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Creator: NBC
Dun DUN dunn.

"What does NBC stand for? Never Believe your Contract."
Jay Leno, during both Tonight Show scandals (yes, both).

The National Broadcasting Company, owned by NBCUniversal (a unit of U.S. cable and mass-media giant Comcast), is the United States' oldest radio and TV network. NBC-TV is famous for its peacock logo, whose original purpose was to promote the network's "living color" broadcasts, and for this reason NBC is sometimes known as "The Peacock Network" or just "The Peacock". Originally founded by set manufacturer RCA to provide people who bought their radios something to listen to, NBC once had two radio networks: NBC Red and NBC Blue. In 1943, NBC Blue was split off into a separate entity by the FCC in an antitrust lawsuit, and went on to become ABC.

NBC was the first to take color television seriously: CBS had dabbled in it, but their system (which was more complex and required manually switching between black-and-white and color modes) was only ever experimented with for a few years before NBC's all-electronic system took off. NBC also had a tight grip on much of the U.S. radio landscape, holding up the adoption of FM radio for years (and ruining its inventor) because of fear it would put their mostly-AM network out of business. Due to the FCC not allowing non-broadcast companies to own both radio and television assets (General Electric had bought NBC in 1986), NBC finally exited the radio business in the late 1980s, selling what was left of the old NBC Red to Westwood One and the radio stations to various companies (mostly to Emmis Communications).

It has the most famous address in all of broadcasting 30 Rockefeller Center, New York, NY 10012 with not one but two shows named after it: 30 Rock (a Sitcom about TV comedy writers) and Rock Center (a Prime Time News Magazine Show filmed at the building).

But along the way? Hoo boy...

1976: The peacock leaves the building

On New Year's Day, NBC temporarily (as in, for four years) retired the peacock logo that had been used for the past two decades note  in favor of a stylized capital N for its broadcast of the Tournament of Roses parade. Unfortunately, NBC "acquired" said logo by "borrowing" it from the Nebraska Educational Television Network without bothering to ask or pay them. Nebraska ETV sued, and NBC settled, buying the logo for $1,000,000 in television equipment which Nebraska ETV had a lot more use for than their logo.

1977-81: NBC lays an egg (the Silverman era)

Before 1977, NBC had typically run a solid #2 to CBS. This all changed as ABC, with its popular Jiggle Shows and epic Mini Series, shot from last place to #1, leaving NBC with "older" shows like Little House on the Prairie. NBC hired Fred Silverman, the executive who had been responsible for ABC's turnaround, as president and CEO, and he tried gimmick after gimmick trying to increase ratings.

Some of the biggest flops in their history, such as Supertrain, Pink Lady And Jeff, and the 1980-81 season of Saturday Night Live, date from this era, with only a few successes (Real People, Diff'rent Strokes) to speak of. The final straw was the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, which prompted the US Olympic team to boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics and NBC, having pretty much bet the farm on Olympic programming that year, found itself broadcasting an event that Americans, without the home team to root for, couldn't care less about (it only did a grudging Clip Show to keep the diehards who couldn't care less about politics happy). Between RCA funding pie-in-the-sky projects like the SelectaVision video disc, the shift in TV sales from US brands to Japanese brands note , and NBC's continued poor performance, some people wondered if the network would be shut down or sold off to keep RCA from going bankrupt.

Indeed, even much of NBC's own staff thought little of Silverman. On Saturday Night Live, series writer and occasional performer Al Franken satirized Silverman in a May 10, 1980 Weekend Update commentary titled "A Limo For The Lame-O" (part of an ongoing series of commentaries about the 1980s being "the Al Franken decade"), calling Silverman "a total unequivocal failure" and showing a chart of the top 20 network shows, pointing out that there were no big N's on the list under the "Network" heading; he further said that because of this, Silverman didn't deserve a limo but Franken himself did. Silverman, ostensibly not one to take a joke, nixed Lorne Michaels' request that Franken succeed him as executive producer of SNL, which not only killed any hope of the 1980s truly being the Al Franken decade, but caused Michaels to be replaced with Jean Doumanian instead, leading to the show's Dork Age in the 1980-81 season.

Later in 1980, network staff went so far as to use the same production studio and vocalists that did the network's "We're Proud!" campaign song and make a hilarious parody mocking their boss, which was sent to affiliates for Christmas. After Don Imus played it on his radio show in early 1981, the fun stopped immediately and Silverman (now even less amused then he was at Franken) ordered all copies of the song destroyed. That worked about as well as his attempts to boost ratings i.e., not at all.

In 1981, following the departure of Chuck Woolery from Wheel of Fortune note , Silverman strongly opposed series creator Merv Griffin's choice of Pat Sajak (at the time, a weatherman at KNBC), claiming he was "too local". Merv's response was to stop production of Wheel.

1981-2004: Must-See TV; NBC becomes #1; the GE merger

Shortly afterward, Silverman was finally ousted and NBC quickly turned itself around, hiring MTM Enterprises co-founder Grant Tinker note  as chairman and CEO along with Brandon Tartikoff as president of NBC Entertainment, hoping to end the tide of bad shows. Together, the decisions of Tinker and Tartikoff ended up creating a golden age for NBC; despite a few false starts in 1982 and especially 1983 (when not one show that premiered that year lasted a full season), the Must-See-TV block of sitcoms hit its stride in 1984.

Must-See-TV reigned supreme on Thursday nights for well over a decade, helping the network take #1 in the ratings several years in a row. This two-hour block of primetime included, over the course of The Eighties and The Nineties, such popular shows as Family Ties (1982-89), Cheers (1982-93), Night Court (1984-92), The Cosby Show (1984-92), Seinfeld (1989-98), Frasier (1993-2004), and Friends (1994-2004).

In 1986 when the network commemorated its 60th anniversary, the very end of the show saw the copyright-infringing "N" logo (by that time, merged in with a re-done version of the Peacock inserted in 1979 at Silverman's insistence) dispensed with, and the unveiling of the 6-feathered Peacock logo featuring the main primary and secondary colors most viewers know NBC for today.

The high point came in the 1988-89 season, when NBC won every week in the ratings for more than twelve months straight (a record that still stands), and had eighteen of the top thirty TV shows. The 90s were also the period in which NBC's Dateline news-magazine show is considered to have been at its peak; during that period, it was fairly well-respected and did manage some solid reporting in between its more tabloid pieces (even bringing home the occasional award for the network). Sadly, however, Tinker never properly enjoyed the trappings of the successes at NBC which he had greenlit, having resigned from the network in 1986 to resume independent production.

However, even as NBC itself recovered, RCA never got better. When General Electric bought them in 1986, it was mainly for NBC. GE promptly sold the consumer and broadcast electronics divisions to French electronics maker Thomson, the transistor and microchip factories to Harris/Intersil, and the music business to what is now Sony Music. NBC gained an owned-and-operated station from GE, in Denver's KCNC-TV (now a CBS O&O due to a transaction involving Philadelphia's WCAU-TV).

2000-12: NBC crashes and burns; the Late Night War; sale to Comcast

After 2000, ratings on NBC started to slip across the board, and the glory days of the 1980s-90s gave way to years of seemingly intractable poor performance. The once-invincible Thursday night block faced stiff competition in the ratings by Survivor and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation on CBS and by Grey's Anatomy on ABC, causing the network to slip into fourth place with ratings more like those on The CW than the other three major networks.

However, this came with a consolation prize: NBC was praised by viewers and critics for frequently pulling off cases of Network to the Rescue, protecting critically- and cultly-adored shows even if they were struggling in the ratings. It's not like they had anything better, after all. During this time, the Thursday night block would be composed of shows like Scrubs (2001-08, ABC afterwards), The Office (2005-13), My Name Is Earl (2005-09), 30 Rock (2006-13), Parks and Recreation (2009-present), and Community (2009-14). The network seemed to be coming back with the success of Heroes, but a troubled Seasons 2-3 caused the show's ratings to sink like a rock, ultimately turning the big-budget series into a financial vacuum for the network that led to its cancellation after Season 4.

In 2009, in an effort to cut costs and get back on track, NBC made the controversial (and, in hindsight, utterly stupid) decision of giving Jay Leno five Prime Time slots per week for a new Variety Show, The Jay Leno Show note . This was the first time that a network scheduled the same show five nights a week since The Fifties, and the response was both immediate and brutal. TV fans cried foul at NBC's decision, saying that it was a lose-lose situation for both the network and television in general. If Leno failed, the network would have to surrender a third of its Prime Time lineup to its biggest flop since Supertrain... but if it succeeded, then the other networks (pressed by falling ratings and advertiser revenue) would follow NBC's lead, making even more cuts to scripted programming in favor of more reality shows. Feeling that the loss of only one network was preferable to what they saw as the corruption of the entire TV landscape, many people actively cheered for Leno to fail.

They got their wish the following January when the show's meager, shrinking ratings, combined with fuming network affiliates (justifiably angry that Leno's poor ratings were dragging down their nightly news broadcasts), pushed NBC to cancel Leno... and move Jay back to 11:35. This led to a massive clash with Tonight Show host Conan O'Brien, who resented that his show would be moved forward by a half-hour to make room for a retooled Leno, which wouldn't help its own struggling ratings situation. O'Brien ultimately left NBC, and Leno returned to Tonight in March 2010. NBC ended the 2009-10 season in the worst shape it had been in since the 1979-80 season only a small handful of new shows (such as Community and Parenthood) were renewed for a second season, while the 2010 Winter Olympics proved to be a quarter-billion-dollar money pit not unlike that of 30 years earlier.

In 2009, GE decided it wanted out and put NBC Universal up for sale; in early December, after months of talks, it was announced that Comcast would get 51% of the company (a controlling interest), with GE keeping the rest. The deal was approved by the FCC in January 2011, but with conditions placed on the deal related to Comcast's high-speed Internet service note , as well as a promise not to restrict access to Comcast-owned channels to other service providers. NBC also relinquished a management role in Hulu, making it a silent partner. In 2013, GE shed the rest of its shares in NBCUniversal, giving Comcast 100% control over The Peacock Network (a fact that has been indicated by Comcast using the NBC logo in its own corporate logo as of 2012). It is not yet known whether the sale will help or hurt NBC in its programming ratings, but one of Comcast's first decisions was to fire former network CEO Jeff Zucker, who bore a lot of the blame for NBC's poor performance in the late 2000s and was a key behind-the-scenes figure in the aforementioned late-night wars. Zucker has since moved onto CNN, where he's trying to grab NBC News talent to reform that channel into his own vision.

2012-present: NBC achieves a victory...and then fails hard

Surprisingly, NBC managed to turn around its fortunes for a little bit, winning the sweeps month of November 2012 for their first November sweeps victory since 2003.

Unfortunately, this high was short-lived come February sweeps, where NBC did so badly that it fell to fifth place...behind Univision (which, we should note, is a Spanish-language station); Univision, which also ranked #1 among Hispanic-Americans, did a promo touting that success and the fact it was the first time a Spanish-language network had beaten NBC...and all in English.

NBC's fortunes were only magnified on February 28, 2013 when WKYC channel 3, the NBC affiliate (and former NBC O&O/farm station until the late 1990s when Gannett (formerly Multimedia) bought the rest of the station from NBC) in Cleveland presumably fed up with the low ratings but also having some local ad inventory to get out decided to push back a new episode of 1600 Penn and repeats of The Office and Law & Order: SVU to late night in favor of a two-hour Matlock movie from 1992. The station not only got some ad revenue, but something unexpected to crow about a 21-year-old TV movie got ratings on par with the Office repeat's national average and beat 1600 Penn's average on 56 NBC stations. It even managed, at least on a local level, to beat out ABC's programming (a Scandal repeat and a Jimmy Kimmel Live Oscar Special) in those same timeslots for the Men 25-54 demographic and tie Kimmel's rating in the general 18-34 demographic. The net result was that Andy Griffith still had a lot of pull, shaming those who left him out of the Oscars' "In Memoriam" segment.

Thankfully this was in short-lived, and with the help of the Olympics in 2014, NBC's winter and spring of 2014 did considerably better, coming in first in the main 18-49 demo.

Cable Networks

There are three cable networks currently bearing the NBC name:

  • The first is MSNBC, a 24-Hour News Network (not "Miss NBC"). Originally, the MS stood for Microsoft, and the channel flittered through multiple themes trying to find something to hold on to. Currently, and most successfully, it's the left-wing alternative to the Fox News Channel, featuring commentary programs hosted by Rachel Maddow and, formerly, Keith Olbermann. Less successful is their weekend programming, which consists almost of all old episodes of Dateline NBC and Lockup a prison doc show.
  • The second is CNBC, the Consumer News and Business Channel (not "Cable NBC") which is 24 hours of financial news on weekdays and infomercials and business documentaries on weekends (when there is no stock market activity). CNBC also predates MSNBC by seven years; it was a relatively unknown and unpopular channel until NBC bought its older and better-known rival, the Financial News Network, out of bankruptcy in 1991.
  • Third is the NBC Sports Network, known as the Outdoor Life Network until 2005 and Versus until the start of 2012. Will be the cable linchpin in NBC's Olympics coverage in the future, and is the main home of the National Hockey League and cycling coverage in the States such as the full run of the Tour de France. The NBC Sports Network (with the help of Telemundo, along with NBC broadcasting some games) became the exclusive American English-language source for the English Premier League (with Spanish-language sister station Telemundo becoming the exclusive American Spanish-language source), starting with the EPL's 2013-2014 season, coverage that was lauded for being respectful to the game compared to ESPN & Fox/Fox Soccer's spotty coverage. Another coup was NBC getting the NASCAR rights formerly belonging to ESPN in the 2015 season for the last half of the year, which includes the Nationwide series and plenty of Sprint Cup races that won't interfere with NBC's NFL coverage (the network had NASCAR from 2001-2006, when the NFL rights and a lack of a second network to move NASCAR to meant NBC had to give up on racing). While NBC tries to get better sports rights for their new network (by way of Comcast), you mainly know this channel outside of the NHL for airing plenty of outdoor programming like the programs of Bill Dance and Tred Barta, and sports-themed movies (expect that last one to go pretty quickly on).
  • The last was formerly ShopNBC, which was named "ValueVision" until NBC bought a majority interest in the network. It's not too different from QVC or HSN. Comcast quickly dumped off its interest in 2013 to another party, and now the network is known as ShopHQ without any ties to NBC.

NBC also owns many other channels, among them Syfy, USA (home of shows like Monk and Psych), Bravo, Oxygen, E!, Golf Channel, The Weather Channel (which is actually a joint venture between NBC Universal and two private equity firms), G4 (recently planned to become the Esquire Network, but sister network Style became Esquire instead; it's currently a zombie network waiting for the last carriage deal to run out), and Sprout. Through Comcast they also own plenty of regional sports and news networks. This means that there is often some synergization between the networks, such as former Comcast channel Versus becoming the NBC Sports Network and Golf Channel and Sprout getting their own blocks on NBC (Golf Channel on NBC and NBC Kids, respectively). Local stations with a Comcast Sportsnet in the market also have had their sports department merged in for cost efficiencies.

Whereas Touchstone/Buena Vista Television and Paramount Television eventually took on corporate names to match their partners (ABC Studios and CBS Television Studios respectively), NBC's in-house productions like Smash and 30 Rock now go out under the Universal Television banner alongside actual Universal-produced series like House and Parenthood (as did The Office, a genuine NBC/Universal co-production). Filler documentaries made up of old Dateline episodes, along with other pop culture interview programs for networks such as E! and the Discovery networks, are produced by a division of NBC News known as Peacock Productions.

NBC's Olympic coverage

Having sparred with CBS for coverage contracts through The Nineties, NBC has been the exclusive American broadcast home for the Summer and Winter Olympic Games since 2000 (the Summer Games exclusively since the 1988 Games in Seoul), something that they are notoriously bad at. Their coverage of the 1992 Barcelona Games included three pay-per-view channels, known as the Olympic Triplecast, that most people weren't willing to pay for, and it was suspected that NBC's coverage was deliberately made terrible to get people to buy the package. Though the company's cable sister channels allow for multiple events, their Olympic coverage focuses on sports that have a lot of media attention, or a sport Americans happen to be particularly competitive at in an average Summer Games, you'll see a lot of Men's Swimming or Women's Gymnastics but not nearly as much Softball or Archery. NBC has been accused of creating a Human Interest Story narrative to competitions, and focusing almost entirely on Team USA to the wide exclusion of other nations (their promos for golf's Ryder and Presidents Cups aren't much less partial). During the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, NBC was also accused of exploiting the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, constantly replaying footage of his fatal crash.

Olympic broadcasts are a textbook example of Old Media Playing Catch-Up. They are often Live But Delayed by many, many hours (around 16 hours for the Beijing opening ceremonies) until the American prime time where the most advertising dollars are. NBC recently persuaded the International Olympic Committee to schedule more popular events live at times more acceptable to Americans to avoid spoilers, but even then the east-west time zone delay means three hours between when viewers in New York and those in Los Angeles see the same event and, hence, news of history being made means that half the country is spoiled. This issue was a huge bone of contention for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, where the West Coast saw events on tape delay that happened in their own time zone! Networks are usually given more leeway when Games are on the other side of the world.

Finding other methods to watch the Olympics is becoming increasingly common among fans, and those in the northern border states just watch the Games from Canada and miss all the squabbling and complaining (thank you, CBC). NBC itself is glad to subsidize this process by maintaining a website where full live video is available presuming your ISP has paid for the privilege. They own a network called Universal Sports which features Olympic sports 24/7, which moved from broadcast digital subchannel distribution at the start of 2012 to cable-only (much to the relief of viewers, as in that guise the video quality seemed to be worse than a web stream due to limited bandwidth). When the United States Olympic Committee dared to suggest they wanted to create their own cable network with Comcast, NBC's whining to daddy (in this case, the International Olympic Committee), as well as Comcast buying control of NBC, made sure that idea was quashed very quickly.

Effectively it sort of worked out in the end for the "Olympic network" idea, as Versus' rebranding into the NBC Sports Network and move of Universal Sports to cable means they have two channels to plug in Olympic events near all the time.

In May 2014, NBC and the IOC pretty much shocked everybody by announcing that the Olympics would remain on NBC and their sister networks until 2032 in an unprecedented deal which pretty much means that NBC is the major funder of the Olympic movement; in other countries the rights are purchased by each individual Olympiad due to budget concerns. Assuming there even is an NBC over-the-air in 2032 (the deal accounts for the eventuality that TV might be much different then), this means that nearly half of the Olympics in the television age would air on NBC, with anyone born after 1990 not even associating it with another network.

    Shows by NBC 

Other ventures

NBC is a partner in the video site Hulu (along with News Corp., Comcast, and The Walt Disney Co.), which hosts free (albeit with commercial interruption) videos of many of its past and present shows.

NBC also offered "NBC Weather Plus", a system allowing affiliates to carry a 24-hour local weather service on one of their digital subchannels (with automated local and national content); promptly discontinued following NBC's purchase of The Weather Channel in 2008. Eventually, these were replaced on NBC-owned stations by Nonstop channels, local-news oriented channels whose formula began in New York City, and was later implemented on the network's owned-and-operated stations in Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, California (a shared feed for San Diego, San Francisco, and Southern California), and Miami-Fort Lauderdale. However, these were killed off in 2013 in favor of Cozi TV, a classic TV-oriented network with the advantage of access to the NBC Universal library. (Some continue to broadcast local news, normally at 7PM, and branded (city/region name) Nightly News.)

NBC has also produced a few theatrical movies, but none of them Code Name: Emerald, Who's Harry Crumb? (a co-production with TriStar), Elvira: Mistress Of The Dark, Satisfaction (in partnership with Aaron Spelling, no less) made much of an impact.

Shouldn't be confused with the Nagasaki Broadcasting Corporation, a Japanese TV station sharing the same initials. Also not to be confused with the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation, you know, just in case you do. Or what people in the United States knew mainly as "NBC" until the 1930s, the National Biscuit Company. And heaven forbid you confuse it for the old abbreviation for weapons of mass destructionthey're not doing that bad.
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alternative title(s): NBC
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