CBS Explanation


According to abbreviationfinder, CBS stands for Columbia Broadcasting Service, and is a major television network in the United States that began as a radio network, and continues to operate a radio network and a portfolio of large-market television and radio stations. The name is derived from the initials of the network’s previous name, Columbia Broadcasting System. The network is sometimes referred to as the “Eye Network,” referring to the shape of the company’s logo, which represents an eye. It has also been called the “Tiffany Network”, a name alluding to the perceived high quality of programming on CBS during the tenure of its founder, William S. Paley (1901–1990).


The origins of CBS date back to January 27, 1927 with the creation of the “United Independent Broadcasters” network in Chicago by a talent agent in New York named Arthur Judson. The fledgling network soon needed more investors, however, and was bailed out in April 1927 by the Columbia Phonograph Company, the owners of Columbia Records, and the network was renamed the “Columbia Phonographic Broadcasting System” as a result. September 18, 1927, with a performance by the Howard Barlow Orchestra from flagship station WOR in Newark, New Jersey, and fifteen affiliates.

Operating costs were high, particularly due to payments to AT&T for the use of their land lines, and at the end of 1927, Columbia Phonograph wanted out. In early 1928, Judson sold the chain to brothers Isaac and Leon Levy (owners of WCAU, the chain’s Philadelphia affiliate), and their partner Jerome Louchenheim. None of the three were interested in taking on the day-to-day management of the chain, so William S. Paley, the son of a Philadelphia cigar manufacturer and a relative of the Levy family, was installed as president.

In 1947, Paley led a highly publicized NBC talent roundup. Capturing NBC ‘s mainline programming was enough of a blow, but Paley repeated in 1948 with such veteran NBC employees as Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy and Red Skelton, as well as previous CBS defectors Jack Benny and Burns and Allen. Paley achieved this defeat with a legal agreement reminiscent of his 1928 contract that caused him some stations affiliated with NBC abandon her and merge with CBS: CBS would buy the names of the stars as a property, in exchange for a large lump sum and a salary. The plan invoked vastly different tax rates between income and capital gains, so CBS gave the stars more than double their income, and would also prevent any counterattack by NBC on the actors’ names. As a result of this departure, after twenty years, CBS finally beat NBC in the ratings.

Radio gives way to television

In the early 1940s, an engineer on the CBS staff designed a system for color television that CBS management hoped would help the network in its competition with NBC and its existing black-and-white system. CBS’s system “gave bright and stable colors,” while NBC ‘s system was “raw and unstable. Ultimately, the FCC rejected CBS’s system because it was incompatible with RCA ‘s; as a result, CBS became left behind in the early age of television.

CBS pioneered color television and revolutionized the recording industry with the 1948 introduction of the long-playing record. Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen were CBS artists. In later times, CBS also dabbled in film production, publishing, Broadway musicals, and even, for a time, owned the New York Yankees baseball team.

Radio continued to be the company’s backbone, at least through the early 1950s, but it was a strange period. Fred Allen, a venerable star on NBC, saw a decline in his ratings when he was pitted against ABC ‘s upstart game show Stop the Music!; within weeks, he was rejected by his old sponsor and curtly removed from the scene.

Gradually, as network television took shape, radio stars began to migrate to the new medium. Many shows aired on both mediums while the transition was being made. One of the highest-rated shows, The Jack Benny Program, ended its radio run in 1955, and Edgar Bergen withdrew from the medium in 1957. When CBS announced in 1956 that its radio operations had lost money while the television network had made money, it was clear where the company’s future lay.

Expansion and growth as a television network

As television came to the forefront of entertainment and information in the United States, CBS dominated television, as it had previously done to radio. In 1953, the CBS television network would make its first profit, and it would maintain dominance on television in the period between 1955 and 1976 as well. In the late 1950s, the network frequently controlled seven or eight of the slots on the top 10-rated list, with such well-respected shows as Route 66. This success would continue for many years, with CBS pushed out of the top spot only by the rise of ABC in the mid- 1970s.. Perhaps because of its status as the top-rated network, in the late 1960s and early 1970s CBS felt freer to take chances with such controversial properties as The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and All in the Family and their numerous spin-offs during this period.

Color broadcasts (1953-1967)

Although CBS-TV was the first network with a working television system, it lost out to RCA in 1953, due in part to the fact that CBS’s color system was incompatible with existing black-and-white televisions. Although RCA, then the parent company of NBC, made its color system available to CBS, the network was not interested in boosting RCA ‘s profits.

Red Skelton was the first host to televise its weekly shows in color, using a converted movie studio, in the early 1960s. Beginning in 1963, at least one of CBS’s programs, The Lucy Show, began filming in color at the insistence of its star and producer, Lucille Ball, who realized that episodes produced in color would command more money when they were eventually produced. sold in syndication; however, even that program was broadcast in black and white until the end of the 1964-1965 season. All this would change in the mid- 1960s, when market pressure forced CBS to add color programs to the regular schedule for the 1965-1966 season and complete the transition during the 1966-1967 season. In the fall of 1967, nearly all of CBS’s programs were in color, as were those on NBC and ABC. One notable exception was Twentieth Century, which consisted mostly of stock footage, though even that show used at least a few color images in the late 1960s.

Tiffany Network (1986-2002)

In 1984, The Cosby Show and Miami Vice debuted on NBC and immediately garnered high ratings, returning the network to first place in the 1985-1986 season along with such other huge hits as Family Ties, The Golden Girls, L.A. Law, and 227. In turn, ABC had also recovered with hits like Dynasty, Who’s the Boss?, Hotel, and Growing Pains. In the 1988 – 1989 season, CBS had dropped to third place, behind both ABC and NBC, and had to rebuild on a larger basis.

Ironically, some of the groundwork had been laid as the network slipped in the ratings, with hits from the most recent revival including Simon & Simon, Falcon Crest, Murder, She Wrote, Kate & Allie, and Newhart. Also, CBS was still getting decent ratings from 60 Minutes, Dallas, and Knots Landing. However, ratings for Dallas at this time fell far short of the ratings for the show in the early 1980s. During the early 1990s, the network would bolster its sports lineup by adding broadcasts of Major League Baseball and the Winter Olympics.

Under the chairmanship of Jeff Sagansky, the network was able to garner strong ratings from new shows Diagnosis Murder, Touched by an Angel, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Walker, Texas Ranger, and Jake and the Fatman during this period, and CBS was able to reclaim the first-run crown briefly, in the 1992–93 season, though its demographics skewed as older than ABC, NBC, or even the fledgling Fox Broadcasting Company.

In 1993, the Fox network outbid CBS for broadcast rights to the National Football League, resulting in several stations changing their affiliations and merging with Fox. The loss of the NFL, along with an abortive effort to court younger viewers, led to to a drop in CBS ratings. The network also withdrew its coverage of Major League Baseball (after losing an estimated US$500 million over a four-year span) in 1993 and NBC, which was already showing the Summer Olympics, took over the Winter Olympics, starting with the Winter OlympicsSalt Lake City 2002.

Return to the top position, rivalry with Fox (2002–present)

Another pivotal moment for CBS came in the summer of 2000 when the reality shows Survivor and Big Brother debuted, both surprise hits for the network. In January 2001, CBS debuted the show’s second season after its Super Bowl broadcast, rescheduling it for Thursday nights at 8:00 p.m. ET, and moved the police procedural drama CSI (which had debuted that fall on Friday nights) to Thursday nights at 9:00 p.m. ET, and was able to topple and eventually defeat NBC ‘s Thursday night lineup, and attract younger viewers to chain.

CBS has had additional success with the police procedural dramas Cold Case, Without a Trace, Criminal Minds, NCIS, and The Mentalist, along with the sitcoms Everybody Loves Raymond, The King of Queens, Mike & Molly, Two and a Half Men, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, The New Adventures of Old Christine, and 2 Broke Girls.

During the 2007-2008 season, Fox had the highest Nielsen ratings of any television network, primarily due to its reliance on American Idol. Yet CBS has ended up as the top-rated network every season since. The two networks tend to be about equal to each other in the 18–34, 18–49, and 25–54 demographics, though Fox typically wins these by the narrowest of margins.


During the 1960s, CBS began an effort to diversify, and sought suitable investment. In 1965, he acquired the electric guitar manufacturer Fender from Leo Fender, who agreed to sell the company from him due to problems with his health. The purchase also included the Rhodes piano, which had already been purchased by Fender. This and other acquisitions led to a restructuring of the corporation into various operating groups and divisions; the quality of the products manufactured by these acquired companies was extremely inferior; therefore, the term “pre-CBS” referred to higher quality products, and the term “CBS” referred to lower quality products.

In other attempts at diversification, CBS would buy (and later sell) sports teams (especially the New York Yankees baseball club), book and magazine publishers (including Fawcett Publications and Holt, Rinehart & Winston), mapping companies, toy manufacturers (Gabriel Toys, Child Guidance, Wonder Products), and other properties. As William Paley grew older, he tried to find the one person whom he could follow in his footsteps. However, numerous honorary successors have come and gone. By the mid-1980s, investor Laurence Tisch had begun acquiring substantial holdings in CBS. He eventually won Paley’s confidence, and with his encouragement, took over CBS in 1986.

CBS Corporation and CBS Studios

Having assembled all the elements of a communications empire, Viacom found that the intended synergy was not there, and at the end of 2005, it split itself into two companies. CBS became the center of a new company, CBS Corporation, which included the broadcast elements, the production operations of Paramount Television (renamed CBS Television Studios), the United Paramount Network (later merged with the WB Television Network to form The CW Network), advertising for Viacom Outdoor (renamed CBS Outdoor), Showtime Networks, Simon & Schuster, and Paramount Parks, which the company sold in May 2006. It is the legal successor to the old Viacom business.

The second company, keeping the Viacom name, held Paramount Pictures, MTV Networks, BET, and until May 2007, Famous Music, which was sold to Sony/ATV Music Publishing. As a result of the aforementioned corporate split, as well as other acquisitions over recent years, CBS (under the CBS Studios moniker) is the owner of a massive catalog of movies and television series spanning nine decades. This catalog includes not only material acquired from internal Viacom productions and CBS network programs, but also programs originally broadcast on competing networks.

Both CBS Corporation and the Viacom startup are still owned by National Amusements, a company hosted by Sumner Redstone. Therefore, Paramount Home Entertainment continues to handle distribution for the CBS library.