Now on a six-month exchange visit to KYW-TV 3, a TV station of the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company Inc. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is researcher JEREMY TAYLOR. In this article, he writes about television in America and his life there. As always in Fusion, the views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Rediffusion, London.
There is one major difference between television here and in Britain. In America the competition for advertising makes programme people become more aware of markets, ratings and sales.
Philadelphia is the fourth largest market in the USA, after New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. We have three VHF stations affiliated to the three networks, NBC, CBS, and ABC, an educational channel and three UHF stations.
Since the advertising rates for each station are based on the ratings it means that we get more programmes with mass appeal and comparatively little with a limited interest. There are no plays at all now on any of the networks, and increasingly each day’s viewing becomes more and more filled by feature films. Watching television here can be one film after another, and it is surprising how many ‘B’ feature films from the 1950’s are now getting their ‘Philadelphia TV Premier’. But it really is not so surprising when you remember, for example, that WFIL TV, the ABC affiliate in Philadelphia, is on the air 21 hours a day.
KYW TV, the Westinghouse Station, and NBC affiliate, does three major news programmes a day – 12 noon, 6 p.m., and 11 p.m. The noon programme is local and aimed at the housewife, 6 p.m. is the major local news of the day, and 11 p.m. is local, national and international. At 6.30 p.m. there is Huntley- Brinkley, with NBC’s national and international news. So each night between 6-11.30 on any Philadelphia network channel there are at least one-and-a-half hours of news. The increase in the length of national and local news programmes to half an hour, and in some cases to an hour, has meant the virtual disappearance of the weekly background news and feature programme, since both interpretation and background reporting are now in the newscasts themselves. Additionally Westinghouse, and some other stations, have editorials twice a week after the local news. These are done by the general manager of the station on local issues. They also give time to opposing interests to the editorial. Despite the lack of regular weekly programmes the air is thick with network and local ‘specials’ on every sort of subject from comparing education in Britain and the USA, to politics in Pennsylvania.
The current fashion, this season, is what a National Educational Television programme on ‘Television in the USA’ called, ‘quiz shows for adults’ – the testing programme. This is a new concept in television which enables the viewer at home to take an active part in the programme. In the past three months we have been tested by the networks on our perception and observation, income tax returns, and politics.
You sit at home with the TV Guide, the equivalent of TV Times, and fill out your answers on a specially printed page. Before the programme national surveys are carried out and printed so as the test goes along you can tell if you are brighter than attorneys in Chicago, or stupider than New York cab drivers. At the end of the programme you count your score, compare it to the national survey figures and you can see instantly if you are an average American or not.
These programmes grow out of an American desire for, and awareness of, education. For example, the income tax test was held the night before the deadline for the returns this year. As part of the programme they showed a film of classes being held in High School on how to fill in returns. The questions put to the class were also the questions put to the viewer in one section of the test.
It was easier to answer the income tax questions because KYW Newsradio, for three weeks before income tax day, carried a series of public service announcements giving advice on how to fill up the return. But this is only a fractional part of what Newsradio does; it covers the news live for 24 hours a day non-stop for ever. Working there you feel guilty because you can never arrive to start the day, and when you leave there are always others carrying on working.
But at the present my favourite programme is ‘Batman’. This is the serialised adventures of disguised millionaire Bruce Wayne, and his ward, Robin, who dedicate their lives to fighting all criminals and wrong-doers. Their crusades against the evil ‘Joker’ and ‘Penguin’ and other terrible villains who threaten the safety of the good people of Gotham City make great adventures. The ‘Dynamic Duo’, Batman and Robin, are based on the comic strips of the early 1950’s and they have now become quite the rage here.
In the end America is the country where it matters to a psychiatrist what people write on a display typewriter outside Olivetti in Fifth Avenue. It is the country where computer engineers are now starting to move in and live with their machines complete with their pet poodles and alligators. It is the country where ‘What’s My Line?’ has been running for 17 years. And it is the country where, when the Huntley-Brinkley show went to colour, there was an increase in viewers with black and white sets.