|Type||Broadcast radio network and
|Branding||"America's Broadcasting Company",
"This is ABC"
|Founded||by (as independent company)
|Owner||The Walt Disney Company|
|Key people||Robert Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company
Anne Sweeney, co-chair Disney Media Networks and President, Disney-ABC Television Group
|Launch date||October 12, 1943 (radio network)
April 19, 1948 (television network)
|Former names||NBC Blue Network|
|Picture format||480i (SD)
The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) is an American television network. Created in 1943 from the former NBC Blue radio network, ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Company and is part of Disney-ABC Television Group. It first broadcast on television in 1948. Corporate headquarters are in the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, while programming offices are in Burbank, California adjacent to the Walt Disney Studios and the corporate headquarters of The Walt Disney Company.
The formal name of the operation is American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., and that name appears on copyright notices for its in-house network productions and on all official documents of the company, including paychecks and contracts. A separate entity named ABC Inc., formerly Capital Cities/ABC Inc., is that firm's direct parent company, and that company is owned in turn by Disney. The network is sometimes referred to as the Alphabet Network, due to the letters "ABC" being the first three letters of the Latin alphabet, in order.
From the organization of the first true radio networks in the late 1920s, broadcasting in the United States was dominated by two companies, CBS and RCA's NBC. Before NBC's 1926 formation, RCA had acquired AT&T's New York station WEAF (later WNBC, now CBS-owned WFAN). With WEAF came a loosely organized system feeding programming to other stations in the northeastern U.S. RCA, before the acquisition of the WEAF group in mid-1926, had previously owned a second such group, with WJZ in New York as the lead station (purchased by RCA in 1923 from Westinghouse) . These were the foundations of RCA's two distinct programming services, the NBC "Red" and NBC "Blue" networks. Legend has it that the color designations originated from the color of the push-pins early engineers used to designate affiliates of WEAF (red pins) and WJZ (blue pins).
After years of study, the FCC in 1940 issued a "Report on Chain Broadcasting." Finding that NBC Red, NBC Blue, CBS, and MBS dominated American broadcasting, this report proposed "divorcement", requiring the sale by RCA of one of its chains. NBC Red was the larger radio network, carrying the leading entertainment and music programs. In addition, many Red affiliates were high-powered, clear-channel stations, heard nationwide. NBC Blue offered most of the company's news and cultural programs, many of them "sustaining" or unsponsored. Among other findings, the FCC claimed RCA used NBC Blue to suppress competition against NBC Red. The FCC did not regulate or license networks directly. However, it could influence them by means of its hold over individual stations. Consequently, the FCC issued a ruling that "no license shall be issued to a standard broadcast station affiliated with a network which maintains more than one network." NBC argued this indirect style of regulation was illegal and appealed to the courts. However, the FCC won on appeal, and NBC was forced to sell one of its networks. It opted to sell NBC Blue.
The task of selling of NBC Blue was given to Mark Woods; throughout 1942 and 1943, NBC Red and NBC Blue divided their assets. A price of $8 million was put on the assets of the Blue group, and Woods shopped the Blue package around to potential buyers. One such, investment bank Dillon, Read made an offer of $7.5 million, but Woods and RCA chief David Sarnoff held firm at $8 million. The Blue package contained leases on land-lines and on studio facilities in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles; contracts with talent and with about sixty affiliates; the trademark and "good will" associated with the Blue name; and licenses for three stations (WJZ in New York, San Francisco's KGO, and WENR in Chicago — really a half-station, since WENR shared time and a frequency with "Prairie Farmer" station WLS, with which it would later merge under full ABC ownership after World War II).
RCA finally found a buyer in Edward Noble, owner of Life Savers candy and the Rexall drugstore chain. In order to complete the station-license transfer, Noble had to sell the New York radio station that he owned, WMCA. Also, FCC hearings were required. Controversy ensued over Noble's intention to keep Mark Woods on as president, which led to the suggestion that Woods would continue to work with (and for) his former employers. This had the potential to derail the sale. During the hearings, Woods said the new network would not sell airtime to the American Federation of Labor. Noble evaded questioning on similar points by hiding behind the NAB code. Frustrated, the chairman advised Noble to do some rethinking. Apparently he did, and the sale closed on October 12, 1943. The new network, known simply as "The Blue Network", was owned by the American Broadcasting System, a company Noble formed for the deal. It sold airtime to organized labor.
In mid-1944, Noble renamed his network American Broadcasting Company. This set off a flurry of re-naming; to avoid confusion, CBS changed the call-letters of its New York flagship, WABC-AM 880, to WCBS-AM in 1946. In 1953, WJZ in New York and its sister television station took on the abandoned call-letters WABC and WABC-TV. Westinghouse reclaimed the WJZ callsign when it acquired a Baltimore television station in 1959.
ABC Radio began slowly; with few "hit" shows, it had to build an audience. Noble paid to acquire more stations, among them Detroit's WXYZ, which had been an NBC (Blue)/ABC affiliate since 1935. WXYZ was a profitable operation and was known as where The Lone Ranger, Sergeant Preston and The Green Hornet originated (although these programs were not included in the sale). Noble also bought KECA (now KABC) in Los Angeles, to give the network a Hollywood production base. Counter-programming became an ABC specialty, for example, placing a raucous quiz-show like Stop the Music! against more thoughtful fare on NBC and CBS. Unlike the other networks, ABC pre-recorded many programs; advances in tape-recording brought back from conquered Germany meant that the audio quality of tape could not be distinguished from "live" broadcasts. As a result, several high-rated stars who wanted freedom from rigid schedules, among them Bing Crosby, moved to ABC. Though still rated fourth, by the late 1940s ABC had begun to close in on the better-established networks.
Faced with huge expenses in building a radio network, ABC was in no position to take on the additional costs demanded by a television network. To secure a place at the table, though, in 1947, ABC submitted requests for licenses in the five cities where it owned radio stations (which together represented 25 percent of the entire nationwide viewing audience at the time). All five requests were for each station to broadcast on channel 7; Frank Marx, ABC's vice president in charge of engineering, thought at the time that the low-band (channels 2 through 6) TV channels would be reallocated for military use, thus making these five stations broadcasting on VHF channel 7 the lowest on the TV dial and therefore the best channel positions.(Such a move never occurred, although fortuitously, 60 years later the Channel 7 frequency would prove technically favorable for digital television transmission, a technology unanticipated at the dawn of TV broadcasting.)
On April 19, 1948, the ABC television network went on the air. The network picked up its first primary affiliates, WFIL-TV in Philadelphia (now WPVI-TV) and WMAL-TV in Washington (now WJLA-TV) before its flagship owned and operated station ("O&O"), WJZ-TV in New York (now WABC-TV) signed on in August of that year. The rest of ABC's fleet of owned-and-operated major market stations, in Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles, would sign on during the next 13 months, giving it parity with CBS and NBC in the important area of big-city presence, as well as a long term advantage in guaranteed reach over the rival DuMont Television Network, by the fall of 1949.
For the next several years, ABC was a television network mostly in name. Except for the largest markets, most cities had only one or two stations. The FCC froze applications for new stations in 1948 while it sorted out the thousands of applicants, and re-thought the technical and allocation standards set down between 1938 and 1946. What was meant to be a six-month freeze lasted until the middle of 1952. Until that time there were only 108 stations in the United States. Some large cities where TV development was slow, like Pittsburgh and St. Louis, had only one station on the air for a prolonged period, many more of the largest cities such as Boston only had two, and many sizable cities including Denver, Colorado and Portland, Oregon had no television service at all until the second half of 1952 after the freeze ended. For a late-comer like ABC, this meant being relegated to secondary status in many markets and no reach at all in some. ABC commanded little affiliate loyalty, though unlike fellow startup network DuMont, it at least had a radio network on which to draw loyalty and revenue. It also had a full complement of five O&Os, which included stations in the critical Chicago (WENR-TV, now WLS-TV) and Los Angeles (KECA-TV, now KABC-TV) markets. Even then, by 1951 ABC found itself badly overextended and on the verge of bankruptcy. It had only nine full-time affiliates to augment its five O&Os—WJZ, WENR, KECA, WXYZ-TV in Detroit and KGO-TV in San Francisco.
Noble finally found a white knight in United Paramount Theaters. Divorced from Paramount Pictures at the end of 1949 by Supreme Court order, UPT had plenty of money on hand and was not afraid to spend it. UPT head Leonard Goldenson immediately set out to find investment opportunities. Barred from the film business, Goldenson saw broadcasting as a possibility, and approached Noble in 1951 about buying ABC. Noble was being approached by other suitors, including Bill Paley's CBS, so he was not in a hurry to accommodate Goldenson. After some tough negotiations, a merger with UPT was eventually agreed to in principle and announced in the late spring of 1951. However, since the transfer of station licenses was again involved, the FCC set hearings.
The FCC hearings were originally expected to be a quick affair, but proved to be more of a challenge: at the heart of this was the question of the Paramount Pictures-UPT divorce: were they truly separate? And what role did Paramount's long-time investment in DuMont Laboratories, parent of the television network, play? After a year of deliberation the FCC finally approved the purchase by UPT in a 5–2 split decision on February 9, 1953. Speaking in favor of the deal, one commissioner pointed out that UPT had the cash to turn ABC into a viable, competitive third network. The corporate name became American Broadcasting-Paramount Theatres, Inc. This merger, and not the 1940s separation from NBC, is considered the official "birth" of the modern ABC for anniversary celebration purposes. Edward Noble remained on the new ABC's board of directors until his death in 1958; he and Goldenson would disagree at times over the direction ABC would now take. Robert Kintner, the network president originally hired by Noble, was forced out by 1956 despite Noble's vigorous objections, as Goldenson and the executives he brought on board eventually took solid command.
Shortly after the ABC–UPT merger, Goldenson approached DuMont with a merger offer. DuMont was in financial trouble for a number of reasons, not the least of which was an FCC ruling that barred it from acquiring two additional O&Os because of two stations owned by Paramount. However, DuMont's pioneering status in television and programming creativity gave it a leg up on ABC, and for a time appeared that DuMont was about to establish itself as the third television network. This all changed with the ABC-UPT merger, which effectively placed DuMont on life support. Goldenson and DuMont's managing director, Ted Bergmann, quickly agreed to a deal. Under the proposed merger, the merged network would have been called "ABC-DuMont" for at least five years. DuMont would get $5 million in cash and guaranteed advertising time for DuMont television receivers. In return, ABC agreed to honor all of DuMont's network commitments. The merged network would have been a colossus rivaling CBS and NBC, with O&Os in five of the six largest markets (all except Philadelphia, which would later become an O & O). It would have had to sell either WJZ-TV or DuMont flagship WABD-TV (now WNYW) as well as two other stations (most likely WXYZ-TV and KGO-TV) in order to comply with the FCC's five-station limit. The merged network would've also acquired the aforementioned monopoly in Pittsburgh with DuMont-owned WDTV (now KDKA-TV, and ironically now a CBS O&O) being part of the merger. However, Paramount vetoed the sale. A few months earlier, the FCC ruled that Paramount controlled DuMont, and there were still lingering questions about whether the two companies were truly separate. By 1956, the DuMont network had shut down.
After its acquisition by UPT, ABC at last had the means to offer a full-time television network service on the scale of CBS and NBC. By mid-1953, Goldenson had begun a two-front campaign, calling on his old pals at the Hollywood studios (he had been head of the mighty Paramount theater chain since 1938) to convince them to move into television programming (within a few years shifting television programming from predominantly live shows from New York to films made for television in Hollywood). And he began wooing station owners to convince them that a refurbished ABC was about to burst forth. He also convinced long-time NBC and CBS affiliates in several markets to move to ABC. His two-part campaign paid off when the "new" ABC hit the air on October 27, 1954. Among the shows that brought in record audiences was Disneyland, produced-by and starring Walt Disney...the beginning of a relationship between the studio and the network which would eventually, four decades later, transform them both. MGM, Warner Bros. and Twentieth Century-Fox were also present that first season. Within two years, Warner Bros. was producing ten hours of programming for ABC each week, mostly interchangeable detective and western series. The middle 1950s saw ABC finally have shows in the top 10 including Disneyland. Other early hit series on ABC during this period which helped establish the network included The Lone Ranger (ABC's only Top 10 show before Disneyland), The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet, (starring the real-life Nelson family), Leave It To Beaver (which moved over from CBS), The Detectives and The Untouchables. However, it still had a long way to go. It was relegated to secondary status in many markets until the late 1960s and, in a few cases, into the 1980s.
In 1955, ABC established a recording division, the AmPar Record Coorporation, which founded and operated the popular label ABC-Paramount Records (which became ABC Records in 1965) and the noted jazz label Impulse Records, created in 1961. ABC-Paramount subsequently purchased more labels from the Famous Music division of Gulf+Western – Dot, Steed, Acta, Blue Thumb, and Paramount, along with legendary Country and R&B label Duke/Peacock in 1974. The entire group was sold to MCA Records in 1979; as a result of subsequent takeovers, the remnants of the ABC music group are now owned by Universal Music Group. After the merger with Disney, ABC became sister company to a record label group once again, the Buena Vista Music Group (which includes such labels as Walt Disney Records and Hollywood Records).
While ABC-TV continued to languish in third place nationally, it often topped local ratings in the larger markets. With the arrival of Hollywood's slickly produced series, ABC began to catch on with younger, urban viewers. As the network gained in the ratings, it became an attractive property, and over the next few years ABC approached, or was approached, by GE, Howard Hughes, Litton Industries, GTE and ITT. ABC and ITT agreed to a merger in late 1965, but this deal was derailed by FCC and Department of Justice questions about ITT's foreign ownership influencing ABC's autonomy and journalistic integrity. ITT's management promised that ABC's autonomy would be preserved. While it was able to convince the FCC, antitrust regulators at the Justice Department refused to sign off on the deal. After numerous delays, the deal was called off on January 1, 1968.
By 1960, the ABC Radio Network found its audience continuing to gravitate to television. The ABC owned radio stations were not enjoying very large audiences either, with the exception of Detroit's WXYZ, which had reinvented itself as a Top 40 hit music station two years earlier under the guidance of Harold L. Neal and found renewed success. Seeing that WXYZ was the only one of ABC's radio stations making money at the time, and with a decline in listenership and far less network programming at ABC's other stations, Neal, after moving to WABC in New York to become general manager of that station, hired Mike Joseph (later known for developing the Hot Hits format) as Music Consultant to program contemporarary Top 40 music on WABC. Neal also hired Dan Ingram to host the afternoon time period and hired Bruce "Cousin Brucie" Morrow to host early evenings on WABC. WABC's immediate success lead to Neal being named President of all 7 ABC owned radio stations. Neal then spread the popular music programming to WLS Chicago and KQV Pittsburgh and they attained very large audiences. ABC's KABC Los Angeles and KGO San Francisco pioneered news/talk programming and became quite successful. Rick Sklar was hired by Neal in 1963 to program the station, which by the mid-1960s featured hourly newscasts, commentaries and a few long-running serials, which were all that remained on the ABC Radio Network schedule. Don McNeill's daily "Breakfast Club" variety show was among the offerings. Romper Room, a children's learning show was featured, both in New York and in ABC subsidiaries, with Nancy Terrell as "Miss Nancy." In 1967, WLS General Manager, Ralph Beaudin, was promoted to head up ABC Radio. Beaudin made the bold move on January 1, 1968, when he split the ABC Radio Network into four new "networks", each one with format-specific news and features for pop-music-, news-, or talk-oriented stations. The "American" Contemporary, Entertainment, Information and FM networks were later joined by two others — Direction and Rock. During 1968, KXYZ and KXYZ-FM in Houston were acquired by ABC, giving the network the maximum seven owned and operated AM and FM stations allowed at the time.
On September 23, 1962, ABC began televising the animated television series The Jetsons in color. Another animated show, The Flintstones, had been filmed in color since its debut in 1960 and was soon shown in color on the network. In the 1965-66 season, ABC joined NBC and CBS in televising most of its shows in color.
In 1969, Neal and Beaudin hired former WCFL Chicago programmer, Allen Shaw, to program the seven ABC Owned FM Radio stations. Shaw pioneered the first album oriented rock format on all seven stations and changed their call letters to WPLJ New York, WDAI Chicago, WDVE Pittsburgh, WRIF Detroit, KAUM Houston, KSFX San Francisco and KLOS Los Angeles. By the mid-1970s, the ABC owned AM and FM stations, and the ABC Radio Network were the most successful radio operations in America in terms of audience and profits. Leonard Goldenson often credited ABC Radio for helping fund the development of ABC Television in those early years.
During this period of the 1960s, ABC founded an in-house production unit, ABC Films, to create new material especially for the network. Shortly after the death of producer David O. Selznick, ABC acquired the rights to a considerable amount of the Selznick theatrical film library, including Rebecca and Portrait of Jennie (but not including Gone with the Wind, which Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had acquired outright in the 1940s).
Wide World of Sports debuted April 29, 1961 and was the creation of Edgar J. Scherick through his company, Sports Programs, Inc. After selling his company to the American Broadcasting Company, Scherick hired a young Roone Arledge to produce the show. Arledge would eventually go on to become the executive producer of ABC Sports (as well as president of ABC News). Arledge helped ABC's fortunes with innovations in sports programming, such as the multiple cameras used in Monday Night Football. By doing so, he helped to make sports broadcasting into a multi-billion-dollar industry.
Despite its relatively small size, ABC found increasing success with television programming aimed at the emerging "Baby Boomer" culture. It broadcast American Bandstand and Shindig!, two shows that featured new popular and youth-oriented records of the day.
The network ran science fiction fare, a genre that other networks considered too risky: The Outer Limits, The Invaders, The Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. It also ran the Quinn Martin action and suspense series The F.B.I. and The Fugitive. In September 1964 the network would debut a sitcom called Bewitched that would become the #2 show of the 64–65 season and draw record viewers for the network at that time.
In January 1966, an unheralded mid-season replacement show became a national pop culture phenomenon. Batman, starring Adam West as the Caped Crusader and Burt Ward as his youthful sidekick Robin the Boy Wonder, helped establish ABC as a TV force with which to be reckoned. Each week, a two-part Batman adventure aired on Wednesday and Thursday nights, blending the exploits of the popular comic-book hero with off-the-wall "camp" humor. The unusual combination made the series an immediate hit with thrill-seeking youngsters, and a cult favorite on high-school and college campuses. Special guest villains such as Cesar Romero (the Joker), Burgess Meredith (the Penguin), Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt (Catwoman) and Joan Collins (the Siren) added to the show's mass appeal. A two-part episode featuring Liberace in a dual role, as the great pianist Chandel and his criminal twin brother Harry, would prove to be the highest-rated Batman tandem of the series (canceled in March 1968).
In 1968, the parent company changed its name from American Broadcasting-Paramount Theatres, Inc. to American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., formally dropping the Paramount name from the company and all subsidiaries which bore that name.
Continuing the network's upswing in the 1960s were highly rated primetime sitcoms such as That Girl, Bewitched, and The Brady Bunch, and dramas such as Room 222 and The Mod Squad. Edgar J. Scherick was Vice President of Network Programming and responsible for much of the lineup during this era.
ABC's daytime lineup became strong throughout the 1970s and 1980s with the soap operas General Hospital, One Life to Live, The Edge of Night (which had moved to ABC from CBS in late 1975), All My Children, and Ryan's Hope, and the game shows The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, Let's Make a Deal, The $20,000 Pyramid and Family Feud.
By the early 1970s, ABC had formed its first theatrical division, ABC Pictures, later renamed ABC Motion Pictures. It made some moneymaking films like Bob Fosse's Cabaret, Woody Allen's Take the Money and Run, and Sydney Pollack's They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, while other films like Song of Norway and Candy, were critical and box-office disasters upon release despite them both being heavily promoted while still in production. The company's later movies included Silkwood, The Flamingo Kid and SpaceCamp (the latter was the last movie ABC produced for cinemas.) They also started an innovation in television, the concept of the Movie of the Week. This series of made-for-TV films aired once per week on Tuesday nights. Three years later, Wednesday nights were added as well. Palomar Pictures International, the production company created by Scherick after leaving ABC, produced several of the Movies of the Week.
The network itself, meanwhile, was showing signs of overtaking CBS and NBC. Broadcasting in color from the mid-1960s, ABC started using the new science of demographics to tweak its programming and ad sales. ABC invested heavily in shows with wide appeal, especially situation comedies such as Happy Days, Barney Miller, Three's Company and Taxi. Programming head Fred Silverman was credited with reversing the network's fortunes by spinning off shows such as Laverne & Shirley and Mork and Mindy. He also commissioned series from Aaron Spelling such as Charlie's Angels. Furthermore, ABC acquired broadcasting rights for telecasting the annual Academy Awards ceremony in 1976, which today is contractually planned to do so until 2014. By 1977, ABC had become the nation's highest-rated network. Meanwhile CBS and NBC ranked behind for some time, and due to NBC ranking third place, ABC sought stronger affiliates by having former NBC affiliations swap networks for ABC.
ABC also offered big-budget, extended-length miniseries, among them QB VII, and Rich Man, Poor Man. The most successful, Roots, based on Alex Haley's novel, became one of the biggest hits in television history. Combined with ratings for its regular weekly series, Roots propelled ABC to a first-place finish in the national Nielsen ratings for the 1976–1977 season — this was a first in the then thirty-year history of the network. In 1983, via its revived theatrical division, ABC Motion Pictures, Silkwood was released in theaters, and The Day After (again produced in-house by its by-then retitled television unit, ABC Circle Films) was viewed on TV by 100 million people, prompting discussion of nuclear activities taking place at the time. Another ABC Television Movie, Battlestar Galactica, which spawned the 1978 television series of the same name, was seen by 64 million people and at the time was the most expensive TV movie ever made.
ABC-TV began the transition from coaxial cable–microwave delivery to satellite delivery via AT&T's Telstar 301. ABC maintained a West Coast feed network on Telstar 302 and, in 1991, scrambled feeds on both satellites with the Leitch system. Currently, with the Leitch system abandoned, ABC operates digital feeds on Intelsat Galaxy 16 and Intelsat Galaxy 3C. ABC Radio began using the SEDAT satellite distribution system in the mid-1980s, switching to Starguide in the early 2000s. Now ABC provides programming in supermarkets in an agreement with InStore Broadcasting Networks. ABC acquired majority control of the fast-growing ESPN sports network in 1984.
ABC's dominance carried into the early 1980s. But by 1985, veteran shows like The Love Boat and Benson had run their courses, while Silverman-era hits like Three's Company and Laverne & Shirley were gone. As a resurgent NBC was leading in the ratings, ABC shifted its focus to such situation comedies as Webster, Mr. Belvedere, Growing Pains, and Perfect Strangers. During this period, while the network enjoyed huge ratings with shows like Dynasty, Moonlighting, MacGyver, Who's The Boss?, The Wonder Years, Hotel, and Thirtysomething, ABC seemed to have lost the momentum that propelled it in the 1970s; there was little offered that was innovative or compelling. Highly-hyped shows built around big name stars like Lucille Ball and Dolly Parton were critical and commercial failures during the mid- to late-1980s. Like his counterpart at CBS, William S. Paley, founding-father Goldenson had withdrawn to the sidelines. ABC's ratings and the earnings thus generated reflected this loss of drive. Under the circumstances, ABC was a ripe takeover target. However, no one expected the buyer to be a media company only a tenth the size of ABC, Capital Cities Communications. The corporate name was changed to Capital Cities/ABC.
As the 1990s began, one could conclude the company was more conservative than at other times in its history. The miniseries faded off. Saturday morning cartoons were phased out. But the network did acquire Orion Pictures' television division in the wake of the studio's bankruptcy (after a brief attempt at acquiring the studio itself), later merging it with its in-house division ABC Circle Films to create ABC Productions. Shows produced during this era included My So-Called Life, The Commish, and American Detective (the last program mentioned was co-produced through Orion before the studio's bankruptcy). In an attempt to win viewers on Friday night, the TGIF programming block was created. The lead programs of this time included Full House, Family Matters, and Step by Step. These shows were family-oriented, but other shows such as Roseanne were less traditional in their worldview, but were very successful in the ratings. Home Improvement also strengthened ABC's ratings, as it was constantly rated in the top 10 of the Nielsen's Ranking Chart show until its finale in 1999.
In 1996, The Walt Disney Company acquired Capital Cities/ABC, and renamed the broadcasting group ABC, Inc., although the network continues to also use American Broadcasting Companies, such as on TV productions it owns.
ABC's relationship with Disney dates back to 1953, when Leonard Goldenson pledged enough money so that the "Disneyland" theme park could be completed. ABC continued to hold Disney notes and stock until 1960, and also had first call on the "Disneyland" television series in 1954. With this new relationship came an attempt at cross-promotion, with attractions based on ABC shows at Disney parks and an annual soap festival at Walt Disney World. (The former president of ABC, Inc., Robert Iger, now heads Disney.) In 1997, ABC aired a Saturday morning block called One Saturday Morning which changed to ABC Kids in 2002. It featured a 5-hour line-up of children's shows (mostly cartoons) for children ages 5–12. but it was changed to a 4-hour line-up in 2005. Since then, it was aimed for children more in the 10–16 range.
Despite intense micro-managing on the part of Disney management, the flagship television network was slow to turn around. In 1999, the network was able to experience a brief bolster in ratings with the hit game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. A new national phenomenon, Survivor, on CBS persuaded the schedulers at ABC to change Millionaire's slot over to the Wednesday Time slot at 8:00 to kill Survivor before it got a ratings hold. The first results were promising for CBS; they lost by only a few ratings points. ABC tried to keep the strength running, so they tried an unprecedented strategy for Millionaire by airing the show four times a week during the next Fall season, in the process overexposing the show, as it appeared on the network sometimes five or six nights during a week. ABC's ratings fell dramatically as competitors introduced their own game shows and the public grew tired of the format. Alex Wallau took over as president in 2000. Despite the repeated overexposure of Millionaire and its switch to syndication, ABC continued to find some success in dramas such as The Practice (which gave birth to a successful spinoff, Boston Legal, in 2004), Alias, and Once and Again. ABC also had some moderately successful comedies including The Drew Carey Show, Spin City, Dharma & Greg, According to Jim, My Wife and Kids, 8 Simple Rules and The George Lopez Show.
For the 2001-2002 television season, ABC began airing newer scripted programming in High Definition; in addition, the network also converted all of its existing situation comedies and drama programming to HD, making it the first such American television network to produce its entire slate of scripted programming in that format. CBS became the first television network to produce programming in High Definition a year earlier.
Still one asset that ABC lacked in the early 2000s that most other networks had was popularity in reality television. ABC's briefly lived reality shows Are You Hot? and I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! proved to be an embarrassment for the network. By end of the 2003–2004 television season, ABC slumped to fourth place, becoming the first of the original "Big Three" networks to fall into such ratings.
Determined not to lose its prominence on TV, ABC was able to find success in ratings beginning in 2004. In the fall of that year, ABC premiered two highly anticipated series Desperate Housewives, and Lost. Immediately, the network's ratings skyrocketed to unprecedented levels thanks in part to the shows' critical praises, high publicity, and heavy marketing over the summer. It followed up its prosperity with the premieres of Grey's Anatomy in 2005, and in 2006, the dramedy Ugly Betty (the last mentioned program is based on a popular international telenovela), which are all popular among viewers and critically acclaimed.
ABC finally found reality television prosperity first with Extreme Makeover: Home Edition in 2003 and then with Dancing with the Stars two years later. In spite of these newfound successes ABC continues to flounder in creating new reality television series. Particularly during the summer months, ABC has repeatedly attempted to launch new unscripted shows such as Shaq's Big Challenge, Fat March, and Brat Camp. One show of note in ABC's attempt to expand its reality TV brand was the rebuttal of Fox's enormously popular American Idol, The One: Making a Music Star, which attempted to combine a talent competition with a traditional reality show. The show came in response to 5 years of utter dominance by American Idol over even ABC's most popular shows. However, The One received unanimously negative reviews, and pulled some of the lowest ratings in TV history and was cancelled after only two weeks.
ABC aired the miniseries The Path to 9/11 in September 2006 on the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The docudrama was widely criticized, especially from the left, for its alleged inaccuracies.
Borrowing a proven Disney formula, there have been attempts to broaden the ABC brand name. In 2004, ABC launched a news channel called ABC News Now. Its aim is to provide round-the-clock news on over-the-air digital TV, cable TV, the Internet, and mobile phones.
With the Disney merger, Touchstone Television began to produce the bulk of ABC's primetime series. This culminated in the studio's name change to ABC Studios in 2007, as part of a Disney strategy to focus on the 3 "core brands": ABC, Disney, and ESPN. Buena Vista Television, the studio's syndication arm also changed their name, to Disney-ABC Domestic Television.
Through the early 2000s, the ABC Sports division and ESPN merged operations. ESPN, which had been broadcasting its own popular package of Sunday night games since 1987, took over the Monday Night Football franchise in 2006. (NBC began showing its own series of games on Sunday nights in ESPN's old timeslot.) Beginning that fall, all sports broadcasts on ABC would be presented under the "ESPN on ABC" banner, with ESPN graphics and announcers (including both the ESPN and ABC logos on-screen; ESPN in the presentation graphics with an ABC bug in the corner of the screen).
In 2002, ABC committed over $35 million to build an automated Network Release (NR) facility in New York to distribute programming to its affiliates. This facility, however, was designed to handle only standard definition broadcasts, not the modern HDTV, so it was obsolete before construction began. NR's biggest error, to date, is the loss of several minutes of the Dancing with the Stars results show live telecast on March 27, 2007 to 104 affiliates. The previous biggest blunder was the airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas in December 2006 with several acts in the wrong order. In 2008 ABC committed $70 million to build a new HDTV facility. NR's standard definition operations shut down in the week before the revised digital television transition mandated by the FCC on June 12. ABC only has 4 working control rooms for HDTV, and two of them are dual edit/control suites; this puts the network in the awkward position in New York–controlled shows of being unable to air network promotional advertising in HD. A fifth break studio, HD-5, was put into service in August 2009.
In 2007, ABC unveiled a new, glossier logo and their new imaging campaign, revolving around the slogan ABC: Start Here, which signifies the network's news content and entertainment programming being accessible through not only television, but also the Internet, portable media devices, podcasting, and mobile device-specific content from the network.
In early 2009, Disney-ABC Television Group merged ABC Entertainment and ABC Studios into a new division called ABC Entertainment Group, which would be responsible for both production and broadcasting. Disney-ABC Television Group planned to reduce its workforce by 5% during this reorganization.
In 1954, the Walt Disney anthology television series, under the title "Disneyland", began showing not only programs made exclusively for television by the Disney studio, but also edited versions of some of the studio's theatrical films, such as "Alice in Wonderland". Occasionally, a full-length film would be shown, such as "Treasure Island", but these would be divided into two one-hour episodes. "Disneyland", which premiered in conjunction with the impending opening of Disney's theme park of the same name, changed its name to "Walt Disney Presents" in 1958.
Walt Disney had long wanted ABC to broadcast his show in color, but the network still cash strapped balked at the idea because of the cost of color broadcasting. In 1961, Walt Disney struck a deal with NBC to move the show to their network. At the time, NBC was owned by RCA, who was promoting color at the time in order to sell their color TV sets. The show moved in the fall of 1961 and was renamed "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color" allowing Disney to broadcast in color, including shows that had previously been run in black and white on ABC. It became one of the longest-running TV series of all time.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, as radio's music audience continued to drift to FM, many of ABC's heritage AM stations—the powerhouse properties upon which the company was founded, like WABC New York and WLS Chicago—switched from music to talk. While many of ABC's radio stations and network programs remained strong revenue producers, growth in the radio industry began to slow dramatically after the dot-com boom of the early 2000s and the consolidation that followed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. In 2005, Disney CEO Bob Iger sought to sell the ABC Radio division, having declared it a "non-core asset." On February 6, 2006, Disney announced that all ABC Radio properties (excluding Radio Disney and ESPN Radio) would be spun off and merged with Citadel Broadcasting Corporation. In March 2007 the Federal Communications Commission approved the transfer of ABC's 24 radio station licenses to Citadel; the $2.6 billion merger closed on June 12, 2007. ABC News – a unit of the ABC Television Network – continues to produce ABC News Radio, which Citadel has agreed to distribute for at least ten years.
With the sale of ABC Radio, ABC becomes the second heritage American television network to sell its original radio properties. NBC sold its radio network to Westwood One in 1987, and its stations to various companies through 1988. CBS is now the only broadcast television network with its original radio link, though both Fox News & Fox Sports (through Clear Channel Communications) and CNN (via CBS' Westwood One division) have a significant radio presence.
Today, ABC owns nearly all its in-house television and theatrical productions made from the 1970s forward, with the exception of certain co-productions with producers (for example, The Commish is now owned by its producer, Stephen Cannell).
Also part of the library is the aforementioned Selznick library, the Cinerama Releasing/Palomar theatrical library and the Selmur Productions catalog the network acquired some years back, and the in-house productions it continues to produce (such as America's Funniest Home Videos, General Hospital, and ABC News productions), although Disney-ABC Domestic Television (formerly known as Buena Vista Television) handles domestic TV distribution, while Disney-ABC International Television (formerly known as Buena Vista International Television) handles international TV distribution.
ABC presently operates on a 92½-hour regular network programming schedule. It provides 22 hours of prime time programming to affiliated stations: 8–11 p.m. Monday to Saturday (all times ET/PT) and 7–11 p.m. on Sundays. Programming will also be provided 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. weekdays (currently the talk show The View and soaps All My Children, One Life to Live and General Hospital); 7–9 a.m. weekdays (Good Morning America) along with one-hour weekend editions; nightly editions of ABC World News, the Sunday political talk show This Week with George Stephanopoulos, early morning news programs World News Now and America This Morning and the late night newsmagazine Nightline; the late night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live!; and a four-hour Saturday morning live-action/animation block under the name ABC Kids.
In addition, sports (or sometimes other) programming is also provided weekend afternoons any time from 12–6 pm (all times ET/PT). When no sports are scheduled on one or both weekend afternoons, ABC will provide 1–2 hours of filler programming (either reality shows or movies) in the afternoon hours, usually airing in the late afternoon between 4-6PM ET/PT.
Notable ABC Daytime soaps of the past include Dark Shadows (1966–1971), Ryan's Hope (1975–1989), Loving (1983–1995), The City (1995–1997), and Port Charles (1997–2003). ABC also aired the last nine years of The Edge of Night (1975–1984) after that series was dropped by CBS, although many ABC affiliates did not air the show during that time.
ABC Daytime also airs The View, which has been on since 1997. The View is currently the only daytime talk show on a Network not to air in Syndication.
ABC's daytime game shows over the years have included The Dating Game (1965–1973), The Newlywed Game (1966–1974 and 1984), Let's Make a Deal (1968–1976), Password (1971–1975), Split Second (1972–1975), The $10,000/$20,000 Pyramid (1974–1980), and Family Feud (1976–1985). ABC stopped carrying daytime game shows in 1987, the first of the major networks to do so, with the exception of a short-lived revival of Match Game in the 1990–91 season. However, ABC's syndication wing distributes Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
For most of the network's existence, in regards to children's programming, ABC has aired mostly programming from Walt Disney Television or other producers (most notably, Hanna-Barbera Productions and DIC Entertainment). The crown jewel of its children's programming lineup was the award-winning Schoolhouse Rock! which aired beginning in 1973 and was finally retired in 2001.
Following ABC's sale to Disney, the network's content produced by its new owners would increase; this also included the animated and/or live-action children's programming.
In September 1997, ABC remodeled its Saturday morning children's programming lineup, renaming it Disney's One Saturday Morning. It featured many programs (mostly animated series) from Walt Disney Television. In 2001, ABC began a deal with sister network Disney Channel to air its original programming. Originally, the lineup aired only a couple of Disney Channel series, Lizzie McGuire and Even Stevens, but has since grown to take up the entire lineup which was rebranded back to ABC Kids in September 2002. As of 2009, Power Rangers is the only program on ABC Kids that does not air on Disney Channel. None of Disney Channel's current first-run offerings (other than Hannah Montana, though episodes of that show are only reruns from its first season) air on the ABC Kids block.
ABC.com was the first network website to offer full-length episodes online from May-June 2006. Beginning with the 2006–2007 television season, ABC.com has regularly begun airing full length episodes of most of its popular and new shows on its website the day after they aired on ABC, with some advertisements (though less than when broadcast for television). This is assumed to be a response to the popularity of digital recording devices and piracy issues that major network broadcasters are facing. In April 2007 the full-episode player began offering full-screen viewing, as well as a small "mini" screen that users can position wherever they choose on their desktops, in addition to the two original standard viewing size viewing options. In July 2007, ABC.com began presenting content in HD. Launching initially as a beta test in early July, the full-episode broadband player's HD channel will feature a limited amount of content in true high-definition 1280x720 resolution from such series as Lost, Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, General Hospital and Ugly Betty. In conjunction with the launch of the new season in September, a more robust HD programming lineup will be offered. This fall ABC.com's full episode player will be expanded further to include national news and local content, in addition to primetime entertainment programming. This new player will be geo-targeted, offering the ability for local ads and content to be more relevant to each individual user. ABC has been the subject of some criticism for not supporting linux based operating systems.
On February 25, 2008, ABC said it will release hit shows (Lost and Desperate Housewives) for free over video on demand services, including Comcast; only this time, viewers who watch the shows on demand will not be able to fast forward through supported commercial advertisements.
Launched September 27, 2004, ABC1 was a British digital channel available on the Freeview (digital terrestrial), Sky Digital (satellite) and Virgin Media (cable) services owned and operated by ABC Inc.. Its schedule was a selection of past and present American shows, nearly all produced by ABC Studios, and was offered 24 hours a day on the digital satellite and digital cable platforms, and from 6:00AM to 6:00PM on the Freeview platform. Since ABC1's launch, it had aired the long-running soap General Hospital, making it the only U.S. daytime soap to air new episodes in the UK; however, in late 2005, it was pulled off the air due to low ratings. It was announced in September 2007 that the channel was to close in October because a 24-hour slot on the digital terrestrial platform could not be gained, and a corporate decision to focus on the Disney brand in the United Kingdom. ABC1 closed on Wednesday September 26 at around 12:00PM, which was earlier than the original closing date of October 1.