"The Dynamics of Local Television" in Beyond Prime Time

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Chapter in a Book

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The history of broadcast television in the United States has been written primarily as the history of network television and network-derived programming. Even as we transition into a post-network era, the major networks have continued to be the centerpieces of critical and public attention. The Big Three networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC), along with FOX, then UPN and the WB (later merged and renamed the CW), get the lion’s share of attention in light of their high profile, prime-time programming and (in the case of the Big Three) large, historically and culturally significant news divisions. The centrality of networks in the critical and public imagination should come as no surprise. Despite recent inroads made by cable networks, programs owned, financed, and distributed by the major networks still claim higher ratings than programming on cable networks. As recently as January 14, 2009, the top-rated cable network program was an episode of Monk on the USA Network, which ranked 55 out of 100, with a 3.1 rating for total households. The top 54 shows, and all but seven of 56 through 100, aired on a broadcast network. What this means is that more viewers in the US experience television via the major broadcast networks than by any other means. What is too often lost in this equation, however, is that most of this network television is accessed via local stations affiliated with the networks in question.