In the 1990s the major producers of children's television programming worked together to create a ratings system. Modeled after the ratings system used for theatrical films, it was intended to inform parents about program content that might be inappropriate for younger viewers. The ratings appear in newspaper TV listings, in cable and satellite program descriptions, and on the screen during the first fifteen seconds of shows. Here are the various ratings and what they mean:
- TV-Y: Suitable for all children.
- TV-Y7: Directed toward kids seven and older, who are able to distinguish between pretend and reality; may contain mild fantasy or comedic violence.
- TV-Y7-FV: Directed toward children seven and older; may contain more intense fantasy violence than TV-Y7.
- TV-G: Suitable for a general audience, but not directed specifically at children; contains little or no violence, sexual content, or strong language.
- TV-PG: Parental guidance suggested; may contain inappropriate themes for younger children, and contains one or more of the following: moderate violence (V), some sexual situations (S), occasional strong language (L), or suggestive dialogue (D).
- TV-14: Parents strongly cautioned, suitable only for children over age fourteen; contains one or more of the following: intense violence, intense sexual situations, strong language, or intensely suggestive dialogue.
- TV-MA: Directed at mature adults and not suitable for children under seventeen; contains graphic violence, strong sexual activity, or crude language.
The TV content ratings can be a valuable tool for parents to use in evaluating whether shows are appropriate for their children to watch. But the system has a number of shortcomings. For one thing, many types of programs are not rated, including news broadcasts, sporting events, and commercials. Some of these programs may include material that is not suitable for younger viewers. In addition, research has shown that some young viewers—particularly teenaged boys—are actually more interested in programs rated TV-MA than TV-PG. In general, experts say that it is important for parents to monitor what their children watch on TV, rather than relying exclusively on program ratings.
Children's television programming has also come under criticism for featuring too much advertising and not enough educational content. According to Gavin, American children see an average of 40,000 television commercials each year. Studies show that many children, particularly those under the age of six, are unable to tell the difference between program content and commercials. In 1974 the FCC issued its Children's TV Report and Policy Statement, which set guidelines for the amount of commercial time allowed during children's programs. But the networks mostly ignored these rules during the 1980s.
In 1990, the U.S. Congress passed the Children's Television Act (CTA). This law required all television networks to broadcast at least three hours of educational/informational (E/I) programming per week. It also limited the amount of advertising allowed during children's programs to 10.5 minutes per hour on weekends and 12 minutes per hour on weekdays. Finally, the CTA prohibited host selling—a practice in which the main character of a children's TV program promotes products—and required clear separation between shows and commercials.
The CTA rules, combined with the growth of cable networks dedicated to children's programming, led to the introduction of many new kids' shows in the 1990s. Some of these programs clearly had educational value. But the law did not include specific guidelines for determining whether a show could be considered E/I. Some critics claimed that the networks counted programs that were not necessarily educational, such as The Flintstones cartoon show, toward meeting the three-hour E/I requirement.
In 2004 the FCC extended the CTA rules to digital multicasters (companies that use digital compression technology to squeeze multiple channels of programming into the frequency space that once carried a single broadcast channel). The FCC also placed limits on the types of Web addresses that could appear on the TV screen in order to protect children from seeing certain advertising on the Internet. The new rules were scheduled to take effect in 2006, but they were put on hold after several major entertainment companies challenged them in court.
Another popular type of daytime television program is the serial drama, more commonly known as a soap opera. Soap operas have been around since the earliest days of TV. They got their name because the original shows were sponsored by detergent manufacturers (soap companies) hoping to sell their products to housewives. Soap operas tell complicated, sometimes outlandish, ongoing stories that continue over weeks, months, or even years. Each episode is open-ended, with some loose ends remaining to be resolved in future episodes. Soap operas feature large casts of characters whose lives typically revolve around a central location, such as a hospital or a family home. The characters in a soap opera change over time, get older, and sometimes die. They also face many problems and crises as the show's writers try to advance the story and keep it interesting.
Soap operas attract the most loyal audiences of any type of television program. Since the stories are so complex, viewers must watch regularly in order to keep up with new developments. In addition, watching their favorite characters grow and change helps fans form strong attachments to the shows. Many viewers record their favorite programs when they are away from home and seek additional information about the shows in soap-opera magazines and Web sites. Fans claim that the programs can add excitement to their lives and help them put their own problems in perspective. But critics argue that soap operas are unrealistic and silly and can give viewers false ideas about life and relationships.
Serial dramas were a popular form of entertainment on the radio beginning in the 1920s. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, sponsors adapted these programs to the new form of home entertainment, television. The early TV soap operas were aimed at women, who were generally assumed to be home during the day taking care of the house and children. Most of the shows were sponsored by the makers of household cleaning products, packaged foods, and cosmetic items.
A small broadcasting company called the DuMont Network aired the first continuing TV drama, Faraway Hill, beginning in 1946. The Big Three broadcast networks—ABC, CBS, and NBC—began their own successful soaps in the early 1950s. Guiding Light, which originated in 1937 as a radio drama, came to television in 1952. The show remained on the air into the 2000s, making it the longest continuing story ever told. TV soap operas started out being broadcast in fifteen-minute segments. They were expanded to thirty minutes in 1956, beginning with As the World Turns, and became an hour long in the 1970s.
A number of new daytime dramas got their start in the late 1960s and 1970s. As African Americans fought for equality in the civil rights movement, and many people took part in protests against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War (1955–1975), some TV producers decided to update soap operas to include more social conflict. Writer and producer Agnes Nixon (1927–), who is widely considered the queen of the modern soap opera, began One Life to Live in 1968. This program focused on the differences in ethnic background and social class among the residents of a fictional town. The story revolved around Victor Lord, a wealthy newspaper owner. It followed the ever-changing relationships between his family and working-class families of Irish, Polish, and Jewish descent. In 1970 Nixon launched another successful soap, All My Children. This show became the first fictional TV series to deal with the effects of the Vietnam War when a major character reacted to news that her son had been killed in the conflict.
The introduction of new soap operas created intense competition. Some producers began experimenting with the traditional soap opera form in hopes of attracting younger viewers. When General Hospital started airing on ABC in 1963, for instance, the action had revolved around the hospital, and the main characters were all doctors and nurses. In 1978 executive producer Gloria Monty moved the show's focus outside the hospital and introduced a number of appealing young characters. Monty also added action and suspense to the program, while maintaining the usual element of romance. Her changes led to a dramatic increase in ratings for General Hospital. In fact, the show attracted 30 million viewers—the largest daytime audience ever—for the November 1981 episode that presented the wedding of two main characters, Luke Spencer and Laura Webber.
During the 1980s many soap operas tried to imitate General Hospital by offering viewers more action and adventure. By the 1990s, however, most of the programs changed direction once again and started featuring more realistic, issue-oriented plots. The daytime dramas tackled a number of much-debated topics that received limited coverage in prime-time programming, including abortion, drug abuse, homosexuality, AIDS, and mental illness.
Despite such changes, the number of soap opera viewers declined toward the end of the twentieth century. There are several possible explanations for the smaller audiences. More women work outside the home, for example, so they are less likely to be around during the daytime to watch TV. Soap operas also face new competition from cable networks, including some that are targeted specifically at women. Another factor is the growing popularity of talk shows, which cover some of the same interesting subjects as soaps but are much less expensive for the networks to produce. Finally, some fans of serial dramas switched to prime-time programs that include soap-opera elements, such as Desperate Housewives and The O.C.
Still, daytime dramas have played an important role in the development of television. Soap operas influenced many other types of programs, including prime-time dramas, news coverage, and even sports. For instance, producers of the Olympics often feature personal background stories about the athletes in order to create drama and attract female viewers.
Another popular type of program on television during the daytime is the talk show. Most talk shows feature a host, whose name often appears in the title, and include some discussion of current events in the fields of news and entertainment. Television talk shows grew out of similar programs on the radio. In fact, talk shows were so popular that they accounted for one-fourth of all radio programming between 1927 and 1956. The earliest TV versions starred successful radio personalities such as Arthur Godfrey (1903–1983), Edward R. Murrow (1908–1965), and Jack Paar (1918–2004). The talk show format also enjoyed great popularity on TV and accounted for half of all daytime programming on network television between 1949 and 1973. In many cases, talk shows provided a forum in which people could discuss important social and cultural issues that were not necessarily being addressed on popular prime-time TV shows.
The morning talk show, which typically features a mixture of information and entertainment, originated in the 1950s. The pioneer of this format was NBC's Today show, originally hosted by Dave Garroway (1913–1982). Following the success of the Today show, the other networks began competing morning talk shows, including Good Morning, America on ABC. Most of these types of shows took place within a TV studio, with the hosts providing light news coverage and visiting with celebrity guests.
There are also late-night talk shows, which typically contain more comedy and entertainment than news. The best-known program of this type is The Tonight Show, which made its debut in 1954 with comedian Steve Allen (1921–2000) as host. Johnny Carson (1925–2005) assumed the hosting duties in 1962 and defined late-night talk for the next thirty years. He started each episode of The Tonight Show with a monologue (speech), in which he made jokes about politics and current events. The rest of each show was like a variety series, with skits, musical performances, and interviews with celebrity guests.
The modern issue-centered daytime talk show originated in the late 1960s. Journalist Phil Donahue (1935–) felt that the talk shows of that time did not do a good job of covering the serious issues facing the American people, such as the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. He believed that American women would be interested in watching a show that provided information and discussion about such important topics. "The average housewife is bright and inquisitive [curious]," he stated in Donahue: My Own Story, "but television treats her like a mental midget."
Donahue also changed the usual talk-show format to include a studio audience, and he encouraged audience members to ask questions and react to guests. Donahue never avoided hotly debated topics. In fact, the first guest on the program was Madalyn Murray O'Hair, an outspoken atheist (someone who does not believe in God) whom Life magazine named "the most hated woman in America." Donahue remained on the air for thirty years. At its peak in the 1970s and early 1980s, nine million viewers tuned in every day.
The daytime talk show underwent another revolution in the 1980s, when journalist Oprah Winfrey (1954–) began her hugely successful program. Winfrey followed Donahue's lead and tackled some tough topics on The Oprah Winfrey Show, but she used a more intimate and sympathetic approach. She openly discussed her own personal struggles and hardships, for instance, which helped her form a deeper connection with guests and viewers alike. Her reassuring style also encouraged guests and audience members to share their experiences and feelings. By the mid-1990s Oprah was attracting ten million viewers daily. The show's success made its host one of the wealthiest and most influential women in the world.
A number of other talk shows tried to copy the successful formula of The Oprah Winfrey Show during the 1990s, but no other host was able to duplicate Winfrey's connection with her audience. Then competing shows began trying to use shocking subject matter to draw viewers away from Oprah. Many talk shows set up surprise confrontations between guests in order to create drama and attract viewers. This approach often led to crying, shouting, and fighting between guests—sometimes with disastrous results. Geraldo Rivera (1943–), the host of a talk show called Geraldo, suffered a broken nose when a fight broke out between two groups of guests. An episode of the Jenny Jones program—which invited a male guest to meet his secret admirer, only to find out that the person was another man—resulted in tragedy when the guest later murdered his admirer.
The Jerry Springer Show started out as another in a long line of sensational talk shows when it launched in 1991. Six years later, however, a new production company took control of the program. Fights had often erupted between guests on the show before, but the old producer had edited them out. The new producer decided to highlight the fights, which resulted in a ratings increase of 183 percent from 1997 to 1998. Jerry Springer (1944–) became the king of offensive and rude TV, and his show became the first in a decade to top Oprah in the daytime ratings.
Producers and hosts of these types of talk shows claim that they provide a service by openly discussing tough topics—like family conflicts and race relations—that ordinary TV programs often ignore. They also claim that the sensational talk shows make viewers feel normal and help them gain a better outlook on their own problems. But critics argue that shows such as Jerry Springer showcase the worst parts of human nature, make bad behavior seem acceptable, and create a negative view of American society.
Syndication of TV Programs
Most of the programs seen on daytime television arrive there through a process called syndication. Syndication involves selling the legal rights to a television program to customers other than the major broadcast networks, such as independent stations and cable channels. The program's producer, or a program distributor known as a syndicator, tries to sell the broadcast rights to the show to at least one station in each major television market across the United States. These stations can broadcast the show whenever it fits best into their schedules. In contrast, when a program is picked up by one of the major broadcast networks, it automatically appears on the same day and time on all of the stations nationwide that are affiliated (linked through formal agreements) with that network.
Syndication first became a part of the television industry in the late 1950s, when videotape technology allowed producers to record and keep a copy of programs. Before this time, all television shows were broadcast live from network studios. As soon as TV production shifted to videotape, network executives began selling the rights to programs for rebroadcast. In the early days, independent stations and even network affiliates did not offer a full day's worth of programming. They often used syndicated programs to help fill out their broadcast schedules.
Syndication received a big boost in 1970 as a result of two different decisions by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The first decision, called the Financial Interest and Syndication Rule (Fin-Syn), gave independent producers of television programs more control over their creations. It stated that the broadcast networks only owned the rights to shows during their first run on TV. Then the rights passed back to the original creators of the program, who were free to sell them to other customers through syndication. The second FCC decision, called the Prime Time Access Rule, allowed local stations to choose their own programs to fill the time slot between 7:00 and 7:30 p.m. Before this rule took effect, local stations were required to air network programming during this vital time period, which came immediately before prime time. Afterward, many local stations decided to air popular syndicated programs instead.
There are two main types of syndication. First-run syndication describes programs that are created especially for independent distribution. In other words, the programs are syndicated when they appear on the air for the first time. Many daytime programs are seen in first-run syndication, including talk shows such as The Oprah Winfrey Show, game shows such as Wheel of Fortune, and cartoons. Many programs that are distributed in this manner appear on the air as strips—at the same time every weekday. One of the most-watched syndicated shows of all time, Star Trek: The Next Generation, made its debut in first-run syndication in 1987.
The second type of syndication is off-network syndication. This occurs when programs that originally ran as network series are sold for a second time in syndication. Reruns of popular shows are often handled through off-network syndication. In addition, some series that fail to find a large enough audience to satisfy the demands of a major network can continue in syndication. For instance, ABC cancelled The Lawrence Welk Show in 1971, but it continued to air for another decade in syndication. The popular sitcom Seinfeld entered off-network syndication in 1994 and became the most successful rerun ever.
Game shows have been a popular type of program since the early years of television. Viewers enjoy game shows because it is fun to watch ordinary people, like themselves, compete and win prizes. In addition, many people find game shows easy to follow while they are doing other things, such as cleaning the house, cooking dinner, or doing homework. TV networks like game shows because they are relatively cheap and easy to produce, while advertisers like the fact that the shows give them a way, other than commercials, to promote their products.
The first game shows on television usually focused on contestants' intellectual abilities. Many of the programs used a question-and-answer format to test players' knowledge of facts and offered large cash prizes to the winners. These types of quiz shows were tremendously popular in prime time during the 1950s. In 1957, however, an investigation by the U.S. Congress revealed that some of the TV quiz shows were set up to ensure that the most popular players won. Several former contestants admitted that the shows' producers had given them answers in advance. The scandal caused the TV networks to cancel most of their quiz shows.
The quiz show scandal caused a change in the history of game shows. Afterward, the majority of these types of programs started to shift their focus away from factual knowledge. Instead, the newer game shows tended to feature more gambling, physical contests, and tests of everyday knowledge. In addition, most of the game shows that remained on the air following the scandal—such as The Price Is Right and Name That Tune—offered only modest prizes.
The quiz show scandal also led to the creation of the second-most successful game show of all time. It planted an idea in the mind of successful TV producer and talk show host Merv Griffin (1925–). He wondered what would happen if a game show provided players with the answers and asked them to come up with the right questions. This idea led to the creation of Jeopardy!, which made its debut in 1964 and remained popular into the 2000s. Although Jeopardy! tested factual knowledge, like the early quiz shows, it offered relatively small prizes.
In 1975, Griffin came up with the idea for the most successful game show of all time, Wheel of Fortune. Based on the children's guess-the-letter game "Hangman," the show had contestants spin a giant wheel for a chance to fill in the blanks of a word puzzle.
Wheel of Fortune arrived at a time when an increasing number of game shows were appearing on TV. This change occurred after the FCC issued its Prime Time Access Rule in 1970. The ruling gave local stations control over the important time period from 7:00 to 7:30 pm, which fell just before the start of prime-time programming (local stations eventually gained control of the period from 7:30 to 8:00 pm as well). TV producers introduced a number of new game shows to help local stations fill the opening. In fact, more than four hundred different game shows came on the air between 1970 and 2000.
During the 1980s and 1990s, an increasing number of cable networks began airing game shows as well. The Game Show Network was created especially to feature that type of program. Other cable channels introduced game shows aimed at their primary audiences. For instance, Lifetime featured a speed-shopping show called Supermarket Sweep that was aimed at women. The continuing success of game shows even led to the return of this type of program to prime time, through such hit shows as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, The Weakest Link, and Deal or No Deal. Even reality shows such as Survivor, Fear Factor, and The Amazing Race grew out of the enormous, long-lasting popularity of game shows.
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