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TV Jargon (TV Industry Terminology)

A-D / E-Q / R-S / T-Z

Electronicam - The bifocal camera system developed by James L. Caddigan in association with Dumont Laboratories in 1955. The Electronicam provided higher quality film and lower production costs and virtually rendered "Kinescopes" obsolete. In essence, it combined simultaneous live TV with a filming process. CAPTAIN VIDEO was filmed with the Electronicam process as a test, however the first great triumph of this system came with the filming of the classic 39 episodes of THE HONEYMOONERS/CBS/1955-56. Previously only the cameraman could see the action that occurred on screen, now the editors, directors, make-up and lighting personnel could simultaneously watch the filmed action from separate monitors both during rehearsal and the actual filming.

Gizmo - The name of the video switcher designed by engineer George Gould while working on the early sci-fi series TOM CORBETT, SPACE CADET in 1951. Developed with the assistance of ABC engineers Ralph Drucker and David Fee, the Gizmo enabled Gould to superimpose the images of actors from one set to another via electronic camera without the images washing out. As a result of this new innovated process, production costs were brought down and scenes such as space cadets walking under water with fish swimming by were now possible. Cost of developing the device was a mere $100.00.

Golden Age, The - Term commonly used to describe the television programs (many broadcast live) produced from approximately 1947 through the mid-fifties. One of the first broadcasts of this kind was KRAFT TV THEATRE which premiered May 7, 1947 with studio dramas performed in the tradition of live theater. (teen idol, James Dean made 25 television appearances in these live dramas in the 1950s). The KRAFT TV THEATRE spawned other imitators such as ACTOR'S STUDIO, ALCOA THEATRE, ARMSTRONG CIRCLE THEATRE, BRECK GOLDEN SHOWCASE, KAISER ALUMINUM HOUR, DESILU PLAYHOUSE, GENERAL ELECTRIC THEATRE, HALLMARK HALL OF FAME, LUX VIDEO THEATRE, MATINEE THEATRE, MOTOROLA TV HOUR, OMNIBUS, REVLON THEATRE and THE US STEEL HOUR. Many of these programs are no longer in existence because they were produced before the days of video tape. However, their sound and light waves still exist in the vastness of outer space, hopefully entertaining extraterrestrials everywhere. See also "Kinescope"

Hays Code See "The Motion Picture Production Code"

HDTV - The shortened version of "High Definition Television" one of the coming standards in the future of television technology. Presently, America's TV picture tube is made up of 525 horizontal lines, but the HDTV consists of 1125 horizontal lines thus producing a higher definition picture with the sharpness of a 35 mm movie. The system however is not compatible with the some 200 million existing US television sets. This may be remedied by the utilization of the HRTV "High Resolution TV" a system with 1050 lines in development. Currently the HDTV system runs from $1,800 to $4000.

Iconoscope - This device is the "eye" of the TV camera. Television pioneer Vladimir K. Zworykin invented an early model of the iconoscope which made good picture transmission possible. Zworykin was also responsible for the first electronic camera and perfecting the Kinescope. He is considered the Father of Television.

Infomercials - Generally a half-hour program whose sole purpose is to sell a product. The infomercial started in 1984 after the Federal Trade Commission lifted restrictions on how much time a local TV station could sell. Since that time TV has been inundated with thousands of hours of lengthy testimonials and product pitches for such items as Richard Simmons' Deal-A-Meal; Kitchenmate Mixer, The Psychic Network, Carleton Sheets Real Estate Success Seminars, Tony Robbins' Personnel Power Videotapes, the GripMaster tool, and dozens of exercise equipment commercials such as the Flip Trak Tread Mill, the Nautilus Adjustable Slant Board and Bench, the Health Rider, the Power Rider and the Health Walker. Forerunners to these lengthy TV spots were Ronco products like the Veg-O-Matic ("it slices, it dices...") and the Pocket Fisherman marketed in the fifties and sixties. See also "Promercials"

JICTAR - Acronym for Joint Industry Committee For Television Research. JICTAR is the British equivalent of the American rating services A.C. Nielsen & Arbitron who record television viewing patterns which determine fees charged for commercial air time. The organization is supported by major British advertisers.

Kinescope - Before the advent of video-tape recording storage techniques, all television programming was shot live (not filmed but telecast directly around the country). Because of this technology, much of what was performed on the Golden Age of television in the 1950s was lost forever. However, there were shows stored via the Kinescope method. This was the process whereby a movie camera loaded with film recorded the images directly off a TV monitor. This produced a very poor copy of what was broadcast but considering the alternative it was quite good.

Laugh Track See "The Mackenzie"

Little Annie See "Stanton-Lazarfeld Program Analyzer"

Little Black Box, The See "Audimeter"

Live Television - In the early days of television all broadcasts were done "live" which meant the program signal was shot/transmitted during the actual performance to the home viewer's set, one take only, no chance for mistakes. The lack of recording technology prevented any of these shows from being stored except by filming the TV monitor with a film camera. These were known as "Kinescopes." With the advent of videotape in the late 1950s, the "live" television empire set up in New York City began to grind to a halt. Economics dictated that television had to go on film for the sake of ease of distribution and rerun efficiency. Eventually New York could not compete with Hollywood and soon "live" television slowly faded. Currently, with the exceptions of live broadcasts from major sporting events, local news broadcasts and a few prime time programs as NBC's SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and ABC's NIGHTLINE with Ted Koppel, the majority of today's programming is produced on videotape and aired at a later time. See also "Television"

MacGuffin, The - An object or secret used only as a devise or pretext for a suspense plot. The term originated with filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. The MacGuffin could be anything (microfilm, military plans, etc.) It didn't matter what the MacGuffin was just as long it helped develop and carry along the plot. The MacGuffin in Hitchcock's quintessential comedy-thriller North By Northwest (1959) starring Cary Grant was a set of government secrets praised by Hitchcock as being "the most impertinent, the most nonexistent, and the most absurd" of all his MacGuffin inventions.

Mackenzie, The - The nickname of the canned laughter machine used in the television industry to "sweeten" (adding sound effects such as laughter) to a program track. Jackie Gleason explained his opposition to the laugh track by saying "I'd hate to do something on our show (THE HONEYMOONERS) that was a laugh on someone else's." An early example of a mechanical laugh track, known as "The Laff Box" was created in the mid-fifties by CBS employees, Charley and Bob Douglass.

Networks - Currently defined as any service airing at least 15 hours of programming a week and in at least 75 percent of TV households. The following is a short survey of networks in the USA.

  • CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System) was begun in 1927 as United Independent Broadcasting, a radio network. One year later, William S. Paley bought control of the network for $400,000 and renamed the network the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). Both CBS & NBC were granted commercial licenses for their New York stations on July 1, 1941 with NBC on channel one: WNBT (now WNBT-TV) and CBS on channel four: WCBW-TV (now WCBS-TV).
  • NBC who had opened experimental TV station W2XBS in New York in 1930, inaugurated its first regular TV service on April 30, 1939. This was the official opening of the World's Fair in New York.
  • The FCC granted the DuMont network its first television station license W2XWV in New York on April 13, 1940. Dumont was administered from New York's flagship station WABD (now WNEW-TV). Founder of the system was Dr. Allen B. Dumont who developed and manufactured the first all electronic TV set at his New Jersey Laboratory. Dumont marketed 14" home TV sets as early as 1938.
  • A 1941 FCC ruling required RCA to divest itself of one of its two networks; NBC Blue ("The Blue Network") was sold in 1943 to Edward Noble for $8 million, and becomes ABC in 1945. Due to increasing competition from NBC, CBS and ABC, the DuMont network failed in 1955.
  • The ABC network started its own New York station in August of 1948. Previously ABC had used the facilities of the DuMont network to produce such programming as PLAY THE GAME/DUM/1946 acclaimed as ABC's first program.
  • The Public Broadcasting System (PBS) was founded in 1968 by an act of congress (Public Television Act of 1967) to support non-commercial TV & radio programs. The programming would be free of Federal interference and help foster regional diversity.
  • In the fall of 1986 the FOX Network (the first fourth network since the demise of DuMont network) began broadcasting via their syndicated affiliates nationwide. Their first program was THE JOAN RIVERS SHOW, a late night talk show which aired live from Hollywood at 11:00 P.M.. till midnight. On April 5, 1987, FOX kicked off a series of first run comedy, variety. and dramas including: MARRIED...WITH CHILDREN, THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW, 21 JUMP STREET, DUET, MR. PRESIDENT, KAREN'S SONG, DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS, THE NEW ADVENTURES OF BEANS BAXTER and WEREWOLF. The Fox Broadcasting Company (FOX) was founded by maverick, Australian-born businessman, Rupert Murdoch. Some 80 to 110 affiliates have joined forces to form the new network. He later purchased the bible of weekly TV viewing TV Guide magazine.
  • In 1990, new networks were introduced including the SCI-FI Channel, Comedy Central Network, the UPN Network and the WB (Warner Brothers) Network.

Oaters - Slang term used to describe the cowboy western, especially low-budget westerns that once filled television screens in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Its origins probably refer to the many horses that appeared on the shows and the fact that they ate "oats." In the year 1959, the prime time schedule included an incredible 29 western programs. That's an average of 4.1 shoot-em-ups a night, not including the police and detective series. Westerns are also referred to as "Horse Operas."

People Meter See "A.C. Nielsen Ratings Service"

Plugola - The placing of a product on-camera without the permission of the TV station or network. In the 1950s, writers and directors took money behind the backs of TV production company for agreeing to place or "plug" a product on the air. Alan Freed, Cleveland's WJM radio station deejay who coined the phrase "rock and roll," was accused of a similar practice called "payola" in 1959 for accepting money for pay-for-play practices that got a record played on the radio if some money changed hands.

Prequels - Describes a story whose plotline is set before the original story. An example of a prequel is the motion picture Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992). Produced after the original series upon which it was based (TWIN PEAKS/ABC/1990-91), the film focused on the last weeks in the life of Laura Palmer before she was killed. The original storyline of the TWIN PEAKS series began with clairvoyant FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) called into to discover "Who killed Laura Palmer?", a seemingly innocent high school student who was actually turning tricks at a seedy Canadian border bar and brothel. Another example was the prequel frontier adventure YOUNG DAN'L BOONE/CBS/1977 starring Rick Moses as frontiersman in his mid-twenties. This series was produced after the frontier adventure DANIEL BOONE/NBC/1964-70 when actor Fess Parker (who also played Disney's Davy Crockett) starred as Indian fighter Daniel Boone.

Prime Time - Term first used in 1959 to define the television viewing time and programs broadcast between the evening hours of 7:00 to 11:00 P.M. Currently prime time is considered between the hours of 8:00 to 11:00 P.M., six nights a week. On Sunday, however, prime time starts an hour earlier at 7:00 P.M. but that first hour can only be used for news programs or family shows or family oriented situation comedy/dramas. According to the A.C. Nielsen Company, the most popular half-hour of prime time TV viewing is the 8:30 to 9:00 P.M. period, attracting 104.5 million viewers during an average minute. The most popular evening for TV viewing is Sunday night, pulling 103.8 million people during the average minute. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ordered the major networks in the fall of 1971 to cut back their evening programming from 7:30 to 8:00 P.M.. This was supposed to encourage local programming and original shows, not reruns. However, over the years because of economics, the high cost of independent productions and initial high investment needed, nothing but inexpensive game show, wild life series and miscellaneous reruns filled the time slots.

Program Guides See BOOKS - "TV Guide Magazine"

Promercials - The act of inserting a commerial message within a TV program as part of the show's dialogue. For instance, a TV character may be rding in a car with a friend and the friend begins a discussion about the car ("What a nice car....") . This little commentary integrates the brand or product into the plot. It's a variation on brand placement when the camera might show a closeup of a product during a scene. Let's say a character is eating cereal in the kitchen and the camera makes sure the front of the box is promintenly displayed in the shot. The goal or the "Promercials" (a mash-up of “promotion” and “commercial”) is to replace commercials with something that viewers will not zip through or zap when they view recorded TV shows. The practice of using promericals began to appear regularly in 2010.

A-D / E-Q / R-S / T-Z


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