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Paul Sparks - Online English Lesson Plans, Lesson Material and Ideas for "Culture of English Speaking Countries Lessons" for Xiangtan Normal University...




American Media

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  • From the 1950's to 1980's three privately owned television networks offered free programs financed by commercials, they were NBC, CBS, and ABC - controlling  90% of the TV market. Since the 1980's there has been an increase in pay cable TV transmitted by satellite. By 1994, almost 60 percent of American households had subscribed to cable TV. Among the new cable channels were several that show movies 24 hours a day, channels such as MTV, which shows music videos, and many news and entertainment channels.

  • A fourth major commercial network, FOX, has expanded quickly, broadcasting local and national shows.

  • There are over 300 public television stations across the United States, each of which is independent and serves its community's interests. But the stations are united by such national entities as the Public Broadcasting Service, PBS, which supplies programming. American taxpayers provide partial funding for public television.

  • The big Television Networks have grown quickly, there are now many large broadcasters who run many different TV stations.

  • Television shows are divided up into different times of day: Daytime, Primetime and Weekends.

  • There are many successful shows which have been sold to many other countries including the huge comedy - “Friends” - NBC’s worldwide hit series, shown on primetime Thursday nights. “Friends” continues as the number one comedy and top-rated 8 p.m. series on television. comedy about six close-knit young friends living in New York City. 

  • Another top comedy - “Ally McBeal” revolves around the life of a female lawyer, Ally McBeal, working at a Boston law firm. She went to law school at Harvard, where she was deeply in love with a man called Billy, however Billy left, where he met his wife, Ally is still in love with Billy and the drama follows their lives in and out of the office. 

  • There are many American Soap Operas - “Days of our Lives” which turns 36 this November, first premiered as a half-hour drama in 1965 and expanded to an hour 10 years later. Today, it remains a favorite among viewers of daytime television. It is the top of NBC’s soap opera lineup and a true classic in television history.

  • Many American soaps feature very attractive cast members, unlike British soaps which feature characters which are more true to life.

  • Drama - “ER” - This drama series involves the overworked and underpaid doctors working in an emergency department of a hospital. The show follows their lives as they make life-and-death decisions every day. Very popular show, made in America and exported to many other countries.

  • Drama - “NYPD Blue” is a police drama series. Set in the violent world of New York City, NYPD Blue powerfully portrays realistic characters devoting themselves to the pursuit of justice.

  • Talk shows - “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” continues “The Tonight Show’s” half-century tradition of entertaining viewers and providing them with laughs on late night TV, a mix of talk, interviews and comedy. 

  • Quiz shows - “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” began in the United Kingdom in September 1998. The series was a big hit there and still is — hitting a ratings high of 19 million viewers. It premiered in the United States on ABC on August 16, 1999, where it averaged about 29 million viewers per night in the 1999-2000 season. Now sold to many countries outside of the UK.

  • News - There are many local and national news channels. The most well know is CNN.


  • The beginning of commercial radio broadcasts in 1920 brought a new source of information and entertainment directly into American homes.

  • The widespread availability of television after World War II caused radio executives to rethink their programming. Radio could hardly compete with television's visual presentation of drama, comedy, and variety acts; many radio stations switched to a format of recorded music mixed with news and features. Starting in the 1950s, radios became standard accessories in American automobiles. The medium enjoyed a renaissance as American commuters tuned in their car radios on the way to work. 

  • The expansion of FM radio, which has better sound quality but a more limited signal range than AM, led to a split in radio programming in the 1970s and 1980s. FM came to dominate the music side of programming, while AM has shifted mainly to all-news and talk formats. 

  • Developed over the past 25 years, talk radio features a host, a celebrity or an expert on some subject, and the opportunity for listeners to call in and ask questions or express opinions on the air. The call-in format is now heard on nearly 1,000 of the 10,000 commercial radio stations in the United States. 

  • Besides the 10,000 commercial radio stations, the United States has more than 1,400 public radio stations. Most of these are run by universities and other public institutions for educational purposes and are financed by public funds and private donations. In 1991, more than 12 million Americans listened each week to the 430 public radio stations affiliated with National Public Radio, a nationwide, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. 


  • In 1990 the press celebrated its 300th anniversary as an American institution. In 1734 the governor of New York charged John Peter Zenger, publisher of the New York Weekly Journal, with seditious libel. Zenger's lawyer, Alexander Hamilton, argued that "the truth of the facts" was reason enough to print a story. In a decision bolstering freedom of the press, the jury acquitted Zenger. 

  • The "New York Tribune" began in 1841, and it quickly became the nation's most influential newspaper. Early in the 20th century, newspaper editors realized that the best way to attract readers was to give them all sides of a story, without bias. This standard of objective reporting is today one of American journalism's most important traditions. Another dominant feature of early 20th-century journalism was the creation of chains of newspapers operating under the same ownership, today about 75 percent of all U.S. daily papers are owned by newspaper chains. 

  • The number of Sunday papers rose from 497 in 1946 to 889 in 1994. The largest U.S. newspapers have been losing circulation in recent years, a trend that can be attributed to the increasing availability of news from television and other sources. 

  • The top five daily newspapers by circulation in 1995 were the Wall Street Journal (1,823,207), USA Today (1,570,624), the New York Times (1,170,869), the Los Angeles Times (1,053,498), and the Washington Post (840,232). The youngest of the top five, USA Today, was launched as a national newspaper in 1982, after exhaustive research by the Gannett chain. It relies on bold graphic design, color photos, and brief articles to capture an audience of urban readers interested in news "bites" rather than traditional, longer stories. 

  • New technology has made USA Today possible and is enabling other newspapers to enlarge their national and international audiences. USA Today is edited and composed in Arlington, Virginia, then transmitted via satellite to 32 printing plants around the country and two printing plants serving Europe and Asia. The International Herald Tribune, owned jointly by the New York Times and the Washington Post, is a global newspaper, printed via satellite in 11 cities around the world and distributed in 164 countries.


  • In 1893, the first mass-circulation magazines were introduced, and in 1923, Henry Luce launched "Time", the first weekly news magazine. 

  • Magazine publishers responded to a reduction in readers by trying to appeal more to carefully defined audiences than to the public at large. Magazines are now available on virtually any topic. TV Guide, Time, and Newsweek, for example, also publish regional editions. 

  • The number of  magazines published in the United States has risen, from 6,960 in 1970 to 11,000 in 1994. More than 50 magazines had a circulation of over one million in 1994. The top two in circulation were both aimed at retired persons: NRTS/AARP Bulletin (21,875,436) and Modern Maturity (21,716,727). Rounding out the top five were Reader's Digest (15,126,664), TV Guide (14,037,062), and National Geographic (9,283,079). 

  • In 1993, Time became the first magazine to offer an on-line edition that subscribers can call up on their computers before it hits the newsstands.

Many Americans are disturbed by the amount of violence their children see on television. In response to citizens' complaints and pressure from the Congress, the four major TV networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox -- agreed in 1993 to inform parents of violent content at the beginning of a program, and cable networks have agreed to give similar warnings. In 1996, the commercial and cable networks went a step further and established a rating system, based on the amount of violence, sexual content, and/or profane language that a program contains. A symbol indicating the show's rating appears on the television screen at the beginning of, and intermittently during, the broadcast. 

Such voluntary measures seem preferable to government regulation of programming content, which would probably violate the First Amendment. Another possible solution to the problem is technological. Beginning in 1998 new television sets sold in the United States will be equipped with a "V-chip," a device that will enable parents to block out programs they would rather their children not see. 

Similar complaints have been voiced about the words and images accessible on computers. Congress recently passed a law attempting to keep indecent language or pictures from being transmitted through cyberspace, but a federal court struck it down as unconstitutional. If this problem has a solution, it probably lies either in close parental supervision of children's time on the computer or the development of a technological barrier to use of certain computer functions. 

One of the most debated media-related issues facing Americans today has little to do with technology and much more to do with the age-old concept of personal privacy: whether any area of a person's life should remain off-limits once he or she becomes a public figure. In 1988, a leading presidential candidate, Senator Gary Hart, withdrew from the race after the press revealed his affair with a young woman. Politicians from both parties complain that the press is "out to get" them, and some conservative members of Congress assert that the media are biased in favor of liberals. Many critics believe that increased prying by the media will deter capable people, regardless of their beliefs, from going into politics. 

On the other hand, in the old days reporters virtually conspired with politicians to keep the public from knowing about personal weaknesses. President Franklin Roosevelt's crippled body was not talked about or photographed, and his poor physical health was kept from the electorate when he ran for a fourth term in 1944. A majority of voters might have chosen Roosevelt anyway, but shielding them from the facts seems dishonest to most Americans today, who believe that in a democracy it is better to share information than to suppress it.

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