The letters are the initials for the Columbia Broadcasting System. That is the former legal name, which was dropped in 1974. The Westinghouse Electric Company acquired the network in 1995, and eventually the company became known as CBS Corporation. Viacom took control of CBS in 2000, and by 2005 Viacom split into two entities: Viacom Inc. and CBS Corporation; both controlled by National Amusements, parent company of the two companies.
The Radio Years
The United Independent Broadcasters Inc. began in January of 1927, broadcasting over the radio waves. The Columbia Phonographic Manufacturing Company began investing in United Independent Broadcasters, changing its name to Columbia Phonographic Broadcasting System. Unable to sell enough air time to advertisers, Columbia sold the network to William S. Paley in September 1927. With a network of 16 independent radio stations, all of which Paley organized under the company’s new name: the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS).
Another investor came in 1928 in the form of Paramount Pictures. The studio eventually sold its stock in Paley’s company in 1932, thanks to the 1929 stock market crash.
With the power of programming, CBS established itself as a radio network with many popular musical and comedy stars like Bing Crosby, Al Jolson, and George Burns & Gracie Allen. By 1935, CBS became the nation’s largest radio network. In order to attract the top talents in the movie industry, CBS opened a studio in Hollywood in 1938.
Americans gathered around the radio for entertainment in the 1930s, but they gathered around the radio for their news as well. In 1933, CBS began a news division, becoming the first network news organization, with bureaus in New York, Washington, Chicago, and Los Angeles. CBS News gained an image of on-the-spot coverage.
CBS was successful at news and entertainment. The two came together in a faux news broadcast by Orson Wells with the adaptation of H.G. Well’s The War of the Worlds. The faux news broadcast of an invasion by Martians panicked listeners, even though there were disclaimers that the broadcast was a work of fiction.
Prior to television, radio was the dominant advertising medium, which meant CBS was the dominant broadcaster. CBS often had the highest rated programs. CBS took talent from NBC in the mid-1940s; talent like Jack Benny and Amos ‘n’ Andy. William Paley was an innovator in creating original programming, so in the mid-1940s CBS began creating its own programs: You Are There, My Favorite Husband, Our Miss Brooks, Gunsmoke, and The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet; all of which eventually made the transition to television. Advertisers once bought air time in half-hour to full hour blocks, but under Raley’s original programming advertisers bought time by the minute.
The 1950s began the transition from radio to television. With the shows listed above moving from radio to television, so did the radio soap opera The Guiding Light, radio was no longer the money maker that television was becoming. Prime-time radio ended in September 1962, when Suspense aired for the final time. CBS Radio continues today, but gone are the days of old-style programming, as newscasts dominate the CBS Radio Network.
The future of CBS was not in radio, but in the new medium of television.
Although the idea of television was around for sometime, the general public was introduced to television at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. That same year, the CBS owned Hytron Laboratories moved into set production and color broadcasting. By 1941, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began licensing commercial stations. CBS offered a color television set in 1941; however the Second World War decreased interest in the infant television industry.
Back from the war in 1945, commercial television increased programming. CBS was the one network that lagged in programming, originally focusing on color programming, which was not compatible with the FCC supported black and white television set standards.
In 1950, when NBC was dominant and black and white transmission was widespread, CBS’ programs from the radio began transitioning to television. Lucille Ball’s My Favorite Husband not only changed its name, but the husband as well. Ball’s real life husband, Desi Arnaz, became the lead actor in I Love Lucy. Not only did Arnaz play the husband, but he took financial control of the production, the making of the Desilu empire. I Love Lucy became one of CBS’ and television’s highest rated and most talked about series ever.
The CBS Eye logo debuted in 1951 and in 1952, Television City opened in Los Angeles, becoming CBS’ landmark production facility. Just as it had with radio, CBS Television dominated the top ten rated series each season until the mid-1970s. Since it was the dominant network, the network felt it could gamble with such series as the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and All in the Family, as well as its numerous spin-offs.
Color television was pioneered by CBS in the late 1930s, but the FCC had committed to RCA’s black and white sets. By 1953, RCA began making color sets and made them available to CBS, whose original color system was incompatible with RCA’s black and white. CBS only aired a few specials in color for the rest of the 1950s. By the mid-1960s, CBS was being pushed to develop more programming in color. By 1969 all of CBS’ programs, as those of NBC and ABC, were all shown in color.
CBS has aired some well known programs ranging from situation comedies, dramas, adventure/crime dramas, reality, westerns, science-fiction, and variety:
Situation Comedies: The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (1950-1959); I Love Lucy (1951-1957); The Honeymooners (1955-1956); The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968); The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966); The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971); The Lucy Show (1962-1968); Gilligan’s Island (1964-1967); Green Acres (1965-1971); Here’s Lucy (1968-1974); The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977); All in the Family (1971-1979); The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978); M*A*S*H (1972-1983); Maude (1972-1978); Good Times (1974-1979); Kate & Allie (1984-1989); Designing Women (1986-1993); Murphy Brown (1988-1998); Everybody Loves Raymond (1996-2005); Yes, Dear (2000-2006).
Dramas: Perry Mason (1957-1966); Mission: Impossible (1966-1973); Medical Center (1969-1976); The Waltons (1972-1981); Dallas (1978-1991); The White Shadow (1978-1981); The Dukes of Hazard (1979-1985); Knots Landing (1979-1993); Falcon Crest (1981-1990); Murder, She Wrote (1984-1996); Northern Exposure (1990-1995); Diagnosis Murder (1993-2001); Chicago Hope (1994-2000); Judging Amy (1999-2005).
Adventure/Crime Dramas: Hawaii Five-O (1968-1980); Barnaby Jones (1973-1980); Magnum P.I. (1980-1988); Simon and Simon (1981-1988); Cagney & Lacey (1982-1988); Nash Bridges (1996-2001).
Westerns: Gunsmoke (1955-1975); Have Gun, Will Travel (1957-1963); The Wild Wild West (1965-1969); Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (1993-1998); Walker Texas Ranger (1993-2001).
Science-Fiction: The Twilight Zone (1959-1964); Lost in Space (1965-1968); The Incredible Hulk (1977-1982).
Variety: The Ed Sullivan Show (1948-1971); The Red Skelton Show (1953-1970); The Carol Burnett Show (1967-1978); The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour (1971-1974 and 1976-1977).
CBS has also aired game shows, sports entertainment, and soap operas. Such soap operas that still are in production today: As the World Turns (debuted in 1952); The Guiding Light (1952); The Young and the Restless (1973); and The Bold and the Beautiful (1987). CBS is also a leader in broadcast news with such programs as 60 Minutes (debuted in 1968); The CBS Evening News (1952); The Early Show (1954); and Face the Nation (1954).
CBS has dominated the ratings this past decade with its reality series Survivor (2000-present) and drama series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2000-present).
Other current successful and well received programs airing on CBS:
Reality: Big Brother (2000) and The Amazing Race (2001).
Drama: CSI: Miami (2002); Without a Trace (2002); CSI: NY (2004); Jericho (2006); and The Unit (2006)
Situation Comedy: Two and a Half Men (2003); How I Met Your Mother (2005); and The New Adventures of Old Christine (2006).
In 1993, CBS was able to sign David Letterman to host a late night talk show to compete with NBC’s The Tonight Show with new host Jay Leno. So beginning in 1993, The Late Show with David Letterman began production in New York City at the Ed Sullivan Theater. Letterman may have lost the ratings war against Leno, he has however garnered Emmy nominations in both Best Writing and Outstanding Variety/Comedy Special categories, where The Tonight Show lagged. Letterman’s production company began a companion series to follow The Late Show, The Late Late Show began airing in 1995.
CBS is known outside the world of radio and television, having owned CBS Records since 1938. CBS Records was sold in 1988 to Sony. Since CBS Records, a record label group, no longer existed, CBS Corporation revived the label in 2006.
CBS made an attempt at feature films in the late 1960s, but was unsuccessful. Its Cinema Center Films was shut down in 1972 and its library rests with Paramount Pictures for any home video or theatrical release, while its TV distribution remains with CBS Paramount Television. In the early 1980s, CBS joined with HBO and Columbia Pictures to create Tri-Star Pictures, which was eventually purchased by Sony.
Back in the world of television, with the merger with Viacom in 2000, by 2002 Viacom co-owned UPN (the United Paramount Network) joined the Viacom owned CBS Television unit. By the end of 2006, UPN would be no more, as an announced new 5th network would be made of the remains of UPN and Warner Bros’ the WB Television Network. Along with Warner Bros., CBS would create the CW Television Network. In 2006, Paramount Television was re-branded as CBS Paramount Television.
With the Viacom split in 2006, CBS became the owner of a massive television library covering six decades including: I Love Lucy, The Twilight Zone, The Fugitive, Star Trek, and The Brady Bunch, among others. Some of the shows are from the CBS library, and some from Paramount’s. Some came from the company owned by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball’s Desilu Productions.
With the fusion of their first names, actors and husband and wife, Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball jointly owned Desilu Productions. Desilu was also the name of their ranch located in the San Fernando Valley. Desilu Studio was home to I Love Lucy, Star Trek, The Lucy Show, Mannix, I Spy, Mission: Impossible, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Untouchables.
Desilu Productions began in 1950 with the radio program My Favorite Husband, the blue print for the future television series I Love Lucy. Desilu originally rented space at the General Service Studio, but by 1954 soon outgrew that space. Desilu bought their own studio in 1954, the Motion Picture Center in Hollywood. The majority of I Love Lucy was filmed there. In late 1957 and early 1958, Desilu purchased RKO Pictures, including its studio lot in Culver City as well as another lot in Hollywood.
Arnaz had no business training, but was able to produce the series successfully. He even saw the potential of reruns, something CBS did not, so he took the unprecedented step of buying the I Love Lucy episodes from the network. Arnaz also established the three camera format for situation comedies, which is still used today, as well as filming before a live studio audience.
Desilu attempted to make feature films, but only the Lucille Ball-Henry Fonda 1968 Yours, Mine, and Ours succeeded at the box office.
Having divorced in 1960, Arnaz and Ball continued to run Desilu together. This was short lived as the two realized they could not work together and one had to buy out the other. Desilu began producing Ball’s new series The Lucy Show, so in 1962 Arnaz sold his holding to Ball. She became the first woman to head a major studio and one of the most powerful women in Hollywood.
With Lucille Ball in command of the studio she served as President and Chief Executive Officer. Two highlights of Desilu under Ball’s tenure as studio chief were the launching of Star Trek and Mission: Impossible. Stressed out from running a studio and starring in a weekly television series, Ball sold Desilu in 1967 to Gulf+Western. Gulf+Western merged Desilu with its other production company, and Desilu Studio neighbor, Paramount Pictures. Then Gulf+Western renamed its television production to Paramount Television by the end of 1967. In 2006, Paramount Television would be renamed, thanks to the Viacom (owner of Paramount) and CBS merger, CBS Paramount Television. The Desilu/Paramount television library is currently owned by CBS Corporation. Reincorporated in 1967, Desilu Productions Inc., still exists today as a legal entity.
CBS and Desilu both started in radio and then television, one producing shows for the other. Desilu would eventually sell to Gulf+Western, which owned Paramount Pictures. Down the line, Paramount Pictures would be purchased, not from Gulf+Western, by Viacom. Viacom would then buy CBS. Viacom owned CBS and Desilu libraries until Viacom split into two entities. The CBS and Desilu libraries are still together after the split, as well as Paramount Television’s libraries. Even after the split CBS and Desilu, and Viacom are owned by National Amusements. It’s a small world after all…oh wait that’s Disney.
The Museum of Broadcast Communications