American Broadcasting Company [ABC]
|Branding||“America’s Broadcasting Company”|
|Owner||Independent (divested from NBC, 1943–1953)
United Paramount Theatres(1953–1965)Independent (1965–1985)
Capital Cities Communications (1985–1996)
The Walt Disney Company (1996–present)
|Key people||Edward Noble
|Launch date||October 12, 1943 (Radio)
April 19, 1948 (Television)
|Former names||NBC Blue Network|
|Picture format||480i (16:9 SDTV)
The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) is an American commercial broadcasting 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. Its first broadcast on television was in 1948. As one of the Big Three television networks, its programming has contributed to American popular culture.
Corporate headquarters is in the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, and the company’s news operations are also centered in Manhattan. Entertainment 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.
 Creating The ABC
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 City 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 Newark as the lead station (purchased by RCA in 1923 from Westinghouse) . These were the foundations of RCA’s two 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 a three-year investigation, the FCC in May 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, but it could influence them by its licensing of 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 on January 8, 1942 NBC decided to separate its Red and Blue networks with the intention of divesting itself of the latter.
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 Blue group, and Woods shopped Blue 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 in 1954).
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 his New York radio station, WMCA. Controversy ensued at FCC hearings 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 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 later reclaimed the WJZ callsign when it acquired a Baltimore television station in 1959; WJZ-TV in Baltimore, and its sister radio station, are now owned by CBS.)
ABC Radio began slowly; with few hit shows or big-name stars, it had to build an audience. Noble acquired more stations, among them Detroit’s WXYZ, an NBC (Blue)/ABC affiliate since 1935. WXYZ was originator of several daily serials, among them The Lone Ranger, Sergeant Preston and The Green Hornet (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. Industry policy forbade the use of pre-recorded programs; adapting the advanced tape-recording brought back from conquered Germany, ABC attracted some big-name stars who wanted freedom from rigid schedules, among them Bing Crosby. Though still rated fourth, by the late 1940s ABC had begun to close in on the better-established networks.
 1948: Leonard Goldenson and ABC’s entry into television
Faced with the expenses of building a radio network, ABC was in no position to take on the additional costs demanded by television. Yet to secure a place at the table, 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.)
The ABC television network went on the air on April 19, 1948. 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 few 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 the U.S. Supreme Court decision United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., UPT was cash-rich and controlled much valuable real estate. UPT head Leonard Goldenson 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. Since the transfer of station licenses was again involved, the FCC set hearings, which proved to be contentious.
The FCC focused on the Paramount Pictures-UPT divorce; were they truly separate? 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. 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 have 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,including Cheyenne , Maverick , 77 Sunset Strip , Surfside 6 , Bronco , Hawaiian Eye ,and Colt .45 . 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 Corporation, 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).
 1961–1965: Growth and restructuring
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 that advertisers wanted to reach. At the same time, a series of regulatory moves by the FCC opened up the more desirable VHF band for additional full power stations in sizable Eastern and Midwestern mrkets between 1958 and 1963, allowing ABC to acquire full-time affiliation agreements with additional full-coverage stations in key parts of the country. This would permit the network to build for further nationwide audience growth in the coming decade. 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. ABC would remain an independent company for almost another two decades.
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 hit-based contemporary 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 contemporary 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 (WXYZ, WABC, WLS and KQV would also later shift to news/talk programming some years later). 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.”
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 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.
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).
 1965–1969: Success
The 2-D ABC logo designed by Paul Rand and used from 1962 until 2007. Now a secondary logo, it is still used in print advertisements.
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 No.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. The network would continue to have an association with Paramount Television in the 1970s, however—many of its television programs would come from Paramount, and most of the shows would bring ABC great success in the ratings.
 1969–1985: Rising to the top
Continuing the network’s upswing in the 1960s were highly rated primetime sitcoms such as That Girl, Bewitched, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, The Partridge Family 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, Split Second, The $20,000 Pyramid and Family Feud.
By the early 1970s, ABC had formed its first theatrical division, ABC Pictures, later renamed ABC Motion Pictures. It made some moneymaking films like Bob Fosse‘s Cabaret, Woody Allen‘s Take the Money and Run, and Sydney Pollack‘s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, while other films like Song of Norway and Candy, were critical and box-office disasters upon release despite them both being heavily promoted while still in production. The company’s later movies included Silkwood, The Flamingo Kid and SpaceCamp (the latter was the last movie ABC produced for cinemas.) They also started an innovation in television, the concept of the ABC Movie of the Week. This series of made-for-TV films aired once per week on Tuesday nights. Three years later, Wednesday nights were added as well. Palomar Pictures International, the production company created by Scherick after leaving ABC, produced several of the Movies of the Week.
The network itself, meanwhile, was showing signs of overtaking CBS and NBC. Broadcasting in color from the mid-1960s, ABC started using the new science of demographics to tweak its programming and ad sales. ABC invested heavily in shows with wide appeal, especially situation comedies such as Happy Days, Barney Miller, Three’s Company, Taxi and Soap. Programming head Fred Silverman was credited with reversing the network’s fortunes by spinning off shows such as Laverne & Shirley and Mork and Mindy. He also commissioned series from Aaron Spelling such as Charlie’s Angels, Starsky and Hutch, S.W.A.T, Hart to Hart, The Love Boat, Family, Vega$, and Dynasty. 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.
In 1984, ABC acquired majority control of 24-hour cable sports channel ESPN.
 1985–1996: The Capital Cities era
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.
ABC was acquired by Capital Cities in 1986 for $3.5 billion dollars, changing its corporate name to Capital Cities/ABC. The acquisition was engineered by two Capital Cities executives, Capital Cities Chairman Tom Murphy and Daniel Burke. Burke became President and Chief Executive of ABC, running the daily operations of the network until his retirement in 1994. Murphy focused on the network’s long-term goals and strategies.  Murphy and Burke are credited with streamlining ABC’s operations and increasing profitability.
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 until its finale in 1999.
 1996–2003: Disney purchase and network decline
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 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.
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 U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on June 12. ABC only has 5 working control rooms for HDTV, and two of them are dual edit/control suites. A fifth break studio, HD-5, was put into service in August 2009.
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 the first American iteration of 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 to such a ranking.
 2004–2007: Resurgence
Determined not to lose its prominence on TV, ABC was able to find success in ratings beginning in 2004. Under new entertainment president Stephen McPherson, 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 were 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 in 2005. 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, pulled some of the lowest ratings in TV history, and was canceled after only two weeks.
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).
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. Also 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. But despite all this, and a few more successes such as Brothers & Sisters, Grey’s Anatomy spin-off Private Practice, and summer game show smash Wipeout, the resurgence would not last, as ABC would fall from second to third place in 2007.
 2007–present: The writers’ strike and loss of steam
The writer’s strike of 2007–2008 would put a damper on ABC’s schedule that season like other networks, and it would be particularly bad on most of its new pilots, in which a lot of them (Dirty Sexy Money, Pushing Daisies, and Samantha Who? among others) would not live to see a third season after the 2008–2009 season.
The writer’s strike continued to affect the network in the 2008–2009 season (in a lesser extent though) as more series such as Boston Legal and the U.S. version of Life on Mars suffered from low viewership, despite the former being a once-highlighted breakout show on 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.
The 2009–2010 season would be a season of contrasts for ABC. The network notably made Wednesday nights that fall consist entirely of new programming; out of the 5 shows premiered, 3 of them, Cougar Town, The Middle, and the most successful and critically acclaimed of them, Modern Family, would be renewed for a second season; these half-hour comedies forming ABC’s new “Comedy Wednesday” block (branded “Laugh On” by the network). On the flip side however, every single new drama that season except for one, V, would be ultimately canceled by the end of the season, although Castle, a midseason replacement from the previous season and one of ABC’s only successful procedurals to date, was also renewed. NBC would nearly tie ABC (thanks to help from the 2010 Winter Olympics) for 3rd place that year in viewings.
In March 2010, Disney has considered spinning off ABC into an independent broadcasting company, adding that “it doesn’t add a lot of value to Disney’s other divisions.” They have entered advanced negotiations with two private equity firms to sell ABC; however, the sale was canceled in May 26 because some Disney executives tried to sell it to the FBI instead.
In 2010, Lost finally ended after six seasons which had been receiving its lowest ratings ever since its inception back in 2004. The once-instant hit show Ugly Betty collapsed dramatically in ratings due to the show being moved to the infamous Friday night death slot and after an unsuccessful attempt to boost ratings by moving it onto Wednesday nights, the show was ultimately cancelled which resulted in receiving negative reactions from the public, particularly from the show’s fanbase. With the network’s former two hit shows now out of the picture, the network’s remaining top two veteran shows Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy, and another hit show Brothers & Sisters, have recorded their lowest ratings ever, a trademark that still continues in their current seasons in the 2010–2011 television schedule. Similarly, their new dramas for 2010–2011 have continued to fail, with only Body of Proof being renewed for a second season. The network also struggled to establish new comedies to go with the previous year’s debuts, with only late-season premiere Happy Endings earning a second season. Meanwhile, the new lows hit by Brothers & Sisters led to its cancellation, and the previous year’s only drama renewal, V, also failed to earn another season after a low-rated mid-season run. Despite this and another noticeable ratings decline, ABC would manage to outrate NBC for third by a larger margin than the previous year.
With relatively little buzz surrounding its 2010–2011 pilots, and a sexual harassment suit against Stephen McPherson, he resigned as ABC Entertainment Group president on July 27, 2010. His replacement, Paul Lee, was announced the same day.
Since the launch of ABC’s gloss logo in September 2008, ABC has suggested network affiliates integrate the ABC logomark within their station logos, with ABC’s O&O’s being the first to comply. This is to allow both simpler common branding among affiliates and the network, and to allow ABC to brand their video players on ABC.com and Hulu with the local station logo as the digital on-screen bug, which is determined by ZIP code and IP address, along with the local affiliate logo after a network commercial break. Philadelphia’s WPVI-TV was the last O&O to forgo obvious or non-standard ABC branding until December 2010 (instead using a red two-toned ABC ball to go with their graphics coloring), when the station placed their longtime “6” logo within a Circle 7-esque blue circle with the ABC gloss logo to the bottom right. Some ABC affiliates use their ABC logo forms only to advertise ABC programming, with unbranded station logos for the remainder of their broadcast day.
ABC is also unique in the industry for branding their shows as “ABC’s [Name of Program]” in promotional advertising, in line with parent corporation Disney’s (and Pixar’s) upfront branding on their television shows and films, and for productions by ABC Studios having the words “An ABC Studios Production” placed in the opening credits after a program’s title card, before the listing of actors.
 History with Disney
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. The show was revived twice: once in 1986 and again in 1997, both times on ABC (though the first revival moved to NBC in 1988 where it lasted two more years).
 The sale of ABC Radio
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 Westwood One) have a significant radio presence.
Citadel is now owned by Cumulus.
 ABC’s library
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 the estate of its producer, the late 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.
Most of the in-house ABC shows produced before 1973 are now the responsibility of CBS Television Distribution (via predecessor company Paramount Television‘s acquisition of Worldvision Enterprises in 1999).
The 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 11 am – 4 p.m. weekdays (currently the talk shows The View and The Chew, and soaps 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, early morning news programs World News Now and America This Morning and the late night newsmagazine Nightline and the late night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live!. The network’s Saturday morning children’s programming timeslot, consisting of three hours, is filled by syndicator Litton Entertainment, which produces the E/I-compliant Litton Weekend Adventure block of programming under an arrangement where the programming is syndicated out exclusively to ABC stations and affiliates, rather than being leased out directly by the network to Litton.
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, the ABC carries the ESPN Sports Saturday block on Saturdays, and on Sunday either encores of primetime reality series, burned off series which had no room in the primetime schedule, or theatrical films which were acquired in the early-mid 2000’s which no longer have a primetime slot to air in, in the afternoon hours, usually airing in the late afternoon between 4–6 pm ET/PT.
Notable ABC Daytime soaps of the past include All My Children (1970–2011), 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’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), Family Feud (1976–1985), The Better Sex (1977–1978), Trivia Trap (1984–1985), All-Star Blitz (1985) and Hot Streak (1986). During the 1990–91 season, a short-lived revival of Match Game became the last game show to be broadcast on ABC’s daytime lineup. However, ABC’s syndication wing distributes Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
 Children’s programming
For most of the network’s existence, in regards to children’s programming, the 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.
On September 13, 1997, the 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, the 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 as ABC Kids on September 14, 2002. By 2010, Power Rangers was the last program on ABC Kids that did not air on Disney Channel; it was removed on August 29, 2010, leaving affiliates with this slot. As of summer 2011, the entire ABC Kids lineup had been in reruns for several years, consisting primarily of reruns of shows that had already ended their runs on Disney Channel; no new episodes were added into rotation after approximately 2007 (as a result, shows such as Hannah Montana only had a limited number of episodes from their runs aired on ABC Kids, in the aforementioned show’s case, the first season’s episodes aired for four consecutive years).
In summer 2011, The Walt Disney Company announced its intentions to shift its focus on Saturday morning children’s programming to its cable outlet, Disney Channel. On June 18 of that year, Disney Channel launched Toonin’ Saturday, featuring that channel’s animated programming. ABC Kids was canceled in September, with ABC outsourcing its Saturday morning block to Litton Entertainment. Litton will produce the ABC Weekend Adventure, which will comprise E/I compliant live action programming, including new series by wildlife experts Jeff Corwin and Jack Hanna.
 ABC.com Full Episode Player
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 the 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 1280×720 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.
 ABC On Demand
On February 25, 2008, the 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.
ABC on Demand is also available on DirecTV channel 1007. All ABC shows are available for download through DirecTV’s On Demand service, free of charge.
ABC on Demand also arrived on TalkTalk TV in the UK via channel 6, previously home to C1, in December 2011. C1 closed down on October 31, 2011, to clear space for the ABC.
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 6:00 am to 6:00 pm 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 12:00 pm, which was earlier than the original closing date of October 1.
 See also
- ABC Daytime
- American Broadcasting Company logos
- ESPN on ABC
- List of ABC owned and affiliated television stations, arranged by market
- List of ABC owned and affiliated television stations, arranged by state
- List of programs broadcast by American Broadcasting Company
- List of shows previously aired by American Broadcasting Company
- List of United States broadcast television networks
- TGIF (ABC)