Key Dates in American TV News:
(Please note that this will always be a work in progress and is hardly all-inclusive. I use these dates as a notation to see where TV news is today and how it got here. Please check back for updates.)
- NBC airs the first nightly 15 minute newscast with Lowell Thomas and also airs portions of the 1940 Republican National Convention from Philadelphia.
- “Meet the Press” debuts on NBC.
- “Douglas Edwards and the News” premieres on CBS, becoming that network’s first daily newscast. It quickly overtakes NBC News and dominates the ratings for the next six years.
- NBC teams up with Life Magazine to present live coverage of Harry Truman’s upset win over Thomas Dewey in the presidential election
- NBC premieres “Camel News Caravan,” anchored by John Cameron Swayze
- “See It Now with Edward R. Murrow premieres on CBS
- Pat Weaver taps Dave Garroway and his sidekick, J. Fred Muggs, to host the first daily morning news and chat show, “Today.”
- “See It Now” host Edward R. Murrow examines Senator Joseph McCarthy’s record and brings down the once-mighty junior Senator from Wisconsin. First real example of advocacy journalism on television and hailed as a milestone.
- NBC’s Reuven Frank pairs Chet Huntley and David Brinkley to create the first dual-anchored nightly news program: The Huntley-Brinkley Report. Huntley-Brinkley becomes the topo-rated newscast in 1958 and dominates the ratings until the program ends in 1970.
- Four debates between presidential candidates Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy are broadcast live. Scholars say that Nixon won the debates, but viewers preferred the appearance and charisma of JFK and he goes on to win one of the closest races in US history.
- Walter Cronkite steps into the anchor chair and inaugurates “The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite
- First satellite broadcast takes place featuring the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performing from the base of Mt. Rushmore. Satellite distribution would revolutionize TV newsgathering in the coming years.
- 22 year old Roger Ailes joins Cleveland-based talk show, “The Mike Douglas Show” as property assistant. In a short time, he rises up to producer and executive producer and syndicates the show on a national basis.
- JFK’s assassination establishes television news as the medium of record as the world watched and mourned the passing of the young president.
- “CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite” expands to 30 minutes. NBC’s “Huntley-Brinkley Report” expands to 30 minutes within a week.
- Vietnam becomes the world’s first “television” war with disturbing and graphic images playing nightly in American homes. Public sentiment about the war starts shifting.
- Presidential candidate Richard Nixon appears on “The Mike Douglas Show” and establishes a relationship with the show’s executive producer, Roger Ailes. Ailes would go on to become one of Nixon’s key communications advisors for the 1968 campaign
- Walter Cronkite’s in-depth reporting from Vietnam and proclamation that the US cannot win the war prompts President Lyndon Johnson to withdraw from the 1968 presidential race
- “60 Minutes” premieres on CBS
- Social turmoil and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy further burnish TV’s credentials as the preferred choice of news for most Americans
- CBS Chairman Bill Paley and CBS News President Richard Salant ensure that CBS News is the best-funded broadcast news network and begins to become the most dominant TV news organization.
- The entire world watched as Apollo 11 brought man to the moon and featured the first live broadcast outside the planet.
- Chet Huntley retires from NBC News. John Chancellor, David Brinkley and Frank McGee, amongst others, take over the reins of the NBC Nightly News. Chancellor becomes the sole anchor in 1976.
- Although it The Washington Post that uncovered the Watergate scandal, the TV news networks provided extensive coverage of the Senate hearings and helped bring down President Nixon.
- Still fledgling ABC News hires NBC’s Barbara Walters to co-anchor the ABC Evening News with Harry Reasoner. She becomes the first woman to sit in a network anchor chair, though the pairing was a disaster and Walters left the broadcast. She would later go on help create 20/20 and become one of the most prominent female journalists on television.
- “Good Morning America” premieres on ABC-TV.
- One year after moving into its Sunday evening timeslot, “60 Minutes” appears in the top-20 rated TV programs for the first time. It since went on to be number one is six successive seasons and in the top 20 most-watched programs of the year through today.
- Roone Arledge, who had built ABC Sports into a powerhouse, is named president of ABC News. He quickly re-designed and re-formatted the news division programs, created World News Tonight in 1978 and turned the perennial last place news division into America’s number one news division by the early 1980s. Frank Reynolds, Max Robinson (the first African-American to sit in an anchor chair) and Peter Jennings, jointly anchor the program.
- Atlanta-based media entrepreneur Ted Turner establishes CNN, the first-ever 24 hour satellite news channel. Few give it any chance to succeed.
- Iranian students storm the American embassy in Tehran. ABC News, pledging to cover the story to completion, begins a nightly 15 minute update following the local news. Anchored by Ted Koppel, it becomes the forerunner of ground-breaking “Nightline.”
- Walter Cronkite, the “most trusted man in America,” leaves CBS Evening News. Dan Rather assumes the reins of the program.
- Rodney Buchser and Glenn Taylor launch Financial News Network, the first cable TV channel devoted to business news.
- Tom Brokaw becomes anchor of NBC Nightly News and Peter Jennings becomes sole anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight. The traditional broadcast news networks continue to dominate the ratings throughout the 1980s.
- NBC and Cablevision launch CNBC.
- CNN burnishes credentials by offering superior coverage of the first Gulf War.
- FNN files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is purchased by CNBC.
- NBC and Microsoft launch 24-hour news channel MSNBC
- News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch hires Roger Ailes from CNBC. In less than 8 months, Fox News Channel is launched.
- Ratings for the traditional broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) start declining – a trend that accelerates as the Internet begins to gain traction throughout the 1990s and 2000s.
- September 11th ushered in the Bush Administration’s War on Terrorism. All news networks demonstrate more “patriotism” on-air, but none more than Fox News.
- Fox News rivals CNN for ratings dominance during the Afghan War and pulls even during the Gulf War. By 2003, Fox News consistently beat CNN in Nielsen ratings. On August 17, 2003, The New York Times Magazine stated that “Fox was – and still is – trouncing CNN in the ratings.”
- Fox News generates controversy by presenting many right-of-center viewpoints, but as more pundits criticize the channel, more viewers turn to FNC
- Fox News Channel takes #1 ratings slot of all cable news channels and, to this day, does not relinquish the throne.