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The Rise of Cable Programming in the United States

Revolution or Evolution?

By Megan Mullen

Publication Year: 2003

In 1971, the Sloan Commission on Cable Communications likened the ongoing developments in cable television to the first uses of movable type and the invention of the telephone. Cable’s proponents in the late 1960s and early 1970s hoped it would eventually remedy all the perceived ills of broadcast television, including lowest-common-denominator programming, inability to serve the needs of local audiences, and failure to recognize the needs of cultural minorities. Yet a quarter century after the "blue sky" era, cable television programming closely resembled, and indeed depended upon, broadcast television programming. Whatever happened to the Sloan Commission’s "revolution now in sight"? In this book, Megan Mullen examines the first half-century of cable television to understand why cable never achieved its promise as a radically different means of communication. Using textual analysis and oral, archival, and regulatory history, she chronicles and analyzes cable programming developments in the United States during three critical stages of the medium’s history: the early community antenna (CATV) years (1948–1967), the optimistic "blue sky" years (1968–1975), and the early satellite years (1976–1995). This history clearly reveals how cable’s roots as a retransmitter of broadcast signals, the regulatory constraints that stymied innovation, and the economic success of cable as an outlet for broadcast or broadcast-type programs all combined to defeat most utopian visions for cable programming.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v

Table of Contents

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xiii

Between 1948 and 1995, cable television in the United States grew from a form of basic antenna service for isolated, rural communities into a nationwide entertainment and information medium, capable of providing hundreds of diverse channels of programming. Cable changed in terms of the technology it uses, its regulatory status, its industrial structure, people’s uses for it, and many other factors. ...

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1 Cable History and Television Theory

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pp. 1-28

In an important 1971 policy proposal, The Sloan Commission on Cable Communications likened the ongoing developments in cable television to the first uses of movable type and the invention of the telephone. They urged a complete overhaul of existing cable policy, referring to such a measure as “the revolution now in sight” (2). ...

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2 Community Antenna Television, 1948–1968

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pp. 29-63

In his influential 1964 book, Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan observed that “the ‘content’ of any medium is always another medium.” McLuhan’s statement reminds us that new media do not enter society as tabulae rasae; instead they are introduced to improve upon the functions already performed by existing media. ...

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3 New Directions for Cable,1968–1975

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pp. 64-93

In spite of dramatic technological innovation that would shape cable in the late 1970s, after the introduction of communications satellites to the industry, the years from 1968 to 1975 arguably were the period in which cable changed the most. During these years policies, programming precedents, and industrial structures were established that would guide the development of cable programming during the satellite era. ...

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4 The Rise of Satellite Cable,1975–1980

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pp. 94-127

The 1975 satellite debut of Home Box Office might be described as a revolution in cable programming since this was the first instance of a non-broadcast-based cable network becoming available to audiences nationwide. Indeed, this pioneering use of satellite technology for a pay-cable network—an event that marked the beginning of modern cable television—was a breakthrough in cable communications. ...

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5 Broadcast Television’s Resource-Starved Imitator,1980–1995 PART I

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pp. 128-153

As the previous chapters demonstrate, the U.S. cable industry evolved considerably in its first three decades—from a rural retransmission medium to a multichannel supplement to broadcast television. This reflects the coming together of a distinct industry as well as the increasing consolidation of operations within that industry; as cable operators increasingly shared profit-generating ideas, cable increasingly carved out its own niche within the larger entertainment industry. ...

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6 A Scheduling and Programming Innovator,1980–1995 PART II

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pp. 154-184

Today’s cable networks unquestionably bear evidence of the medium’s historical dependence on broadcast television—certainly more than policymakers of the 1960s and 1970s would have predicted or planned. Yet a consideration of modern cable programming practices also would not be complete without a look at how cable networks have differentiated themselves within the larger world of televised entertainment and information. ...

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7 Cable Television’s Past, Present, and Future: Cable Programming’s Historical Imperative

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pp. 185-196

In spite of its many promotion and scheduling innovations, U.S. cable programming sometimes has been perceived as a failure or, perhaps, a series of compromises. In large part, this is due to the tremendous optimism and idealism generated during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the period in cable history known as “Blue Sky.” ...


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pp. 197-211


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pp. 213-221


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pp. 223-229

E-ISBN-13: 9780292798526
E-ISBN-10: 0292798520
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292752726
Print-ISBN-10: 0292752725

Page Count: 245
Illustrations: 5 tables
Publication Year: 2003