The major TV networks went through what appeared to be (at least to audiences) fierce competition for the first 40 years of their rivalry in news dominance. A lot of TV historians might look back at that and figure there were more connections among them on an ideological level than we understood. Nevertheless, it would have blown our minds back in the 1970’s or 80’s if we heard that ABC, CBS or NBC would team up for something. The same could be said of hooking up with the cable news universe where most viewers who once watched network news defected to. It had to take something extraordinary for them to show that hooking up to benefit everybody wouldn’t make network execs want to leap out the window of their sky-rise office suites.
While coverage of JFK’s assassination and important Senate hearings for Watergate and “Mr. Smith” Oliver North were all covered concurrently by each network in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, the only time you saw news anchors hanging out together in a friendly way back in the old days of TV was when seeing the anchors posing on the front of TV Guide or at certain media events where it was proven they were best buddies away from the anchor desk. When coverage of the mother of all wars (the Gulf War against Saddam) started in January of 1991, the chances of competitiveness in who got what information first was expected to be as competitive as ever. Watching NBC that night of the first air raid on Baghdad seemed to indicate that they were showing some envy toward CNN who happened to have three correspondents right there at ground central and the only reporters in the entire media able to report anything.
Then the unprecedented happened before millions of eyes. Tom Brokaw announced that NBC, rather than just showing short audio bites of CNN’s Peter Arnett, Bernard Shaw and John Holliman’s coverage in Baghdad, would switch their feed to broadcast CNN’s feed indefinitely. Undoubtedly a lot of jaws dropped to the floor seeing not only a profound war playing out live on TV for the first time, but now seeing a major network turning over the keys to a major competitor for the rest of the day.
Ever since then, NBC must have acquired some of CNN’s DNA (that happens in assimilations sometimes), because they’ve been off-handedly connected ever since in their approach to news. It should be noted, though, that CBS and ABC didn’t switch to CNN’s feed during the 1991 war, mainly because their ratings were suffering already then and couldn’t afford to have CNN take over their airwaves, profound war or not.
You never saw the network news departments overlap like that again until the main networks joined forces after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina to do those star-studded telethons to help the victims of those disasters. Perhaps that was the blueprint for ABC, CBS and NBC joining forces to fight another major war: Cancer.
What a temporary (or permanent) joining of the network news divisions might accomplish…
This upcoming consolidation of the network news divisions to raise money for cancer awareness in September of this year was really something that should have been done a long time ago rather than dealing with the confliction of egos. It’s rare when a single network can convince people to tune in to watch a major event. When you have it on all the networks, the feeling that something great is happening compels people to tune in. September’s crossover of the network news divisions to help fight cancer is truly unprecedented that might just end up sparking new ties for the future.
With the networks slowly eroding due to a steady exodus of viewers to cable news channels, whatever they can do to make themselves more powerful, the better. If not, it wouldn’t surprise me if the main networks shut down within the next 20 years from losing too much money. Because everybody else is merging just to survive, nothing should keep the main three networks from consolidating someday, permanently, just to keep alive and stay powerful.
Considering ABC, CBS and NBC are in the same frame of mind in their news division, it would actually help TV to have one major consolidated network competing against CNN and Fox News. Of course, that consolidated network would report about pigs flying should CNN and Fox News merge to create a smaller network news universe.
Best of all, it would help viewers consolidate and perhaps bring more people around a TV for shows rather than spread over three networks that cancel one another out. It also would help raise monumental funds for causes that need special attention and having one central over-the-air network that would present it.
Well, so much for creating a future vision of TV on paper. If the networks joining now to help fight cancer can somehow raise enough to find a cure for the world’s deadliest disease, I think we’d all start watching ABC, CBS and NBC regularly again as thanks as they continue to struggle as separate entities into the coming decade.