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The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

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On Network News:

Television news in the United States was born of network radio. The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) began network radio service in November 1926 and CBS signed on 25 September 1927. Both networks began broadcast news by focusing on events, matters of public concern such as political conventions, election results and presidential inaugurations, and from this earliest period, broadcast journalism was rooted in various forms of competition.

Early in the history of radio NBC had cornered the best entertainment talent. CBS President William Paley countered by emphasizing news. He guessed, correctly, that listeners would want information. But both networks faced other major competitors, the newspaper publishers, who tried to eradicate news on radio. Indeed, broadcast journalism was truly born of this battle. The "press-radio war" began in 1922 when the Associated Press asked its newspaper members to stop letting radio stations use their stories. Eventually the dispute led to an embargo which broadcasters defeated. Two decades later broadcast news came out of World War II strong, proven under fire by young men and women who risked their lives to record history. By this time the public, the broadcasters--and the newspapers--realized that broadcast news was central to contemporary life. The next step was television.

CBS and NBC licensed commercial TV stations in 1941 and the CBS station in New York City began almost immediately presenting two daily 15-minute news broadcasts on weekdays. Television was ready for its full-scale launch, but the demands of the war kept the new medium at parade rest until 1945.

It was 1947 before the television networks were formed, even though the networks' stations in New York presented some news programming in 1946. NBC launched its network TV news programming with a 10-minute weekday broadcast, The Camel Newsreel Theater in February 1948. John Cameron Swayze, seldom seen on camera, read news copy while film images filled the screen. In August 1948 CBS began The CBS-TV News, a 15-minute program anchored by Douglas Edwards, each weekday evening. NBC expanded its news to 15-minutes in February 1949 when the program became The Camel News Caravan.

ABC Television, which traced its heritage to the forced sale in 1943 of one of NBC's two radio networks, began regular news broadcasts in 1948. A struggling fourth network, DuMont, broadcast news from 1947 to 1949, halted news programming until 1953, then went out of business in 1955.

In this developmental period the growth of network television news was hindered by the decision of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to "freeze" new TV licenses between 1948 and 1952, until it could sort out channel allocations and decide on a standard for color TV. In 1948, at the beginning of the freeze, there were only 34 TV stations broadcasting in 21 cities to about one million TV sets.

Early television news broadcasts were crude, hindered by the lack of technology. Much of the newsfilm came from newsreel companies. Even these companies, long-practiced in producing newsreels for theatrical exhibition, used film cameras designed for the static, slower pace of Hollywood filming. Moreover, there was no adequate recording medium for preserving television pictures other than the fuzzy and inadequate kinescopes.

Still pictures were mounted on easels so that studio cameras could photograph them. Developing film for moving pictures and transporting it to New York usually meant that the film available for newscasts was outdated by the time of broadcast. Other experiments during this period included attempts to syndicate national news programs. For more than twenty years, for example, Paul Harvey prepared a daily national roundup to be inserted into local news programs. But network organizations quickly expanded their scope and influence.

When Don Hewitt, who later developed 60 Minutes, became the regular director of Douglas Edwards with the News, he developed techniques to project slides on a screen behind the news anchor. Still, Edwards' audience ratings lagged behind The Camel News Caravan with John Cameron Swayze until the early 1950s. And in 1956 Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were teamed by NBC to replace Swayze, creating one of the most successful news programs of the time.

By 1951 Edward R. Murrow and Fred Friendly were producing See It Now on CBS television. The series tackled controversial subjects, including an expose of the histrionic tactics of controversial anti-Communist U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy. After receiving the blessing of CBS board chairman William Paley, See It Now broadcast a direct attack on McCarthy on 9 March 1954. The Senator was offered an opportunity to reply, which he accepted. His response was broadcast on 6 April. In some views this response, as much as Murrow's analysis, undermined McCarthy's support. By June, he was mired in the disastrous Army-McCarthy hearings, and in December 1954, he was censured by the U.S. Senate. Three years later, McCarthy was dead--and by 1961 Murrow was pressured out of the news organization he helped create and with which he set standards still used as the hallmarks of television news.

Technology, as much as personality, has played a crucial role in the development of a distinctive form for television news. After early suffering with Hollywood film equipment, TV news organizations converted to 16-mm film. As a result of this new mobility, newsfilm became more interesting and both networks and their affiliates installed their own film developing equipment. "Reversal" film which came out of the processor as a positive print was introduced in 1958, reducing time in film editing and making fresher, timlier stories avialable for broadcast.

Two major remaining roadblocks to making TV news truly current were the lack of fast transportation and the networks' inability to do live coast-to-coast broadcasts. These delays were remedied in 1951, when a coaxial cable link, connecting the West and East coasts, was completed. The cable enabled the electronic, rather than physical, transportion of television news stories.

Another major technological revolution for TV news began when the Ampex Corporation introduced the videotape recorder in 1956. Although these early videotape machines were too large for portable use, it was still possible to record in-studio interviews, and delay the news for West Coast viewers.

By 1960 a gradual shift to color reversal newsfilm had begun. This devlopment followed the implementation and diffusion of color television transmitters and home receiver sets, and added another level of "realism" to television news.

During the same period directors and producers were perfecting their craft, developing techniques to take advantage of television's unique quality of telling stories with pictures. And stories there were. Already, in the 1950s the war in Korea was covered on film which had to be flown to the United States. In 1961 FCC Chairman Newton Minow's "vast wasteland" remarks led to a renewed emphasis on news by the networks, and enhanced news coverage by local television stations. That same year, President John F. Kennedy allowed the networks to broadcast a presidential news conference--live.

The 1960s have been called television's Decade of the Documentary. The civil rights struggle in the south received the skilled attention of some of television's great documentary producers, including Fred Friendly (CBS), John Secondari (ABC), and Robert "Shad" Northshield (NBC). ABC launched the documentary series "Close-up". CBS broadcast "Harvest of Shame," chronicling the life of migrant workers.

Regular daily broadcasts were changing during this period. CBS led the expansion of the evening news to 30 minutes in 1963. NBC's Huntley-Brinkley news quickly followed. ABC, struggling financially and journalistically, waited until 1967.

It took only a few seconds in November 1963, for network television to capture the eyes of an America which witnessed the horror of the events in Dallas, the first Kennedy assassination. All three networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, canceled their entertainment schedules. For much of the next four days they provided a stunned and grieving nation with live news reports. Prompt coverage of overwhelming news stories became a trademark of network news. "Live" became a defining word, indicating the powerful advantage television news was developing over print media.

The networks got the chance to demonstrate the power of "live" coverage many times. In 1968, they presented two more tragic assassinations--of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis and Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles. In l97l, the March on Washington by 13,000 anti-war protesters was seen by the nation. In l974 President Richard Nixon resigned following extensive Congressional Hearings into the Watergate Affair, hearings presented live on television.

All these events were broadcast in the context of one of television's longest running news stories. Many call the Vietnam War the "television war". It was the first time that television news was able to cover a war, relatively unfettered by military control. The time gap between the occurrence of the news and the news broadcast was closing. Film was still the medium used to acquire pictures, but once developed, the film could be relayed by fast aircraft to the nearest television cable terminus to be fed to the network.

Correspondents had more freedom of movement in Vietnam. They went on patrol with the teenage draftees who had been thrown in to fight North Vietnam's tough, tenacious regular army, and the equally dangerous guerrilla Viet Cong. The story became less and less pleasant. When word came of the U.S. Tet offensive in 1968, CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite flew to Vietnam. He ended up in the midst of street fighting, steel pot helmet on his head, talking with young marines trying to win the city of Hue back from the Communists. Cronkite returned to New York, and in a rare commentary, told his audience the U.S. must negotiate an end to the war, not as the victor, but as "honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy and did the best they could."

One month later, President Lyndon Johnson called for peace talks. Then the president announced that he would not run for reelection.

 Another story offered television a far more convential narrative, one of trial, contest, and triumph. The exploration of space was television's story. The belch of flame and smoke as the giant rockets launched astronauts on their orbitailing tours, live television pictures of men working in space, and finally, on 20 July 1969, live pictures of men walking on the moon. But the triumphant video of men on the moon was replaced on 28 January 1986, when the spaceship Challenger exploded.

The telling of these compelling stories continued to improve, aided by better cameras and more dramatic color. Film disappeared almost overnight as videotape became the medium for hard news coverage. Sony introduced 3/4 inch wide videotape cassettes to the consumer market in 1968, but the quality of the tape was not up to the standards the government imposed on broadcasters. Introduction of the digital time base corrector in 1972 allowed broadcasters to improve the quality of 3/4 inch tape.

By the mid-1970s the networks were rapidly converting to tape as the medium for acquiring news pictures. Tape was closing the gap between the time a story was shot and when it could be shown on the air. No more delay for film processing. Tape was ready, once shot, for editing and playback.

The switch to videotaping of events began a true technological revolution for TV news. Lightweight microwave electronics were installed in small vans, which were equipped with telescoping masts. Stories could be videotaped and relayed back the newsroom or broadcast live. Yet another technological development, the successful launch and application of domestic and foreign satellite channels, had become taken place during the 1970s. The satellites made it possible to receive prompt, if not live, feeds from around the world and across the nation.

Television news was increasingly becoming a "now" medium. By the early 1980s, the networks added mobile satellite uplinking vehicles to their tool kit. Major breaking stories around the world were being covered live, transmitted to network headquarters for immediate viewing.

At the same time the combined efforts of scenic designers, lighting experts, producers and engineers were shaping a distinctive "look" for TV news. Rear screen pictures were replaced by still and moving video inserted into the picture so that it appeared to be behind the anchor desk. Slides and still pictures were stored on videotape and optical disks, so they could be recalled to illustrate news stories. A whole new art form--news graphics--developed, requiring the skills of computer artists. Those same computers added sparkle to broadcasts, creating "page turning" effects, and promotional "bumpers" between segments of the broadcasts.

The faces presenting the news changed. John Chancellor had reigned at NBC since 1971. In l982 NBC moved Tom Brokaw from the successful morning program Today to the anchor desk of the NBC Nightly News, at first teamed with Roger Mudd, and a year later, solo.

Walter Cronkite took over the anchor slot of CBS's Evening News in 1962 and for 19 years he was the man to beat in the race for ratings. After years of palace intrigue, Dan Rather bested Roger Mudd for Cronkite's position in 1981. A decade later, and under fire from every direction, CBS News added Connie Chung to the Evening News anchor desk.

ABC News struggled to prove itself against its wealthy opponents. The perennially third-place network tried a succession of anchors, including network television's only tri-anchor combination. Peter Jennings finally took the post in l983, his second time occupying ABC's anchor chair. Network news, in the traditional sense, peaked in the early 1980s. Technology continued to improve, making the network news departments faster at delivering stories. But circumstances beyond their control were reshaping the television business.

Cable television had signed-up more than half of the households in America. Increasingly, viewers found fewer distinctions between the cable feeds and the traditional networks. Entrepreneur Ted Turner planted the seeds for a significant weakening of the traditional network news departments when he founded the Cable News Network in 1980. CNN was not a major competitor during the early and mid-1980s, but the network, staffed by young people and led by network veterans, was on the air 24 hours a day. CNN used satellite technology to cover major stories from hostage standoffs to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Coverage was live, hour after hour, while the Big Three dipped in and out of regular programming. CNN's on-scene open eye, became the channel to seek when significant news broke.

The proliferation of channels, in cable and independent local stations, had a major impact on the networks. ABC, CBS and NBC all changed owners. In 1985, Capital Cities Communications, a little-know media company, put together a deal with Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Corporation to buy ABC. Laurence Tisch, who had already invested heavily in CBS, took over as chief executive officer in 1986. The RCA Corporation was sold to General Electric in 1985, giving GE control of NBC.

The new corporate leaders found their properties losing audience and revenue to cable networks. Round after round of budget cutting and layoffs followed. Audience decline in the late 1980s and early 1990s brought about radical restructuring of the network news departments. They became leaner, depending more on contributions from affiliates, cost-sharing through pooling of coverage and exchange agreements with other major broadcasters. The networks also placed greater dependence on news agencies for foreign video coverage.

New strategies developed. The news departments became profit centers, producing moderately rated prime time programs which were profitable because they were relatively inexpensive to produce. The big-three expanded their news offerings, moving into late evening, then overnight, early mornings, and weekend mornings, building on the strengths of their morning news and information programs.

Corporate heads realized their news departments were vast storehouses of knowledge. They packaged archival material for resale. New alliances were struck. NBC invested in direct satellite broadcasting in Europe and Asia and developed cable networks in the United States. ABC already owned a good portion of the popular ESPN sports network, and invested in other cable, programming, and interactive media ventures. CBS sold off acquisitions.

Against a background of internal disruption, the three broadcast network news departments and CNN brought the Gulf War into American households, covered the sensational murder trial of athlete O.J. Simpson, and chronicled the destruction of a major federal office building in Oklahoma City.

The three major network news organizations, with CNN, continue to hold a position of extraordinary prominence in the public life of the United States. Though beset by financial retrenchment and often criticized for an apparent emphasis on celebrity and personality "performer-journalists," they provide a significant and continuing flow of information to a huge viewing audience. That information is, for the most part, a view from the center, from the mainstream. Rarely critical of major institutions, the news organizations nevertheless present controversy and conflict from within their own safe boundaries. Their version of the journalist as monitor of public life may not meet the standards of those wishing for more fundamental critique of the structures and institutions of American life--or life in any other society--but they remain the site of one form of accepted public discussion. It is almost impossible now to imagine that life, or that discussion, without television's version of "the news."

-Phillip Kierstead

Highlights
Bob Schieffer being the interim CBS Evening News anchro between Dan Rather and Katie Couric
11:15
Ed Bradley on being the anchor for the CBS Sunday Night News
01:13
Bob Simon on how CBS news portrayed the Vietnam War on television
01:18
Walter Cronkite on the very first days of the CBS Evening News at 6pm, and how he went on with no script
07:44
Roger Mudd on covering JFK's assassination for CBS News
06:45
Mike Wallace on anchoring The CBS Morning News
03:14
Who talked about this show

Ed Bradley

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Ed Bradley on being the anchor for the CBS Sunday Night News
01:13

Andy Cohen

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Andy Cohen on working his way up from intern to Senior Producer at CBS News
01:25
Andy Cohen on interning at the CBS News show, CBS This Morning and interviewing Robin Williams
01:50

Walter Cronkite

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Walter Cronkite on the very first days of the CBS Evening News at 6pm, and how he went on with no script
07:44
Walter Cronkite on the 1952 political convention where the term "Anchorman" was first coined (by Sig Mickelson); the resentment from radio professionals toward the new television medium
03:40
Walter Cronkite on replacing Douglas Edwards on the CBS Evening News 
03:56
Walter Cronkite on coming up with his signature signoff "and that's the way it is"
02:06
Walter Cronkite on the pressures on the press by the White House over the Watergate story
04:06
Walter Cronkite on replacing the anchor of the CBS Evening News, Douglas Edwards
06:58
Walter Cronkite on the expansion of the news from 15 to 30 minutes (in 1963) and how that changed the nature of the genre
03:03
Walter Cronkite on his decision to step down as anchor of the CBS Evening News; and on Dan Rather replacing him
04:34

Jeff Fager

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Jeff Fager on becoming Chairman of CBS News and the changes he made to CBS This Morning
02:10
Jeff Fager on the changes he made to CBS This Morning being his proudest achievement as Chairman of CBS News
01:02
Jeff Fager on the changes he made as Chairman of CBS News and the philosophy and legacy of CBS News he was trying to revive
02:09
Jeff Fager on what has changed about news since he started in the business and what makes CBS News different from other networks
02:16

Murray Fromson

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Murray Fromson on how he came to be sent to Moscow to report for CBS News, and his insistence on studying some Russian before going abroad
04:11
Murray Fromson on covering the 1962 California gubernatorial race for CBS News between Richard M. Nixon and Pat Brown
03:35
Murray Fromson on covering the Vietnam War for CBS News
03:53
Murray Fromson on torture he witnessed while covering the Vietnam War for CBS News, and a court martial trial he covered
04:46
Murray Fromson on how his transfer to the Chicago bureau of CBS News came about due to an experience in Vietnam
05:38
Murray Fromson on going to Moscow to cover the Soviet Union for CBS News in 1972
02:45
Murray Fromson on what it was like to live in Moscow during the Cold War and to report for CBS News
03:12
Murray Fromson on covering a press conference with Leonid Brezhnev before his visit to the United States in 1973 for CBS News
04:02
Murray Fromson on the biggest stories he covered while he was in Moscow for CBS News
04:45
Murray Fromson on how ended up going back to Vietnam for CBS News, despite his attempts to go to China instead
05:57
Murray Fromson on covering the end of the Vietnam War for CBS News
05:21
Murray Fromson on moving to the Los Angeles bureau of CBS News in 1976
02:23

Don Roy King

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Don Roy King on directing Olympics updates, and on memorable moments of directing for CBS News and Good Morning America
04:54

Sig Mickelson

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Sig Mickelson on the CBS Evening News with Douglas Edwards
02:36
Sig Mickelson on the difference between CBS News on radio and CBS News on television in the 1940s and 1950s and on the film they would run on television
05:05
Sig Mickelson on CBS News' coverage of the Korean War
02:05
Sig Mickelson on CBS News documentaries and on the birth of See It Now, hosted by Edward R. Murrow
08:57
Sig Mickelson on the CBS News series Diplomatic Pouch
01:19
Sig Mickelson on CBS News' coverage of the Japanese Peace Conference which included Walter Cronkite
11:57
Sig Mickelson on the role affiliates played in the early years of CBS News, and on reporting to Hubbell Robinson while dealing with the split between CBS News radio and television
04:22
Sig Mickelson on CBS News covering the 1952 Presidential Election
07:48
Sig Mickelson on CBS News' coverage of the 1952 political conventions
04:20
Sig Mickelson on Walter Cronkite anchoring CBS News' coverage of the conventions and on inventing the term "anchorman"
02:25
Sig Mickelson on the innovations and impact of CBS News' coverage of the 1952 political conventions
07:18
Sig Mickelson on the concept of "gavel-to-gavel coverage" first introduced by CBS News for the 1952 political conventions
01:55
Sig Mickelson on Don Hewitt's role during CBS News' coverage of the 1952 political conventions
02:30
Sig Mickelson on Bill Leonard's contribution to CBS News' coverage of the 1952 political conventions and on covering the speeches
04:04
Sig Mickelson on candid moments from the 1952 political conventions and on how CBS' coverage differed from NBC or ABC
03:19
Sig Mickelson on CBS News Radio's coverage of the 1952 political conventions
02:35
Sig Mickelson on CBS News' coverage of election night in 1952 and on the use of the Univac computer
07:12
Sig Mickelson on CBS News' relationship with Dwight D. Eisenhower and press secretary James Hagerty
03:01
Sig Mickelson on a dust up between CBS News and the Eisenhower White House over a scheduled interview with then-Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev
09:59
Sig Mickelson on CBS News' coverage of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the technology associated with the broadcast
08:00
Sig Mickelson on the technological challenges of CBS News covering Queen Elizabeth's coronation and the innovations it helped bring about
14:16
Sig Mickelson on his progression to becoming President of CBS News
04:17
Sig Mickelson on Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow at CBS News, and on his experiences with the Hollywood Blacklist at CBS News
09:40
Sig Mickelson on the different networks coverage of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and on Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow's roles in the coverage
01:30
Sig Mickelson on the blacklisting of CBS News correspondent Winston Burdett
04:33
Sig Mickelson on the atmosphere at CBS News during the period of the Hollywood Blacklist, and his memories of the time
02:05
Sig Mickelson on the publication "Red Channels," and on the Hollywood Blacklist
04:37
Sig Mickelson on signing a loyalty oath for CBS News and on other issues connected with the Red Scare
05:42
Sig Mickelson on the impact of the advent of video tape on CBS News and sports
04:55
Sig Mickelson on CBS News' coverage of the 1960 political conventions anchored by Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, and on their different styles
03:29
Sig Mickelson on the impact of videotape on CBS News' coverage of the 1960 political conventions
01:06
Sig Mickelson on organizing the details of the Kennedy-Nixon Debates
03:46
Sig Mickelson on selecting Howard K. Smith as the moderator of the first of the Kennedy-Nixon Debates
01:00
Sig Mickelson on his reaction to the Kennedy-Nixon Debates, and on talking with Richard M. Nixon
01:43
Sig Mickelson on the growing importance of presidential debates after 1960
01:24
Sig Mickelson on the presidency of John F. Kennedy and how he handled television as opposed to Richard M. Nixon
02:47
Sig Mickelson on his departure from CBS News
08:15
Sig Mickelson on bringing Harry Reasoner to CBS News
03:41

Roger Mudd

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Roger Mudd on covering JFK's assassination for CBS News
06:45
Roger Mudd on Howard K. Smith hiring him at CBS News; on reporting on the Hill
02:53

Marlene Sanders

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Marlene Sanders getting hired as a correspondent/producer for CBS News; on the atmosphere at CBS News and differences between ABC and CBS News
02:38

Bob Schieffer

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Bob Schieffer on his early assignments at CBS News
02:53
Bob Schieffer on covering anti-Vietnam War demonstrations for CBS News
03:04
Bob Schieffer on covering the Pentagon for CBS News
03:52
Bob Schieffer on covering the Vietnam War as the Pentagon correspondent for CBS News
02:51
Bob Schieffer on what CBS News was like when he first started there
03:06
Bob Schieffer on covering Presidents Ford and Nixon as the White House correspondent for CBS News
02:04
Bob Schieffer on Gerald Ford being his favorite president to cover as CBS News White House correspondent
06:08
Bob Schieffer on covering Jimmy Carter as chief Washington correspondent for CBS News
01:24
Bob Schieffer on covering Ronald Reagan as chief Washington correspondent for CBS News
01:06
Bob Schieffer on covering George H.W. Bush as chief Washington correspondent for CBS News
00:39
Bob Schieffer on covering Bill Clinton as chief Washington correspondent for CBS News
01:33
Bob Schieffer on covering George W. Bush and the Iraq War chief Washington correspondent for CBS News
03:43

Bob Simon

View Interview
Bob Simon on how CBS news portrayed the Vietnam War on television
01:18
Bob Simon on working with Charles Collingwood and Morley Safer with CBS News in London early in his career
01:04
Bob Simon on covering the Vietnam War for CBS News in 1971; on the Tet Offensive; on the change in American public opinion about the war
09:07
Bob Simon on working as the CBS News State Department correspondent (1981-82) in Beirut
04:00
Bob Simon on becoming a national correspondent for CBS News in Washington D.C and then New York
08:22

Mike Wallace

View Interview
Mike Wallace on anchoring The CBS Morning News
03:14

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