THE CHANGING FACES IN TV GUIDE: AN ANALYSIS OF TELEVISION'S
NEW SEASON DEMOGRAPHY, 1966-1992
Bradley S. Greenberg
Michigan State University
Department of Telecommunication
East Lansing, MI 48823
Southern Illinois University
Department of Radio-Television
Carbondale, IL 62901
Presented to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass
Communication, August 10, 1994, Magazine Division
The Changing Faces in TV Guide: An Analysis of Television's
New Season Demography, 1966-1992
The 1953 birth of TV Guide, a national magazine dedicated
solely to television, suggests that a maturity had been achieved
by a then relatively new electronic medium. The first issue,
which featured Lucy and Desi's new baby on its cover, sold an
impressive one and a half million copies and marked the beginning
of a long, successful run (Altshuler and Grossvogel, 1992).
With its publication now in a fifth decade, TV Guide continues to
flourish long after a wide variety of other periodicals have
disappeared from the racks. One journalist noted that "if
television has become the national religion, then its bible is TV
Guide" (Seelye, 1988). With its current circulation of nearly 15
million, the magazine easily ranks as one of the most popular of
any in the United States and among the highest in advertising
revenues today (Gale Research, 1994).
Apart from simple local program listings, the magazine
throughout its 41 years has provided a remarkable record of the
happenings within the world of television and those processes
related to creation of that world. It is arguably unique for its
continued role as one media form commenting and offering
information reflecting upon another medium. In essence, the
magazine is television's "unofficial" printed record.
Despite a wealth of information, the magazine itself has
been afforded little scholarly attention, as research focusing on
TV Guide remains surprisingly meager when compared to its
readership and historic prominence as a carrier of information
about television \1\ At the same time, the magazine has been
under-utilized as source material for creating data-based
research into various aspects of television. The present
research uses data gathered from TV Guide for the systematic and
longitudinal examination of the population of new television
season characters from 1966 to 1992.
The Fall Preview Issue
The Fall Preview Issue, TV Guide's most popular yearly
edition--exceeding the typical weekly circulation by around one
million copies--premiered in Autumn of 1953. This inaugural
issue preceded the television networks' new program season and
represented an attempt to bolster sagging readership of the
magazine attributed to the traditional summer doldrums for
television viewing (Harris, 1980). The Issue's distribution has
always coincided with the period in which television networks
debut their new season program offerings.
Even though programs do premiere at various times throughout
the year, this Autumn period remains a critical focal point in
the TV industry because it marks the culmination of an 18 month
cycle of program development for most new television shows. In a
fashion similar to April's opening of the Major League Baseball
season, each Fall television season has both a strategic and
historic significance for the television networks as they attempt
to attract viewers by debuting new variations of a familiar
product. Though the players and lineups may change somewhat each
season, the game is played the same way every year.
While the format and style of the Fall Preview Issue have
evolved through 40 years, it remains an annual occurrence.\2\ It
provides TV Guide with a highly promotable special edition and
benefits the networks with a consistent venue in which to
showcase new season program offerings. Although PBS and cable
offerings are described, only commercial broadcast network
offerings receive separate glossy photo stories. Readers may
evaluate all the new Fall programs offered by the commercial
television networks and learn about the major characters in those
The Fall Preview Issue has never been systematically
examined despite its remarkable longevity and potential value as
a resource for information about new season television
programming and characters in that programming. The present study
through content analysis of 27 years of TV Guide Fall Preview
Issues (1966-1992) examines the demography of new television
seasons presented by the broadcast networks. The purpose here is
two-fold, to explore demographic trends which occur through time
in new television season characters and to explore the viability
of TV Guide as a data source.
Using the Fall Preview Issue as a research platform allows
several methodological advantages for analyzing cumulative yearly
changes occurring in television's new season populations. First,
an acknowledged missing ingredient in cross-sectional studies of
television characters is the potential role that time plays
within television character populations across seasons. Attempts
to aggregate these disparate studies and create some larger,
overall picture are mostly inadequate due to the variations in
sampling schemes and differing foci. Still, borrowing a stance
similar to that of the anthropologist, we might fully expect that
television populations actually change very little from one year
to the next.\4\ What promises to be more revealing are those
changes (or lack of them) over the extended period which occur in
the population. In the case of new season characters, the use of
the Fall Preview Issue does provide a parsimonious means for such
an extended examination over time. A cross-check with other
sources (e.g. Brooks and Marsh) confirmed that the Fall Preview
Issue provides an accurate account of new season television shows
and their primary characters.
Secondly, the Fall Preview Issue permits a useful departure
from prior attempts to explore the demography of prime time
television because it makes it possible to analyze only those
major characters (the change agents) newly arrived to television
each season. This subsequent "birth rate," achieved by isolating
new characters, and excluding ongoing characters, offers a more
precise measure of the network's real efforts to manipulate or
adjust yearly television populations. Wakshlag and Adams (1985)
pointed out "the networks may be more innovative than ever and
suffering the consequences as most new shows are not readily
accepted by the public." Each season around 70 percent of all
new programs fail, as a result most new characters have very
short TV lives and disappear quickly from prime time's
demography. Yet, these newly generated characters may be
indicative of trends which are themselves worth exploring and
until now, have not been.
Finally, by using a census of new season major characters as
identified in the Fall Preview Issue, an important advantage is
gained in terms of validity. Prior studies which have used
random sampling schemes (e.g. in which randomly selected weeks,
hours, and/or days of actual programming are employed) cannot
entirely eliminate the possibility of idiosyncratic findings
attributable to the vagaries of network scheduling.
Research on Television Characters
For decades, social science researchers have been focusing
on television programming to gain perspective on the portrayal of
specific social groups. The vast majority of this research has
used television programs as the platform for examination. To give
better context to the present research, it is useful to discuss
the nature of these previous efforts and trends which are
suggested in demographic categories.
Tedesco (1974) found that prime time programs airing between
1969 and 1972 portrayed men as more active, independent, mature,
serious, powerful, smart, more likely to be employed and less
often shown to be married. Women, on the other hand, were most
often portrayed as dependent, unadventurous, younger, unemployed
and more likely to be married. Seggar and Wheeler (1973) also
identified a prevalence of sexual stereotypes in television drama
programs. A slight increase in female roles was reported, but it
was found that female portrayals were not aligned with general
population statistics. Busby's summary of research pertaining to
sex roles in media, which covered studies up through the early
1970s, identified similar trends in television programming
One study reported a considerable shift from 1971 to 1973
toward a higher frequency of female characters and in female
representation in higher status occupations (Northcott, Seggar
and Hinton, 1975). A slightly more longitudinal approach to
character portrayals conducted during 1971, 1973 and 1975
demonstrated a similar increase in female roles over the three
time periods and a reduction in stereotypical portrayals (Seggar,
1977). Although it appears that sex stereotyping diminished
during this period, it should be noted that these studies as well
as others (Seggar, 1975; O'Kelley & Bloomquist, 1976) have
identified a continued existence of sexual stereotypes. McNeil
(1975) indicated that women remained confined to sex defined
roles, most often played supporting roles to men and simply "do
not exist to the same degree that men do" in television programs.
Greater representation of women in television programs
appeared to have continued in the second half of the 1970s. In a
study of the entire decade, it was found that the number of
female characters had steadily increased (Seggar, Hafen &
Hannonen-Gladden, 1981). Haskell (1979) also found that women
were shown to be more independent and more capable in occupations
of higher prestige. However, two other studies of gender
portrayals during this time period also suggest these trends
should be interpreted cautiously. In a study of fictional
television series between 1975 and 1977, Greenberg, Simmons,
Hogan and Atkin found that females continued to be under-
represented and males over-represented in programs. Signorielli
(1982), in her study of network drama from 1975 to 1979, found
that females and males continued to be cast in stereotypical
roles. The women of TV drama were found to be peaceful,
unemployed, attractive and feminine. They were most typically
portrayed as married with children and were usually shown in a
home environment. Males were most often shown as strong,
sociable and masculine.
The stereotyped image of females appears to have improved in
the 1980s. In a study of females cast in leading roles, it was
found that all women studied were significantly older than prior
female leads and were depicted as active and competent problem
solvers (Reep & Dambrot, 1987). Atkin's (1991) longitudinal study
of television programs addressing single women from 1966 to 1990
generally support the results found here. Findings indicated
that the networks have steadily increased the number of females
in non-traditional roles and placed these women in higher status
occupations from year to year. Yet, Gerbner's (1993) more recent
analysis of 1,371 cable and broadcast network programs over a ten
year span found that women still accounted for only one out of
every three roles in prime time.
Two studies, both conducted in 1971, produced somewhat
conflicting results in terms of race portrayals. Seggar and
Wheeler (1973), found a continuance of black and minority
stereotypes despite an increased use of numbers of characters
belonging to these groups. It was also found that the depictions
of minorities were not aligned with population figures. In a
study by Roberts (1970-71), blacks were shown to be less
stereotyped than in the past; Blacks were more often portrayed in
positions of management and less frequently in jobs of lower
A trend study conducted in 1971 and 1973 suggested images of
African Americans may have declined as the decade wore on
(Northcott, Seggar & Hinton, 1975). Compared to 1971, black
characters in 1973 were shown much less often and in less
prestigious positions. Results from this study also indicated a
trend toward increasing "tokenism" for both male and female
Afro-Americans. Black tokenism was the subject of another 1973
study, carried out by the same authors (Hinton, Seggar, Northcott
and Fontes, 1974). There blacks were more likely to assume minor
roles when compared with white portrayals. Black females in
particular were excluded from major roles and CBS and ABC most
often portrayed blacks in token situations. Whites, however,
were more often portrayed as hostile characters and were more
likely to engage in illegal or immoral behavior.
O'Kelley and Bloomquist (1976) found that minorities,
including blacks, oriental and American Indians, comprised only
4.9% of the characters on TV in 1973. Indeed, evidence from a
study spanning 1971 to 1975 suggests that while the number of
minority portrayals had increased during the first half of that
decade, the percentage of minority roles had decreased overall
(Seggar, 1977). Results indicate that the image of minorities
somewhat improved during the five year period.
Results of studies regarding racial portrayals in the second
half of the 1970s are conflicting. A study of the 1975, 1976 and
1977 television seasons indicated that black representation was
at least consistent with the general population (Greenberg,
Simmons, Hogan, and Atkin, 1980). However, another study of
drama and comedy from 1971 to 1980 demonstrates a decline in the
frequency of African American appearances (Seggar, Hafen &
Hannonen-Gladden, 1981). Furthermore, the percentage of black
characters had deceased over the ten year span while the
percentage of whites increased. The appearance of black females
had dropped markedly making them virtually "invisible".
Gerbner and associates (1993) found that blacks accounted
for less than 11 percent of prime time roles. At the same time,
a good deal of concern has again arisen over the nature of these
roles and ethnic stereotyping of blacks on prime time TV (Hammer,
1992). From around 1984 to 1991 other ethnic groups, such as
Hispanics (3 percent) and Asians (1 percent) have been virtually
non-existent on TV and are often reduced to stereotyped bit roles
in Hollywood (Elber, 1992). Gerbner found Hispanic roles on
prime time to account for one percent of all characters with
Native American and Asian characters almost non-existent.
Studies concerning the portrayals of individuals of
different age categories on television have been conducted to a
lesser extent than studies concerning race and gender. A study
of prime time programming from 1969 to 1971 found that elderly
persons accounted for less than 5 percent of all characters
(Aronoff, 1974). The average age for female characters was
almost ten years less than the average age of males.
Furthermore, old age was found to be associated with evil,
failure and unhappiness. Forty percent of older males and even
fewer older females were depicted in positive roles. Yet, a
study conducted just one year later produced conflicting results.
Petersen (1973), studying senior citizen portrayals in prime
time, found that programs projected a favorable image of the
elderly. Furthermore, old people appeared in programming in a
percentage that was higher than actual census figures. Older
women were under-represented in programs and older men were over-
A 1978 study of soap operas indicated a more positive image
of old people (Cassata, Anderson & Skill). Consistent with the
trends identified for female characters in general, older women
were found to appear just as often as older men in soaps.
However, males dominated the management and professional
occupations and were depicted in a higher socioeconomic bracket.
Overall, elderly characters were found to be attractive, employed
and living independently. Greenberg, Simmons, Hogan and Atkin
(1980) conducted a demographic study of programming from 1975 to
1977 in which the elderly were again found to be under-
represented when compared to the actual population. Teens were
found to be over-represented in programming. A trend analysis of
programs from 1969 to 1978 partially supports this finding
(Gerbner, Gross, Signorielli & Morgan, 1980). Results indicate
an extreme over-representation of characters in the middle years
(25-45) and an extreme under-representation of both the younger
and older years. This pattern was found to be consistent from
year to year.
The Fall Preview Issues of TV Guide from the years 1966
through 1992 were used for this study. 1966 was selected as the
starting point because it represented the first edition in which
an individual photograph and text description dedicated to each
program were organized by day of the week. This continues as the
format for the Fall Preview Issue today. A complete collection
of Fall Preview Issues dating back to 1966 was accomplished
through the library resources of the Michigan State University,
Western Michigan University, Southern Illinois University, and
Units of Analysis
The units of analysis were the individual text description
and accompanying graphic combinations for each new program
depicted in the Fall Preview Issues from 1966 to 1992. There were
658 total text and graphic combinations, each representing a
single program, available for coding. From these 658 programs
came the 1,757 major characters both portrayed in the graphic and
mentioned within the text.
The variables selected for analysis in the study consisted
of: sex, race, age, marital status, and occupation.
Age categories were devised after several practice sessions:
0-3 years, 4-12 years, 13-19 years, 20-35 years, 36-50 years, 51-
64 years and 65 years and above. Marital status was defined as
either married, single, divorced, or unable to tell.
Occupations were categorized as :
Professional--doctor, lawyer, teacher, accountant
Managerial--supervisor, business executive, business owner
Clerical--secretary, retail, office worker
Police and Operatives--police, detective, government agent
Laborer--factory worker, semi-skilled labor, cowboy,farmhand
Craftsperson--plumber, electrician, handyperson
Entertainer--singer, media star, newsperson
Home Care--domestics, housepersons, home makers
Children--those under age 18 with no occupation given
Other--politicians, sports, religious, etc.
Coder Training and Reliability
Coding was done by trained coders working independenttly.
Training consisted of 12 hours of instruction and supervised
practice coding sessions. To determine the reliability of the
coders' work, an agreement coefficient was calculated for each
The coefficients of agreement for the program analysis were as
follows: Sex 1.00, Age .91, Race .98, Marital Status.96, and
The total number of new season characters introduced from
1966 to 1992 was 1,757, omitting animals, alien life forms, and
talking vehicles. Across these 27 years the population of new
television characters ranged from 38 characters in 1973 (2.2%) to
123 characters in 1992 (7%). As can be seen in Figure 1 there is
little discernable pattern to this other than a sharp upsurge
beginning in 1989 which is attributed to the addition of Fox
network programs in the Fall Preview Issue. Though a slight
spike does occur in 1983 (92 characters, 5.2%) this can be
explained by a greater number of large ensemble casts that year
(e.g. Stephen Bochco's "Bay City Blues"). The rise occurring in
1975 (84 characters, 4.8%) is mostly due to the 18 member cast of
one CBS show, "Beacon Hill" which was patterned after the British
serial "Upstairs, Downstairs." Roughly equivalent proportions of
new characters came from the three major historic broadcast
networks, ABC 33 percent, CBS 31 percent, NBC 31 percent with a
remaining five percent from the newer Fox network. Across the
entire census an average of 68 new characters appeared each new
Fall television season.
The population was almost two-thirds male (65%, 1,142) and
one-third female (35%, 615) reflecting a true gender gap in
presentation of new characters throughout the 27 seasons. The
yearly patterns are reflected in Figure 2. Though equity was
nearly achieved in both 1980 (Male=52%, Female=48%) and 1984
(Male=51%, Female=49%) never did the number of new female
characters actually outnumber that of males in any season. For
fourteen years, 1966 to 1979, the number of new female characters
actually remained below the overall 35 percent average in every
year but one. This period also captures the time frames, 1969 to
1974 and 1975 to 1977, sampled in the two Window Dressing on the
Set reports from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights reports
where 26 percent and 28 percent of all prime time characters
respectively were found to be female (U.S. Commission, 1977,
1979). Over those same periods our data reveal that females were
36 percent of all new season characters from 1969 to 1974 and 32
percent from 1975 to 1977 were female. These percentages suggest
that a slight upward elevation in new female roles, relative to
those found in overall prime time dramatic programming, did
occur. Interestingly, a sharp rise in major female characters of
1980 arrived in the new season immediately following release of
the second Civil Rights Commission Report.
On a yearly basis, it was not until 1983 that new female
characters consistently began to comprise at least one out-of-
three new television characters. Coupled with Gerbner's (1993)
finding that one out-of-three extant TV roles are female, our
finding suggests that television's lopsided birth rate is very
much responsible for this imbalance. Moreover, network new
season efforts have historically not altered this pattern in any
significant way. Yet, such a gender imbalance has been clearly
out of synch with the real world U.S. population. According to
U.S. Census statistics for the four decades considered in this
study, actual female population has never dipped below 51 percent
of the total U.S. population (U.S. Bureau of Census, 1975, 1990,
All four broadcast networks were fairly close in terms of
percentages of new female characters, as both CBS (38%) and Fox
(38%) contributed slightly larger proportions of female roles
than did NBC (34%) and ABC (33%). Overall, females characters
were more likely to be younger in age than males (p.<.05), with
71 percent of the females being 35 years of age or younger.
In further considering age, as seen in Figure 3, seven
percent of all new characters were preteens, 13 percent were
teenagers, most characters, 43 percent were 20-35 years of age,
those 36-50 years old made up 28 percent of the population, and
the remaining nine percent were above 51 years. Within the
latter grouping, only two percent were seniors over the age of
65. On the most part the newcomers to television were a fairly
young group. The yearly patterns in terms of age are seen in
Figure 4. The largest and most variable grouping is the 20-35
age group whose characters also represented a plurality in all
seasons except 1966, 1975, 1984, and 1988. At times, the yearly
variations among the second most frequently occurring group, 36-
50 years, were even greater. Within these variations a pattern
is revealed, when 20-35 year olds are displaced as a plurality it
is always by those 36-50 year old characters. Also, the less
represented age categories though far more stable in their
patterns of appearance, represent percentages for each season
which are far below those found for characters 20 to 50 years
The oldest characters were found on NBC, with 41 percent of
these over 35, compared with 37 percent CBS, ABC 36 percent, and
Fox at 20 percent. Fox also had the greatest percentage of
teenagers compared to the other networks with 29 percent, more
than doubling those of the next highest CBS, 14 percent, with ABC
11 percent and NBC 12 percent. This finding is consonant with
the Fox strategy of programming to a younger audience with youth-
oriented programs and characters (Thomas and Litman, 1990).
Within the population of the entire 27 seasons, 88 percent
were white, 10 percent African American, less than one percent
were Hispanic with a similar number Asian, and Native Americans
were virtually non-existent. Of the 1,757 new fall season
characters introduced, only 12 Asians and 13 Hispanics could be
identified as having major roles, most of these occurring since
Figure 5 displays the proportion of black characters and
white characters through these 27 years of fall programs. In
fourteen of those years, whites comprised 90-99 percent of the
total. An early increase in 1968-1970 (after the Kerner
Commission Report) dropped until 1973-1974, and declined again
for nearly ten years. The most consistent upward trend was found
from 1984 forward and a relatively stable pattern over the next
eight years is seen, with levels of 10 percent or more. Beginning
in 1984, percentages ranged from 10 percent (1987) to 24 percent
(1985), with an average of 15 percent of all new characters being
CBS had the highest percentage of white characters (90%),
and Asian characters (1%) and the lowest percentages of African
American (8%) and Hispanic characters (.6%). NBC and ABC each
had 87 percent white and 11 percent black characters, with less
than 1 percent Asian or Hispanic characters. In Fox's four new
seasons it was 13 percent black and 82 percent white, with no
Asians or Hispanic characters but the highest percentage of
"other" ethnic groups (6%).
Table 1 shows the analysis of decade and partial-decade
trends in the introduction of new television season characters.
Also included in the table are the U.S. Census figures for each
category. Across decades there appears to have been a steady
upward trend toward increased new black characters. The later
1960s saw 6 percent, this increased slightly to 8 percent through
the 1970s, in the 1980s this increased to 12 percent, and the
first three years of the 1990s showed increases to 14 percent.
After decades of being under-represented, the 1980s population of
new black characters was remarkably in synch with the U.S. Census
figure for 1980 (12%). In the early 1990s that figure actually
exceeds real world population for the first time. This is perhaps
the networks' direct response to a 1990 Nielsen study that found
black households watching TV in record numbers, averaging around
70 hours per week, compared with 47 hours for non-blacks (Hammer,
1992). On the other hand the low percentage and sporadic
addition of new Asian characters diminished to a point where none
were added in the early 1990s. This runs counter to the U.S.
population data which shows an upward trend from 1.6 percent in
1980 to 2.9 percent in the 1990 census for Asians. Hispanics
characters had a similar decline after the slight upsurge to one
percent in the 1970s to less than half that in the 1990s. This
has occurred despite Hispanics now comprising nine percent of
current 1990 U.S. population. White characters, declined
somewhat from the 1960s to the present, with a leveling to around
85 percent through the 1980s and into the early 1990s. Though
this decrease somewhat mirrors that within the real U.S.
population, whites are still over-represented among new
The most represented occupations, nearly one quarter of the
characters (n=419, 24%), were professionals (doctor, lawyer,
accountant). Around 18 percent fell into "other" reflecting a
wide variety of working pursuits. Law enforcement and related
activities represented 10 percent of the new character roles, 17
percent were children/students, 9 percent were blue collar
laborers such as factory workers or ranch hands, 5 percent were
craftspersons, the remaining occupational categories accounted
for 1 to 5 percent of the population census. No identifiable
occupation was indicated for 9 percent of the new season
As for occupation and gender, 27 percent of all males were
professionals with females at 17 percent. With the exception of a
greater percentage of males characters being police, more females
being home care workers and unskilled laborers than males,
occupations are similar in terms of their percentages of total
across the two gender populations. Yet, when considering the
number breakdowns within each separate occupational category by
gender, males were five times as likely to be portrayed as
salespersons, twice as likely to be craftspersons, and women were
only half as likely to be managers. Women were four times as
likely to be domestics or homemakers. But when it came to
occupations other than domestics or homemakers, a greater
percentage of males (66%) worked out of their home than did
For a large portion of the adult characters, 39 percent, it
was impossible to determine the marital status based on the
information contained in the Fall Preview Issues. This
percentage makes generalizations less certain regarding new
season characters' population marital status even within the
gathered census. Still, where a determination could be made,
single status was the most frequent (45%), while 14 percent were
clearly married, and 2 percent were divorced. Through the 27
years, one interesting trend emerged, in the 1971, 1972, and 1973
seasons, the percentage of married characters was greater than
unmarrieds; these three years were the only seasons in which that
was true. This is traceable to the increased appearance of more
family-centered programs ranging from "The New Dick Van Dyke
Show" to "The Waltons." Interestingly, this period coincided
with the increased government scrutiny of TV violence and sex
(Liebert, Sprakin, and Davidson, 1985) which may have given
impetus to these more familial sorts of network program
offerings. Recall that the short-lived "family viewing hour"
rule was adopted by the National Association of Broadcasters and
its members a short time later. However, that marriage trend
reversed itself quickly and from 1978 the average number of
married characters has been 15 percent. Marriage has a lesser
place as a featured attribute for new season shows. Through the
27 seasons, excluding those seasons where 30 percent or more were
unidentifiable, the ratio of non-married to marrieds ranged from
a high of 5 to 1 to a low of 1.5 to 1. In the main, television
series have persistently emphasized the lifestyles of the single
adult (Cheseboro, 1985). This trend is borne out in the network
additions of new season characters across time. Considering all
1,757 characters, identified husband roles were 8 percent, while
wives made up 7 percent of them. Interestingly, males were more
likely to be identified in both spousal (male=56% and female=44%)
and parental roles (male=59% and female=41%) then were the female
characters depicted in the Fall Preview Issue.
This study's examination of 27 years worth of new season
characters from the TV Guide Fall Preview Issues suggests that
the changing landscape of television is perhaps more glacial than
volcanic. Television's new season populations present overall
patterns which are more akin to maintenance of a general
It seems almost axiomatic that television programming
represents a fictionalized world that is in a great many ways
asymmetrical to the real world. Similarly the people who
populate television programs are themselves not representative of
those found in "real life" American society either. Our findings
tend to reinforce this notion when it comes to new TV characters.
Prime time television characters do remain among the most visible
"individuals" in American society. Yet, television's skewed
demography, rather than interpreted as a faulty reflection of our
culture, is perhaps more interesting when seen in the larger
context of the process of television itself.
The assembly line of television's new seasons with rare
exception appears remarkably uniform in its output of situation
comedies, crime dramas, and the like. Working within the
repeated generic forms producers make decisions as to the social
worlds constructed within even these highly formulaic programs.
A frequent indictment of the cultural experience and symbolic
environment of television is that it represents a constructed
social reality that tends to amplify the dominant ideology.
Gramsci's (1971) notion of hegemony is often applied to the
media's supposed role in shaping public perceptions of and
preferences for the status qou. Hegemony posits that the ruling
class through it control of social institutions is able to impose
its values and belief system on the populace. An important
method for maintaining dominance is by the creation of a
consensus within the society, and the argument continues that
this consensus can be molded through the media. Yet, how
television might construct and convey hegemonic ideology remains
less than clear (Kellner, 1985); but the products of this
hegemonic tendency may be accessible as we see its actual
content. Television as a technology is neutral, but the content,
of which characters are essential components by virtue of both
their actions and presence, may not be so neutral.
Gitlin (1987) affirms that the regular changes that do occur
in TV programs, similar to regular election of public officials,
seem to affirm the "sovereignty" of the audience. The appearance
of consumer choice in light of elite authority tends to reinforce
hegemonic liberal capitalist ideology. To this way of thinking,
these programs are the products of the tension between the
profit-making motivation of industry and the desire to preserve
the overall status quo.
That youth and prestigious occupation are exaggerated in
occurrence and therefore in their implied importance is very
apparent in television's world. In new programs, male characters
have tended to be white, youthful or in their prime, with a
professional or prestigious occupation. Networks attempt to
attract and reinforce the valued demographic of young, not-yet-
brand-loyal viewers having disposable income through creation of
idealized mirror images. The results have yielded imbalances in
almost every demographic category. The overall lack of female
characters, their over-representation in younger age categories
and conversely under-representation in older age categories, does
run counter to the trends in population. Even this seems
indicative of a male-oriented society as displayed on television
where earning power is equal to political and economic dominance.
There is no doubt the depiction of gender and other demographic
aspects on television are deserving much greater treatment than
is possible here. Analytic approaches such as Kervin's (1992) in
which gender coding and context are understood through various
production elements offers just one interesting possibility. One
of the main contributions of the present study is in its creation
of baseline measures through time which are descriptive in
nature. More intense analysis of images portrayed in all new
character roles would be a logical next step for future research.
As for the use of TV Guide as a research tool, it has proven
fruitful on the most part. At the same time, alterations within
the television environment will likely require the eventual
transformation of TV Guide itself as listings for 150 or more
cable channels prove unwieldy. It seems ironic that television,
the essential material for TV Guide's continued success, has been
so often blamed as a cause for the demise of other print
publications (Turow, 1984). Now the movement toward user-
friendly interactive program guides and an electronic form of TV
Guide may eventually drive the familiar version closer to fate of
the Sears Catalog Wishbook (Laderman, 1994). What the magazine
has left behind, even through editorial and ownership changes, is
a detailed record of television that can be a valuable source of
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1. This is true with the exception of Changing Channels: America
in TV Guide 1992, University of Illinois Press, by Glenn
Altschuler and David Grossvogel. In this book, the authors
provide a comprehensive picture of the interworkings and
editorial history of the magazine as well focusing on a good deal
of the magazine's content. Examining articles from 1953 to 1991,
this work stands alone as a descriptive piece on the magazine
2. Prior to 1966, formats and styles of the Fall Preview
Issues varied from year to year. For example, earlier 1950's
editions offered descriptions of all programs in a selected genre
grouped together into a single narrative about a page in length.
Photographs, when present, were often separated from the text and
usually combined onto a single page according to genre. For
example, a reader in the late fifties would see the stars of the
competing networks' "Bat Masterson, "The Rifleman," and "The
Texan" all gathered in a photographic collage.
Beginning first in 1960, each program received its own text
description and the photographs were for the first time divided
by day-of-the week rather than by genre. However, for the next
several years, program characters from one night's viewing would
be seen cramped on a single page either photographed as a group
or individually, making for some unusual groupings. For example,
in the 1962 Fall Preview Issue, Vic Morrow of "Combat" stood in
army uniform and holding a rifle next to Edie Adams of "Here's
Edie" dressed in her fashionable evening gown. It would be 1966
before the Fall Preview Issue settled into its standardized form,
the one familiar today.
3. The September 23, 1961 Fall Preview Issue actually seemed to
be justifying its own existence and role in stating:
"May we presume to advise you? Watch the new show. Maybe
it'll be the last time you will, but watch the new show.
Give it a chance. And if you're worried about missing an
episode of your favorite-forget it. You can count on seeing
it next summer, when the reruns blooms again."
4. An example of an anthropological approach to TV and its use can
be seen in work of Conrad Phillip Kottak. See Prime Time
Society: An Anthropological Analysis of Television and Culture.
C.P.Kottak. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing. 1990.