In 1953, when television was still a brand-new and growing phenomenon on the American scene, the president of Philadelphia's Triangle Publishing—Walter H. Annenberg—conceived the idea of a national television magazine. Inspired by the wide circulation of a local magazine called TV Digest, Annenberg envisioned one central nationwide magazine with separate editions containing the different local television listings. Annenberg moved quickly, keeping the convenient digest size and adding glossy color photographs and articles. On April 3, 1953, TV Guide was born and remains the premier listing for television fanatics in the late twentieth century.
Beginning what was to be a tradition of exclusive reportage on television and its surrounding issues, the cover of the first issue showed one of the first photos of comedy queen Lucille Ball's new baby. The magazine was issued in 10 editions, each geared to a different locality, and it sold more than one and a half million copies. The idea had proved to be a good one, and TV Guide went on to become the best-selling weekly in the United States, with a circulation of more than 13 million readers. The 10 editions grew to 119 regional editions, and TV Guide became the name most often associated with not only television program listings but also with television journalism. Though perhaps not the most glamorous aspect of the television industry, TV Guide is certainly one of the most familiar.
The main office of TV Guide is still in Radnor, Pennsylvania, but the staff of over 1,300 is scattered in more than 20 bureaus around the country. Because TV Guide's competition includes the free television sections of local newspapers, the weekly had to offer viewers something special, not available in the local listings. Because of this, the editorial staff of TV Guide has always employed a two-pronged approach—the listings and the articles.
To maximize the value of its program listings, TV Guide writers are assigned to cover individual television shows. Rather than using studio press releases, these writers screen programs and even read scripts themselves to ensure that their descriptions of the shows are accurate. The National Features Department of the journal moved to New York City in 1991, to be even closer to the television industry there.
TV Guide's other approach to creating public demand for its product has been its articles. The pages not filled with program listings contain photographs of stars, reviews of weekly programs and television movies, and articles. Some articles are the predicable fluffy pieces highlighting the off-camera antics of sitcom casts, or lightweight interviews with current popular stars. Light though they may be, these articles are often exactly what the television viewer wants to see—alternate views of favorite shows and stars, and the critics' opinion of the shows they watch. But TV Guide takes itself seriously as a television magazine as well. In the sentiments of the editorial staff, " TV Guide's remarkable success stems from its ability to present not only broad, objective reporting about what is on television but also in-depth, provocative coverage about the TV industry itself and the effect television has on society."
To accomplish this purpose, the journal employs its own staff of distinguished reviewers and commentators, and has also sought outside contributors who would draw readers. Politicians such as John F. Kennedy and Gerald Ford, and eminent writers like Joyce Carol Oates and John Cheever have been found in its pages along with names more commonly associated with the entertainment industry but no less distinguished, such as David Brinkley and Katherine Hepburn; even political activists like Gloria Steinem and Coretta Scott King have found their way into TV Guide. While printing the writing of such famous personalities is clever editorial policy on the part of a magazine eager to boost sales, appearing in such a popular magazine is also a smart move for a writer who wants to be widely read.
In 1988, TV Guide was sold to Rupert Murdoch—a flamboyant Australian entrepreneur associated with sensational journalism—who was accumulating a vast entertainment empire. TV Guide joined the London Times, the Fox television network, Twentieth Century Fox movie studio, Harper and Row publishers, and dozens of other publications and companies as part of Murdoch News Corporation. Murdoch continued and expanded the TV Guide tradition of entertainment coverage that is both entertaining and thoughtful. Senator Paul Simon gave the TV Guide report on television violence much credit for encouraging Congressional hearings about television violence, and the Public Relations Service Council also acknowledged the magazine's role in prompting them to set ethical standards for video news releases. Along with the serious side of television reportage, Murdoch brought some of the flashy side of television to TV Guide. In 1998, the first annual TV Guide Awards Show was broadcast, with winners selected by reader vote, and the USA Network has signed a deal to produce several TV Guide specials.
In 1998, News Corp. sold TV Guide to Tele-Communication Incorporated (TCI), one of the major cable companies in the United States. Competing not only with the Sunday newspaper pull-outs but also with new print competitors like Time, Inc.'s Entertainment Weekly and the cable on-screen guides, the circulation of TV Guide began to slip. Acquisition by TCI, however, marries the venerable and highly recognized TV Guide name with cable. A "TV Guide Channel" runs continuously to inform viewers of programming, and an online TV Guide magazine offers readers instant links to a variety of entertainment sites. Even the familiar pocket-sized digest format will change when TV Guide puts out its first full-sized edition in the late 1990s, offering reviews and commentaries for the first time on theatrical release movies as well as television.
As TV Guide changes with the times, it also offers a link to a simpler time—the early days of television when viewers, not yet inundated with entertainment, eagerly awaited news of the week's programs supplemented with pictures and stories about the stars. Viewers appreciated a journal that took the new medium as seriously as they did, and they devoured the magazine that was all about television—right down to the crossword puzzle. In the 1960s, Marshal McLuhan envisioned a global community with television at its center. Television has no doubt been a huge force in modern culture, but not perhaps in the way he foresaw. By the late 1990s, there are more television stations and more different kinds of programming than could have been imagined at the birth of the medium. Though there are hundreds of channel and program guides, TV Guide was the first and, to many American viewers, the only "real" guide to the exciting world promised by television. A glance back through the past issues of TV Guide provides a good chronicle of what television has been and what it has to say for itself.
Kerwin, Ann Marie. "TV Guide Turns Gaze to Big Screen." Advertising Age. Vol. 69, No. 17, April 27, 1998, 62.
TV Guide Online. http://www.tvgen.com/tv/magazine/index.sml. June 1999