The first television shows were experimental, sporadic broadcasts viewable only within a very short range from the broadcast tower starting in the 1930s. Televised events such as the 1936 Summer Olympics in Germany, the 1937 coronation of King George VI in the United Kingdom, and David Sarnoff's famous introduction at the 1939 New York World's Fair in the United States spurred a growth in the medium, but World War II put a halt to development until after the war. The 1947 World Series inspired many Americans to buy their first television set and then in 1948, the popular radio show Texaco Star Theater made the move and became the first weekly televised variety show, earning host Milton Berle the name "Mr Television", and demonstrating that the medium was a stable, modern form of entertainment which could attract advertisers. The first national live television broadcast in the US took place on September 4, 1951, when President Harry Truman's speech at the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference in San Francisco was transmitted over AT&T's transcontinental cable and microwave radio relay system to broadcast stations in local markets.
The first national color broadcast (the 1954 Tournament of Roses Parade) in the US occurred on January 1, 1954. During the following ten years most network broadcasts, and nearly all local programming, continued to be in black-and-white. A color transition was announced for the fall of 1965, during which over half of all network prime-time programming would be broadcast in color. The first all-color prime-time season came just one year later. In 1972, the last holdout among daytime network shows converted to color, resulting in the first completely all-color network season.
Television shows are more varied than most other forms of media due to the wide variety of formats and genres that can be presented. A show may be fictional (as in comedies and dramas), or non-fictional (as in documentary, news, and reality television). It may be topical (as in the case of a local newscast and some made-for-television films), or historical (as in the case of many documentaries and fictional series). They could be primarily instructional or educational, or entertaining as is the case in situation comedy and game shows.
A drama program usually features a set of actors playing characters in a historical or contemporary setting. The program follows their lives and adventures. Before the 1980s, shows (except for soap opera-type serials) typically remained static without story arcs, and the main characters and premise changed little. If some change happened to the characters' lives during the episode, it was usually undone by the end. Due to this, the episodes could be broadcast in any order. Since the 1980s, many series feature progressive change in the plot, the characters, or both. For instance, Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere were two of the first US prime time drama television series to have this kind of dramatic structure,[better source needed] while the later series Babylon 5 further exemplifies such structure in that it had a predetermined story running over its intended five-season run.
When a person or company decides to create new content for television broadcast, they develop the show's elements, consisting of the concept, the characters, the crew, and cast. Then they often "pitch" it to the various networks in an attempt to find one interested enough to order a prototype first episode of the series, known as a pilot. Eric Coleman, an animation executive at Disney, told an interviewer, "One misconception is that it's very difficult to get in and pitch your show, when the truth is that development executives at networks want very much to hear ideas. They want very much to get the word out on what types of shows they're looking for."
To create the pilot, the structure and team of the whole series must be put together. If audiences respond well to the pilot, the network will pick up the show to air it the next season (usually Fall). Sometimes they save it for mid-season, or request rewrites and additional review (known in the industry as development hell). Other times, they pass entirely, forcing the show's creator to "shop it around" to other networks. Many shows never make it past the pilot stage.
The show hires a stable of writers, who typically work in parallel: the first writer works on the first episode, the second on the second episode, etc. When all the writers have been used, episode assignment starts again with the first writer. On other shows, however, the writers work as a team. Sometimes they develop story ideas individually, and pitch them to the show's creator, who folds them together into a script and rewrites them.
Some shows have a small stable of directors, but also usually rely on outside directors. Given the time constraints of broadcasting, a single show might have two or three episodes in pre-production, one or two episodes in principal photography, and a few more in various stages of post-production. The task of directing is complex enough that a single director can usually not work on more than one episode or show at a time, hence the need for multiple directors.
Many scripted network television shows in the United States are financed through deficit financing: a studio finances the production cost of a show and a network pays a license fee to the studio for the right to air the show. This license fee does not cover the show's production costs, leading to the deficit. Although the studio does not make its money back in the original airing of the show, it retains ownership of the show. This allows the studio to make its money back and earn a profit through syndication and sales of DVDs and Blu-rays. This system places most of the financial risk on the studios; however, a hit show in the syndication and home video markets can more than make up for the misses. Although deficit financing places minimal financial risk on the networks, they lose out on the future profits of big hits since they are only licensing the shows.
A full season is sometimes split into two separate units with a hiatus around the end of the calendar year, such as the first season of Jericho on CBS. When this split occurs, the last half of the episodes sometimes are referred to with the letter B as in "The last nine episodes (of The Sopranos) will be part of what is being called either "Season 6, Part 2" or "Season 6B", or in "Futurama is splitting its seasons similar to how South Park does, doing half a season at a time, so this is season 6B for them." Since the 1990s, these shorter seasons also have been referred to as ".5" or half seasons, where the run of shows between September and December is labeled "Season X", and the second run between January and May labeled "Season X.5". Examples of this include the 2004 incarnation of Battlestar Galactica, ABC's FlashForward, and ABC Family's Make It or Break It.
A standard television season in the United States runs predominantly across the fall and winter, from late September to May. During the summer months of June through roughly mid-September, network schedules typically feature reruns of their flagship programs, first-run series with lower rating expectations, and other specials. First-run scripted series are typically shorter and of a lower profile than those aired during the main season and can also include limited series events. Reality and game shows have also been a fixture of the schedule.
In Canada, the commercial networks air most US programming in tandem with the US television season, but their original Canadian shows follow a model closer to British than US television production. Due to the smaller production budgets available in Canada, a Canadian show's season normally runs to a maximum of 13 episodes rather than 20 or more, although an exceptionally popular series such as Corner Gas or Murdoch Mysteries might receive 20-episode orders in later seasons. Canadian shows do not normally receive "back nine" extensions within the same season, however; even a popular series simply ends for the year when the original production order has finished airing, and an expanded order of more than 13 episodes is applied to the next season's renewal order rather than an extension of the current season. Only the public CBC Television normally schedules Canadian-produced programming throughout the year; the commercial networks typically now avoid scheduling Canadian productions to air in the fall, as such shows commonly get lost amid the publicity onslaught of the US fall season. Instead, Canadian-produced shows on the commercial networks typically air either in the winter as mid-season replacements for canceled US shows or in the summer (which may also improve their chances of being picked up by a US network for a summer run).
While network orders for 13- or 22-episode seasons are still pervasive in the television industry, several shows have deviated from this traditional trend. Written to be closed-ended and of shorter length than other shows, they are marketed with a variety of terms.
This is a reduction from the 1950s, in which many US shows (e.g. Gunsmoke) had between 29 and 39 episodes per season. Actual storytelling time within a commercial television hour has also gradually reduced over the years, from 50 minutes out of every 60 to the current 44 (and even less on some networks), beginning in the early 21st century.
The usage of "season" and "series" differ for DVD and Blu-ray releases in both Australia and the UK. In Australia, many locally produced shows are termed differently on home video releases. For example, a set of the television drama series Packed to the Rafters or Wentworth is referred to as "season" ("The Complete First Season", etc.), whereas drama series such as Tangle are known as a "series" ("Series 1", etc.). British-produced shows such as Mrs. Brown's Boys are referred to as "season" in Australia for the DVD and Blu-ray releases. 041b061a72