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TV Jargon (TV Industry Terminology)

A-D / E-Q / R-S / T-Z

A.C. Nielsen Ratings Service - The Nielsen ratings compiled by A.C. Nielsen are based on information gathered from 1200 sample households nationwide. A small electronic device called an audimeter (a.k.a. "the little black box") is attached to participating television sets and measured whether the TV set was turned on and which channel was tuned in. Viewing preference information is then fed through special phone lines to the Nielsen computer which records and tabulates the minute-to-minute viewing habits of these sample American families and then distributes the information to the wire services, advertisers, and other parties interested in the television industry. Each point on this survey represents 874,000 households. Beginning September 1, 1987, the traditional "Audimeter" devices were replaced by the People Meter, a more-complex machine used to determine additional viewing factors such as sex and age. On People Meters, a button must be punched before viewing, with separate buttons for parents, children and even visitors. A.C. Nielsen first began compiling national TV ratings in 1950. The People Meter is now the main data collection device used to determine national ratings. The A.C. Nielsen Service was founded in 1923 by Arthur C. Nielsen, Sr. (died in 1980). It is located at 1290 Avenue of the Americas in New York, NY 10104. See also - "Arbitron Rating Service" and "Rating Services"

Alan Smithee - Generic pseudonym (anagram for "The Alias Man") used in the television and movie industry to identify a director who worked on a film project but did not want his or her real name used on the screen credits of a film which may prove to be a bomb or too controversial. The Alan Smithee moniker was a "parachute for artistic heartbreak." Before a director can "take a Smithee," however, he must first take his case to the Director's Guild (who created Alan Smithee in 1969) and convince them that their artistic vision of the film project has been destroyed through interference by others. When the motion picture Dune (1984) originally directed by David Lynch was broadcast on television, the special 190-minute TV print credited the director's job to Alan Smithee

Anthology - A collection of non-episodic television programs with themes that reflect the series focus. The anthologies are often introduced by a host who guides the viewers through each weekly episode. Classic examples of the anthology format were ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS/CBS/NBC/1955-65, where the famed director introduced ("Good Evening") and concluded each suspense-filled episode; and the sci-fi anthology THE TWILIGHT ZONE/CBS/1959-65 hosted by Rod Serling ("That's a signpost up ahead. Your next stop...The Twilight Zone").

Arbitron Rating Service - The rating service of the Arbitron Ratings Company (a subsidiary of Control Data Corp) was introduced in January 1958. Arbitron (a competitor of the A.C. Nielsen Company) gathers audience viewing data, that provides individual surveys of television viewing preferences in over 200 marketing areas nationwide. Their information is obtained by mailing 800-2000 pocket diaries to random households who record their viewing habits and then return the diaries to Arbitron. Surveys are followed up by telephone and personal interviews. Arbitron also offers data on the number of households subscribing to Cable television networks. During the 1988-89 season Arbitron introduced a new rating device similar to the People Meter earlier introduced by A.C. Nielsen. The Arbitron Ratings Company is located in Metropolitan Tower at 142 West 57 Street in New York, NY 10019. See also - "A.C. Nielsen Rating Service"

Audience Studies, Inc. (ASI) - Based in Hollywood, this Sunset Strip preview house determines whether a prospective television program will be popular and whether the storylines/cast members will have audience appeal. Four hundred participants are given free viewings of new program ideas. In exchange they are asked to fill out forms providing information on their age, sex, education and income. While viewing the potpourri of programming participants operated a dial which indicated their pleasure or displeasure with what they were watching. The resulting gathered information helps production studios determine whether a specific new series pilot will sink or swim on television.

Audiences - According to Webster's Dictionary, an audience is a group of persons assembled or tuned-in to hear or see a speaker, concert, play, movie, radio or TV program. During the early days of television all programs, were broadcast with the benefit of a "Live" audience. With advent of video recording techniques, program performances were recorded before a live audience and then retransmitted at a later time. The first sitcom filmed in front of a live-audience was I LOVE LUCY on October 15, 1951.

Cable Television - Originally cable television known as CATV (Community Antenna Television) was created to transmit programming to those who could not receive over-the-air broadcast signals, especially those in rural mountainous areas. "Phonovision" broadcast the first pay television system on January 1, 1951 from station KS2KSBS under the direction of the Zenith Radio Corporation and the authority of the Federal Communications Commission. For a charge of only one dollar 300 families (chosen from 51,000 applicants) in the Chicago area received a total of three full length feature programs including April Showers starring Jack Carson (4:00 PM), Welcome Strangers starring Bing Crosby (7:00 PM) and finally Homecoming starring Clark Gable and Lana Turner (9:00 PM). In the fall of 1957, a theatre owner in Bartlesville, Oklahoma sent movies via wire to subscribing homes in the area for a monthly fee. This was one of the earliest Pay-TV experiments, considered a failure in its time. Since then HBO, SHOWTIME and other "Fee Vee" services have vigorously competed for a share of the viewing audience originally considered the domain of the ABC, CBS and NBC Networks. Home Box Office (HBO) was the first successful pay television network. Originally, it started as a pay-cable service in November 1972 on the cable system in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The three consistent money makers for the Cable Industry after a decade of red ink were NICKELODEON, MTV (Music Television), and CBN Cable Network.

Call Letters - Used to identify radio and television stations worldwide. In the United States call letters (or call signs) consist of four letters beginning with letter "W" (East of the Mississippi River) and "K" (West of the Mississippi River). Stations in Canada begin with "C" and with an "X" in Mexico. Some stations such as Pittsburgh's KDKA are exceptions to the rule. In 1983, the FCC no longer regulated the assignment of call letters and openly let radio and TV stations owners chose any call letters that were not yet being used.

Canned Laughter See "The Mackenzie"

Channel 1 - Ever wonder why you never see a Channel 1 on television. The answer is simple. Once upon a time the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) removed Channel 1 from television use and reassigned its broadcast frequency for mobile radios.

Channel Surfing - The term used to describe the art of browsing through TV channels via remote control to see what is on the boob tube-always making sure to avoid the dreaded commercials. Other terms used for this phenomenon are grazing, zipping (recording a program on a VCR and then scanning past the commercials) and zapping (quickly pushing the buttons on the remote control to eliminate a commercial or other uninteresting items that just came on the screen).

Code of Ethics, The - In October, 1951 these four basic rules to guide all producers on television programs were proposed by the National Association of Broadcasting (NAB). Adopted on March 1, 1952, they included 1) Shows will not sympathize with evil; 2) Shows will not degrade honesty, goodness and innocence; 3) Figures exercising lawful authority should not be ridiculed; 4) Law breakers must not go unpunished.

Cliff-hangers - Term inspired from the episodic serial movies such as the silent serial The Perils of Pauline (1914) that found the heroine (Pearl White) hanging from a cliff as the film ended with the message "To be continued." The cliff-hanger format was used in such theatrical releases as Flash Gordon, Superman and Commando Cody serials. An example of the cliff-hanger on television appeared in the fantasy drama BATMAN/ABC/1966-68 when each week Batman (Adam West) and the Robin the Boy Wonder (Burt Ward) found themselves trapped in some nefarious killing device as the announcer reminded the viewing audience to tune in next time at the "Same Bat-time, Same Bat channel" to see whether the Dynamic Duo escaped from their predicaments. Another example was the short-lived serial CLIFF HANGERS/NBC/1979 an umbrella title for three separate series STOP SUSAN WILLIAMS, THE SECRET EMPIRE and THE CURSE OF DRACULA that ran 20-minutes in length and concluded with a cliff-hanger ending to entice viewers to tune into the next episode.

Colorization - The computer process by which black and white film images are converted to color. Engineer Wilson Markle was one of the high-tech wizards responsible for creating the colorization process. During the 1960s and 1970s his company, Image Transform put color to black and white NASA space footage to add more interest to the lunar missions. In 1982, his company Colorization, Inc. of Toronto Canada (a subsidiary of Hal Roach Studios) devised the trademark "Colorization" process. Their leading competitor in the field was Color Systems Technology of Marina Del Rey, California headed by Ralph Weinger, another pioneer of color conversion. The Colorization process breaks down each frame of film into 525,000 dots which then are examined by an art director who assigns colors to objects, backgrounds and figures in the film. This new technology ruffled the feathers of some famous film directors and actors who believed that tampering with the integrity/legacy of the black & white films was tantamount to "cultural butchery." In October of 1986, the Directors Guild of America filed a 27-page brief with the US Copyright Office arguing against awarding copyrights to Colorization. The Turner Broadcasting System (TBS), owned by the controversial media millionaire Ted Turner, purchased a large number of old MGM films with the specific goal of colorizing them. He reasoned that younger audiences wouldn't watch black & white films but they would if these same films were in color. On the release of the colorized version of The Maltese Falcon (1941) in 1986, John Huston, the film's director stated "It's as though our children have been sold into slavery." Director Martin Scorsese compared colorization to defacing a Rembrandt. Milos Forman said "It's like putting aluminum siding on a 17th century castle" and Woody Allen remarked it was "Mutilation...criminal and ludicrous." One of the first uses of Colorization on television was the updated version of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS/NBC/1985 (later on the USA Network/1987). The original storylines from the black and white episodes, which first aired from 1955-65 on both the CBS and NBC networks, were updated/refilmed in color and edited together with colorized versions of the original black and white opening and closing segments which featured the droll host Alfred Hitchcock. This gave him the unique honor of being the first deceased TV personality to star in his own series. In the spring of 1987, US Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D., Mo.) moved against "those who would tamper with our American heritage" by proposing legislation to halt the controversial practice of converting black and white movies into color. It appears, however, Colorization is here to stay.

Crawl - The listing of credits that rolls ("Crawls") across the TV screen at the beginning or ending of a program. These credits include the name of the director, producer, stars, technical crew, sponsors and copyright information.

Cue Cards See - "TelePrompTer"

Docu-Drama - A close relative to the documentary is the "docu-drama" which is based on a historical events but includes elements of fiction to add to the dramatic effect of the incidents addressed. Samples of the docu-drama genre include The Taking of Flight 847: The Ubi Derickson Story (1988), a drama based on the real-life 1985 hijacking and the courageous flight attendant (played by Lindsay Wagner) credited with saving all but one of the passengers.

Documentary - Filmed or videotaped stories that are based on actual facts, people or events. The genre is based on the French word "documentaire" first used in the January 1924 issue of Cineopse. The following is a select list of documentaries broadcast on television over the years: Three Two One Zero (September 13, 1954 on NBC about atomic power); The Twisted Cross (March 14, 1956 on PROJECT 20 on NBC about the rise and fall of Adolph Hitler, narrated by Alexander Scourby); A Day Called X (December 8, 1957 on CBS about civil defense and potential nuclear attack in Portland, Oregon); The Lost Class of '59 (January 21, 1959 on CBS about the closing of six Norfolk high schools to forestall Federally ordered segregation); 90 Miles to Communism (April 18, 1961 on CLOSEUP on ABC about Cuba's political climate); The Tunnel (December 10, 1962 about the construction of a tunnel underneath the Berlin Wall by a group of West Germans); T-Minus 4 Years, 9 Months and 30 Days (March 1, 1965 on CBS about America's goal of landing a man on the moon by 1970); Walter Cronkite in Vietnam (February 27, 1968 on CBS NEWS SPECIAL); POWs: The Black Homecoming (July 27, 1973 an ABC NEWS SPECIAL on adjustment of black POWs returned to the United States); Blacks in America: With All Deliberate Speed? (July 24-25 1979 on CBS about 25 years of desegregation); Homosexuals (December 18, 1979 on ABC NEWS CLOSEUP about the urban homosexual lifestyle); Gay Power, Gay Politics (April 26, 1980 on CBS REPORTS about San Francisco politics); Model (September 16, 1981 on PBS about the modeling business); High on the Job (August 1985 syndicated documentary on drug abuse in the workplace, hosted by Stacy Keach); The Sword of Islam (January 12, 1988 on PBS about the rise of Islam worldwide); Growing Up in the Age of AIDS: An ABC News Town Meeting for the Family (February 2, 1992 documentary aimed at children and adult, moderated by Peter Jennings); Who Killed Martin Luther King? (January 22, 1993 on FOX examined the 1968 assassination, hosted by Larry Fishburne); and 500 Nations (April 20-21 & May 27-28, 1995 on CBS-a four part, eight-hour overview on the Native American Culture, hosted by Kevin Costner).

Dramedy - A schizophrenic sub-genre of television entertainment that doesn't know whether it's a drama or a comedy. The term was used to describe such series as the comedy/drama THE DAYS AND NIGHTS OF MOLLY DODD/NBC/1987-88/LIF/1989-91; and ALLY MCBEAL/FOX/1997-2002. The dramedy generally lacks a laugh track usually found on comedy series.

A-D / E-Q / R-S / T-Z


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