A look back at the headlines from 20 years ago proves the old saw about television being a cyclical business. And history can provide insight into the future. So leading up to TelevisionWeek’s commemorative silver-anniversary issue on May 21, we’re reviewing the biggest headlines from two decades ago.
The ever-embattled Nielsen ratings service was even then continually adapting to a changing television landscape:
ABC Kills its Contract with Nielsen
Jan. 12, 1987: In a surprise move, the ABC Television Network announced last week it would cancel its contract for national Nielsen ratings, effective in September. ABC officials said they were fed up with what they perceived as Nielsen’s declining standards. At the same time, in what both companies say is a separate development, A.C. Nielsen Co. last week told clients it will drop its current diaries and switch solely to People Meters, also starting in September.
The average annual pay in the broadcasting industry in most cases was well below six figures:
TV Pay Hikes Lag Behind Radio in RTNDA Poll
March 2, 1987: Radio and TV news salaries rose overall in 1986, but the rate of increase in TV was down and lagged far behind that of radio. According to a new study by the Radio-Television News Directors Association … the average television anchor in the top 25 TV markets made about $64,000 annually last year. … Television anchors who were the highest paid at their stations had a median salary of $108,000 in the largest markets. … Television news directors on average earned $57,100 in the 25 largest markets and $28,000 in the 64 smallest markets.
Laurence Tisch’s wholesale budget cuts at CBS News caused waves that are still being felt in the division:
CBS News Cuts Rankle Rank and File
March 9, 1987: The rank and file at CBS News, led by top anchor Dan Rather, are reacting with anger and concern to last week’s announcement of restructuring and cutbacks at the division. The restructuring … will cut at least 200 more jobs and … will result in a budget cutback of more than $30 million, or 10 percent of the division’s estimated $300 million annual budget.
The Fox Network made its prime-time debut, forever ending the longtime three-network lock on the American television industry:
Fox Prime-Time Premiere Set for Sunday
March 30, 1987: The new Fox TV network makes its prime-time debut this Sunday, while the company wrestles with a variety of start-up problems. Fox will launch its first two series, Embassy’s “Married … With Children” and Gracie Films’ “The Tracey Ullman Show,” on April 5 on stations reaching 84 percent of the country. … Garth Ancier, senior vice president of programming, confirmed that “more than $500,000” was lost when he and Executive Producer Stephen J. Cannell fired the star of Mr. Cannell’s “21 Jump Street” after eight days of shooting.
After her King World strip’s fall 1986 debut, Oprah Winfrey was already entrenched on her ascent to the apex of television stardom:
Hot ‘Oprah’ Has ‘Donahue’ Sweating
April 13, 1987: “The Oprah Winfrey Show” is soaring in the ratings to the extent that the producers of “Donahue” are looking for ways to reduce head-on competition between the two shows. “Donahue” suffered a setback last week when WBBM-TV in Chicago announced it would not renew its contract with Multimedia Entertainment, “Donahue’s” producer. … “The Oprah Winfrey Show” surged to a 10.7 overall rating (percentage of TV households) from its 7.7 rating in November, nearly a 40 percent increase, according to the A.C. Nielsen Co.’s Cassandra ratings of syndicated shows for February, released last week.