CBS is known historically as The Tiffany Network among the three major networks. Their start was a bit inauspicious though. After NBC radio had decided to leave behind a major portion of talent agent Arthur Judson's clients, he created his own network known as the United Independent Broadcasters. This would soon merge with Columbia Phonograph Company and hit the airwaves as Phonograph Broadcasting Company. When William Paley bought the network in 1929 he would rename it Columbia Broadcast System.
It would be Paley who would sign away an incredible inventor Peter Goldmark for the CBS Research Center, and would go on to create the long play phonograph and color television. But Paley was still weary of entering the fledging world of television. He would soon turn the tables on NBC and steal away such big named talent as Jack Benny
, Burns & Allen
and Red Skelton
. With a push from new CBS president Dr. Frank Stanton in 1946, the network started to dwell a little deeper into the new medium. With such shows as Gunsmoke, I Love Lucy
and The Ed Sullivan Show,
CBS would reign at the top for the first twenty years.
After WWII, the CBS network received a black eye in the minds of viewers by taking a staunch view against Communism which helped spread the fear of the 'red menace' by creating loyalty oaths to be signed by all employees of the network. They even hired a former FBI man to be in charge of this campaign. With the Senator McCarthy hearings already searching out for Communist sympathizers and accusing those who didn't go along with this system as guilty, the last thing they needed was to be caught up with this bad press. Another blow came when famed newsman Edward R. Murrow
condemned this practice that McCarthy was instilling, and from this point on Murrow's career was tarnished in the eyes of the CBS executives until the day he resigned in 1961.
The news division always thought highly of themselves at CBS but would soon take a back seat to entertainment. Profits seemed more important now in Paley's eyes and a great example of this would be the resignation of Fred Friendly, the CBS News division president, after the network showed reruns of I Love Lucy
instead of the 1966 Senate hearings on the Vietnam War. CBS also made a make shift change in the 1970's by canceling their top shows Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies
and Petticoat Junction,
all the 'small town' styled shows to go in a different direction. This did not bode well with their viewers and it would be a big change in the history of TV. Out went the 'rural' comedies to attract a more urban, youthful audience. The new shows would be harder edged and controversial with the likes of M*A*S*H
, The Mary Tyler Moore Show
and the irreverent All in the Family.
With the new success of these shows came big profits; CBS would soon become CBS, Inc. and bought up new ventures, including publishing and even the NY Yankees. But it was also during this time that news of a successor for Paley came up. Refusing to retire, Paley would fire a number of would-be logical successors. This created turmoil at the network and along with dwindling ratings, they were in trouble. A takeover was discussed with cable mogul Ted Turner. To create a diversion, Lawrence Tisch was hired and named CBS president and CEO in 1986. He would sell off some off the assets and reduce the personnel and reduce the working budget which did not set well with their employees. Dan Rather
would write about this in a New York Times editorial titled "From Murrow to Mediocrity." It showed how the once proud news division which employed such notable anchors as Murrow, Walter Cronkite
and Rather himself had now fallen to number three in the ratings.
A resurrection in the 1990's following the success of the 1992 Olympic Games and the signing of David Letterman
from NBC was a boost to CBS, but a later loss of the NFL contract to FOX and a number of choice affiliate channels helped the network slump once again. CBS was sold to Westinghouse in 1997, ending their independent status. The next year they would purchase King World Productions. Viacom, once owned by CBS would then join them in a merger in 2000. CBS would suffer a pair of embarrassments in the coming years when Janet Jackson had a breast exposed during the Super Bowl in 2004 and would be fined a record $550,000. Then 60 Minutes II
would erroneously make a report about President Bush in which Dan Rather
later admitted he could not authenticate as true. Viacom would later separate from CBS in 2006.