Did 60 Minutes Gain Its Famous Time Slot Due to an FCC Regulation?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: 60 Minutes gained its famous time slot due to an FCC regulation.

The world of television today is so vastly different from the world of television forty years ago that it is practically like comparing Gone With the Wind to a picture at a nickelodeon.

In any event, one thing that really worried the government during the late 1960s was that the three major networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, basically dominated the production of new television programs, because they controlled most of the time in which new programs would be aired.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was worried that this consolidation of power over the creation of programs would curtail the development of new and diverse programming, as the fear was that if just these three networks were developing new shows, they would soon become homogenized. And their specific hope was that the affiliates would develop new shows designed to discuss news and politics on a local level.

So in 1970 (with it coming into effect for the 1971-72 TV season), the FCC introduced the Prime Time Access Rule, where the networks had to give back a half hour Monday through Saturday and an hour on Sunday during “prime time” to the Top 50 affiliates (which was basically every affiliate at the time) for their own use.

At the time, “Prime Time” was defined as 7:30 PM to 11:00 PM Eastern Monday through Friday and 7:00 PM to 11:00 PM on Sunday. The Brady Bunch, for instance, aired at 7:30 PM in 1970.

So the FCC steps in and says, “Okay, affiliates, you can now have the full 7:00 PM hour to develop your own programming, and hopefully you’ll make it intelligent stuff!”

That was all well and good but, well, you see most affiliates really did not WANT to develop their own programming. Making high brow television every day of the week cost a lot (well, more than what they wanted to spend) and the ratings were not very good. So instead, the affiliates turned to syndication. Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk had recently been canceled by the networks, and both shows went into first-run syndication, so a number of networks aired them, most of them on the very same nights and times that they originally aired! So with a mixture of syndicated programming and occasionally their own local news, the affiliates began to be quite happy with their newly found hour.

The networks HATED it, though, and fought it legally for years. Eventually they got an answer, although it was not one they liked. In 1975, it was decreed that the Monday through Saturday “loss” was permanent, but that the networks could have the 7pm hour back on Sundays, but only for family programming or news programming. Both ABC and NBC quickly moved established family programming to that time slot (NBC’s The Wonderful World of Disney and ABC’s Swiss Family Robinson). CBS, though, ended up going a different direction.
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