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Creator: CBS

From 1928 (when it originated on radio) until 1974, this network was officially known as the Columbia Broadcasting System. Now called just CBS, it has been owned by Westinghouse and by Viacom. Its eye logo (known internally as the "Eyemark") is among the most widely recognized corporate logos; based on old Shaker art, the logo premiered on CBS-TV in 1951, and eventually became the symbol for the entire company.

The postwar golden age and the "rural purge" (~1950-1984)

In its heyday, CBS was known as the "Tiffany network." It was the undisputed ratings champion (a streak that had started with I Love Lucy in The Fifties and stretched into The Sixties), its news operations were among the most respected in the world with great journalists like Edward R Murrow, and it owned quite a few side businesses unrelated to broadcasting, such as Columbia/CBS Records, Fender Guitars, Ideal Toys and even the New York Yankees.

Through the '60s, its primetime programs were mostly rural-themed sitcoms, such as The Beverly Hillbillies, The Andy Griffith Show and Green Acres, but the rise of demographics in the late '60s produced a decision to project a more urbane image and reach for a younger, more urban/suburban, more marketer-friendly demographic. This led CBS to cancel all these shows and more en masse in 1971, in what came to be known as the "rural purge." While this went on at NBC and ABC as well, it was especially pronounced at CBS, the network most associated with such shows. Pat Buttram, who played Mr. Haney on Green Acres, commented that "it was the year CBS canceled everything with a tree." A number of these shows survived in syndication, but the landscape of CBS and the networks in general was far more urban than it had been just a year or two prior.

Nevertheless, the rural purge worked. CBS' replacements for its canceled rural-themed shows, such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and All in the Family, got the ratings that they wanted and became classics in their own right. Even as ABC boomed in the '70s and took the top spot, CBS continued to do well, sitting comfortably in second place right into the early 1980s, with several classic TV shows such as Mash and All in the Family's many spinoffs (The Jeffersons, Maude, and Good Times) carrying the load handily. They even indulged in genre TV in the late 1970s, especially the Super Hero one with shows like Wonder Woman, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk, until the executives got worried at being labeled "The Super Hero Network" and canceled them all except for Hulk.

The Dork Age (1984-2000)

Things changed rapidly as NBC roared to Number 1 in 1984-1985 with its Thursday night lineup. CBS was heavily invested in dramas such as Dallas and Murder, She Wrote, with only a few sitcoms (such as Newhart) to speak of. Aside from the odd Peanuts or Garfield special, pretty much everything CBS ran attracted much older audiences than NBC or ABC, leading to many jokes about CBS being "the network for the living dead".

CBS was ripe for a takeover during this time. Ted Turner attempted a hostile takeover of the network, and failed. Loews (the same company that had owned Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer during its heyday) bought a controlling interest in the company in 1985, and installed its co-owner Laurence Tisch as CEO. CBS had debt that resulted from trying to block Turner's takeover, and the cost-cutting and money-raising that followed saw CBS selling many of its side businesses to focus on broadcasting; the biggest one, CBS Records, went to Sony in 1987 (which has caused some confusion due to Sony buying unrelated Columbia Pictures two years later).

In 1993, CBS signed David Letterman, who had left his show Late Night (to Conan O'Brien) on NBC after being shafted out of The Tonight Show job by his former friend Jay Leno despite Letterman being retiring Tonight Show host Johnny Carson's preferred choice for his replacement (something Carson never forgave either Leno or NBC for). His Late Show with David Letterman was an immediate ratings success, destroying Leno in numbers thanks to his younger fan following, but Leno soon began to win the 11:30 slot in 1995 after his interview with Hugh Grant. Despite this Letterman's show is one of CBS' biggest ratings hits, along with the The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson which airs immediately after.

By the mid-1990s, CBS mainly had its weekend sports coverage to fall back on, and when they lost rights to the NFL in 1994, the joke became "Can't Broadcast Sports". Not helping matters was CBS losing a number of key affiliates (Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee, Dallas and others) to Fox, leaving them to find affiliation elsewhere, many on UHF channels. Still without any solid hits, CBS ended up merging with Westinghouse note  in 1995; this was prefaced by a deal that switched three note  of Westinghouse's five stations to CBS.note  A further merger occured, this time with Viacom (CBS's own former distribution arm) in 2000. This was initially complicated by the fact that Viacom already owned half of UPN, and both CBS and UPN had owned-and-operated stations in many of the same markets (Philadelphia, Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Detroit, Miami, and Pittsburgh). Viacom cleared this hurdle when the FCC legalized duopolies, leading to the two networks becoming corporate siblings. CBS regained the NFL in 1998 when it agressively outbid NBC for their expiring rights, while NBC attempted (and failed) to get the rights to Monday Night Football.

Return to success (2000-present)

In the Turn of the Millennium, CBS started turning itself around, debuting the megahits Survivor and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation in 2000, and following them up over the next few years with a number of hit police procedurals (including CSI's two spinoffs) and sitcoms. The network recovered from the abyss, running neck-and-neck with Fox for the number one spot in the ratings, and started becoming popular with younger audiences again... just as network television viewership overall started to decline with the rise of New Media. That said, CBS seems to be handling the new media shift far better than the new Viacom has; they've invested heavily in streaming, going as far as putting several classic Paramount/Desilu shows (which were retained by CBS after Paramount's film studio was allocated to the new Viacom in the split) such as Star Trek: The Original Series and MacGyver up for viewing, and also bought CNET Networks' family of websites in 2007, rebranding it as CBS Interactive (this subsidiary also includes GameFAQs, Last.fm, Metacritic and TV.com, in addition to the various CNET websites). Nevertheless, the old joke about being the "network for the living dead" arose again in the early 2010s, as its shows became increasingly formulaic and became staples for older viewers, causing a shift to older demographics. However, this is now a winning strategy—after all, who watches network TV nowadays?

At the end of 2005, Viacom renamed itself "CBS Corporation" and split off another company that took the Viacom name (at least in name, as Viacom and CBS Corp. are both subsidiaries of National Amusements, Inc.), and under this guise, CBS also owns Showtime and The Smithsonian Channel, along with the CBS Sports Network, which mainly carries college sports. CBS also owns a half interest in The CW (which stands for "The Columbia-Warner Network") as part of the WB/UPN merger, with Warner Bros. holding the other half, with some CBS-owned stations carrying that network.

The end of 2009 saw the CBS brand enter the United Kingdom, in an agreement with the broadcaster Chello Zone, launching four channels.

CBS News

During the 1950s and 1960s, CBS had, arguably, the greatest television news department in the world. With anchors like Edward R. Murrow (the man who fought Joe McCarthy and won) and Walter Cronkite ("The Most Trusted Man in America"), and shows like 60 Minutes, CBS News ruled the roost. Their CBS Reports specials became famous. In 1960, Murrow's CBS Reports documentary Harvest of Shame showed the plight of American migrant agricultural workers, and is acknowledged as one of the greatest news stories ever. Harvest of Shame forever changed the nature of TV news and set the tone for a generation of investigative journalists.

Unfortunately, not only was there was little money in such programs, but they usually managed to upset corporate sponsors. Coca-Cola, for example, refused to purchase advertising on CBS for years after Harvest of Shame. Fearing that other sponsors would follow suit, CBS allowed their news division to wither into irrelevance over the following decades, causing PBS (which didn't have corporate sponsors to answer to) to take up the mantle of investigative TV journalism in the United States. However there has been a bigger emphasis on their news department going towards a hard news direction after the end of the Dan Rather/Katie Couric era, with 60 Minutes anchor Scott Pelley moving to the Evening News, and the fact that CBS News dominates on Sundays but withers the rest of the week. This can be seen in their newscasts not going after the newest sordid scandal in the way ABC and NBC do, and CBS This Morning, which seems more comfortable with its lower audience with a news-bent program meant to compete more with Morning Joe and Fox & Friends than just playing Follow the Leader with the others.

Sports

CBS has had the exclusive broadcast rights to the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship since 1991, and the song "One Shining Moment", which they play at the closing of every tournament, has become synonymous with the Dance. In 2011 they split the tourney with Turner channels TBS, TNT and truTV to allow viewers to watch every game without interruptions, forcing fans to subscribe to DirecTV's pay-per-view "Mega March Madness" package, or saddling their affiliates with arranging a second channel to air spillover games. Emphasis on affiliates here; the network's owned-and-operated stations (which there are 14 of, almost all located in major markets) are crippled by the fact that they are not allowed to have digital subchannels (so as not to negatively impact the picture quality), further necessitating the Turner deal.

However, this is a big advantage for CBS' other programming, as their high quality HD signal isn't impeded by decades-old reruns or automated weather or live cross country skiing from Lithuania on subchannels like it is on NBC and ABC-owned stations. This means that you, the viewer, have the luxury of seeing every single wrinkle in Horatio Caine's face.note 

The network also carries the AFC side of the National Football League schedule on Sundays, along with The Masters golf tournament, tennis's U.S. Open, and sports from the Southeastern Conference, whose highly competitive football schedule has given it an audience just as large as for NFL events.


Shows on CBS:


One Saturday MorningNetworksCookie Jar TV
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alternative title(s): CBS
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