Topics in the News
The Business of Books
Novelists, poets, and writers of nonfiction plied their craft in the 1990s pretty much as they had since the invention of movable type, but the business of publishing and marketing books evolved at a pace that left industry analysts wondering if these were the best of times, worst of times or, more likely, both at once. While there was no shortage of writers clamoring to see their work in print, and readers continued to buy books, the industry found itself in a crisis. Commending a book to the printing press had always been an act of faith for the publisher. Unless the writer could be persuaded to pay the costs of printing out of pocket, publishers risked a substantial sum of money producing books that might never sell. Of course, publishers advertised and tried to persuade bookstore owners to stock and prominently display new titles, but if copies remained unsold, booksellers could return them to the publisher, who either pulped them or sold them at a loss. Since end-of-the-year inventories were taxed, neither publishers, distributors, nor retailers wanted a large backlog of unsold books.
According to Jason Epstein, former editorial director of Random House, "book publishing has deviated from its true nature by assuming, under duress from unfavorable market conditions and the mis-conceptions of...
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Cartoons in Prime Time
Not Just for Kids.
At the end of the decade, what was the longest-running situation comedy in prime time? The Simpsons. With the success of this show, television executives learned that cartoons were not just for kids on Saturday morning. By the end of the 1990s, FOX, MTV, and WB were all running prime-time cartoons. While The Simpsons was by far the most consistently excellent animated series, several other shows provided prime-time laughs and acquired devoted followings.
Cartoonist Matt Groening introduced The Simpsons in 1987 on The Tracey Ullman Show (1987-1990). Before creating The Simpsons, Groening was best known for his Life in Hell comic strip that first appeared in 1977 and became syndicated in more than 250 newspapers worldwide. Following their stint on The Tracey Ullman Show, The Simpsons got their own Christmas special in 1989, and a prime-time series was launched 14 January 1990 with "Bart the Genius." In this episode Bart learned his lesson when he cheated on an aptitude test and then ended up in a school for exceptional children. The Simpson family—Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie—fast became cultural icons and the instruments of hilarious and surprising social satire. Perhaps one testimony to the success of The Simpsons is the long list...
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In the 1990s the American appetite for "real" TV grew. In addition to the many "shockumentaries" that showed footage of everything from police chases to animal attacks, Americans began to tune in to courtroom television. Two subgenres experienced increasing popularity throughout the decade—televised coverage of criminal trials and shows starring theatrical judges who generally heard civil cases brought by friends, relatives, neighbors, and business associates against each other.
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A Pitfall on the Information Superhighway.
The Internet brought quick, easy access to information into homes and offices worldwide in the 1990s. Bright entrepreneurs developed various e-commerce sites, and the web became a viable place of business for many, including those who offer sexually explicit images. Unlike seedy adult bookstores, many pornographic sites in cyberspace are easily accessible to anyone at a computer keyboard, including children. That recognition set off a raging debate about the legality of pornography on the web. At the core of this debate was the question raised by the new technology—was the web more like print media and therefore protected by the First Amendment from much regulation at all, or
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Bigger? Yes. Better? Remains to Be Seen.
The trend toward consolidation begun in the 1980s continued with renewed vigor in the 1990s. Publishing houses, newspapers, radio and television stations all were swallowed up in the ongoing series of mergers that created larger and larger companies while reducing genuine diversity in ownership and perspective, as well as occasionally creating strange bedfellows.
Newspapers for Sale.
The hometown newspaper, a staple of American life, was undergoing a major change in the 1990s that may completely alter the nature of local news. Half of the 1,489 daily U.S. newspapers had circulations under thirteen thousand, but these small papers were being bought up as business investments at an amazing rate—more than 380 were sold in a five-year period, The home-town daily constituted 70 percent of daily newspaper sales, making the small paper a profitable business for their owners, usually large businesses that bought up and trimmed down these local papers. Community Newspaper Holdings (CNHI), for example, owned ninety-five papers; Liberty Group Publishing owned sixty-three. Hometown dailies were especially appealing because, unlike large metro papers, they usually faced little or no competition, had fewer pages and therefore required less newsprint per copy, rarely had unionized workers, employed cheap...
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In the 1990s the most successful documentaries and ratings winners on television were "shockumentaries," a form of reality-based television that uses a "greatest hits" format to showcase shocking, violent, and gory footage of everything from police shootouts to unbelievably large tumors to natural disasters. They are inexpensive to make and highly successful in garnering high ratings, especially in the all-important eighteen-to forty-nine-year-old demographic. The shockumentary trend began in 1995 when Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) aired World's Most Dangerous Animals, but FOX perfected the genre with When Animals Attack In fact, the second installation of the show was so successful that FOX ran it twice during the November 1996 rating sweeps period.
One of the most successful reality-based programs began in 1989 and had aired more than four hundred episodes by the end of 1999. COPS broadcast everyday experiences of law enforcement officers, such as chasing fleeing suspects, intervening in domestic disputes, and apprehending murder suspects. The show was nominated for four Emmys and won its timeslot in the eighteen-to forty-nine-year-old adult demographic during the 1998 May sweeps. At the end of the decade, COPS was one of the longest-running programs on television,...
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In the 1990s the line between serious journalism and tabloid reporting blurred substantially. Super-market tabloids such as the National Enquirer, Star, and Weekly World News broke and reported top news stories, and more and more the stories that appeared in. print and television news began to look like reports from the National Enquirer. In fact, Inside Edition won a Polk Award for a piece on abuses in the insurance industry in Arkansas, and major networks provided almost nonstop coverage of the woes of Michael Jackson, O. J. Simpson, Patsy and John Ramsey, and Bill Clinton. News anchor Dan Rather called this trend toward the sensational "news lite." On the one hand, Americans assailed the journalistic world for reporting the sordid details, of Clinton's sex scandal, for example, and yet they could not seem to get enough of them. The decade ended with debates still raging about journalistic ethics and the intrusion of the press into the private lives of public figures.
Diana and the Paparazzi.
Diana, Princess of Wales, had often complained of the paparazzi who seemed to follow her everywhere after she came to public attention when she was courted by Prince Charles and later married him. When she died in a car accident in Paris on 31 August 1997 while being chased by photographers, her plight raised...
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Through the last few decades of the twentieth century, conservative politicians, religious leaders, and other public figures often decried the "liberal media," but in the 1990s conservatives themselves found their media niche—talk radio. By far, talk-radio shows across the nation were dominated by conservative ideologues who attacked everything from feminism and welfare to gun control and the president, although a few liberals remained on the air. By the middle of the decade talk radio was the second most pervasive radio format in the nation, following only country music, and the number of talk stations had increased to one thousand, up from two hundred only ten years before. One talk station manager suggested the reason that conservatives dominated was that they were simply more entertaining. Liberals, he said, "are genetically engineered not to offend anybody. People who go on the air afraid of offending are not inherently entertaining." Certainly most conservative radio talk-show hosts in the 1990s did not shy away from offending people. For example, Rush Limbaugh, probably the top conservative radio talk-show host of the decade frequently targeted women, the poor, and people of color with his on-air comments. Ken Hamblin, a black conservative whose show was syndicated to more than sixty stations nationwide, at one time railed against gun control and against James...
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TV Talk Shows
The most popular television talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, took the high ground in the explosion of talk shows in the 1990s. While Winfrey focused on personal empowerment, social activism, and books, other talk shows relied on raucous confrontations and tell-all revelations, culminating with the murder of a Jenny Jones Show guest who had revealed on a program his crush on another male participant. Guests came on talk shows voluntarily to air their grievances; reveal deep, dark secrets; or be reunited with mysterious people from their pasts. According to many guests, producers often tried to whip them into a frenzy before they went on the air. The resultant televised emotional outbursts proved entertaining for audiences and took hosts such as Ricki Lake and Jerry Springer to the top of daytime television.
Talk TV in the 1990s.
Coming into the 1990s, longtime talk-show host Phil Donahue led the pack, closely followed by Geraldo Rivera, Sally Jesse Raphael, and Winfrey. Donahue and Winfrey, in particular, had fostered a genre of talk show that focused on exploring information and relationships, while encouraging listeners to be better people. All of that changed quickly in the early 1990s when talk shows proliferated with what one cultural critic called "exploitalk." The bar for talk shows had been set low when...
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Television options expanded rapidly in the 1990s with new cable networks, digital satellite signals, and WebTV. By the end of the decade, more than two hundred broadcast networks and cable channels were available, and viewers were able to interact with many of their favorite television programs from the comfort of their couch.
Throughout the decade the number of cable channels grew sharply, although most new channels were not available to basic cable subscribers. In the early 1990s new channels tended to reflect the programming of existing networks, which targeted broad-based audiences. Instead of offering programs devoted to specific interests, viewers were given more of the same fare by these channels. For example, FX was launched in 1994, featuring a morning show, familiar reruns, a pet show, a collectibles program, and a Nightline-style interview show. Nonetheless, the channel, created by FOX, opened up with eighteen million subscribers, the largest start-up figure for any cable service in history. One problem in developing greater diversity was the limitation of the cable system itself, which only allowed about forty slots for programming. Additionally, the cable industry complained that the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act (1992) took away incentives to add new...
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With the explosion of new networks and greater availability of ever-increasing violence on television, parents and politicians became concerned in the 1990s about children's access to violent programming. As early as 1992 the technical standards for a "violence chip," to provide parents with a way to block particular television programs, were discussed at meetings of the Electronic Industries Association. The v-chip reads information encoded in a rated program and blocks programs based on the parent's selections. In 1992 the v-chip was shot down by broadcasters who were afraid it might limit audiences and advertising revenue, but by 1994 the industry group agreed to begin including the device in more-expensive televisions.
In the midst of the ever-growing telecommunications industry, Congress, along with President Bill Clinton, recognized the need for reform in order to promote competition, stimulate private investment, improve access to information, and provide parents with technology to help them control programming in their homes. In 1996 Congress passed, and on 8 February Clinton signed, the Telecommunications Reform Act. This law provides the industry with guidance in several areas: (1) universal service, ensuring that schools, libraries, hospitals, and clinics have access to advanced...
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Women in the News
While the second wave of the women's movement began in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the 1990s witnessed several significant developments in women's progress. Research on girls' loss of self-esteem at puberty led to efforts to boost their self-esteem and to encourage girls to consider the entire range of possibilities available to them. Girls went to work with their parents, were encouraged to go into math and science, and scored goals, baskets, and runs in sports. While equality was not fully achieved, important steps were taken, although a backlash had begun by the last few years of the decade as detractors claimed that girls' progress had come at boys' expense. Women, as well, made important steps in the decade, particularly in the areas of politics and sports.
The Year of the Woman.
Energized by the 1991 Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings, women stormed into the political world in 1992. More female candidates than ever ran for House and Senate seats. Five Democratic women were elected to the Senate-Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein from California, Blanche Lambert Lincoln from Arkansas, Carol Moseley-Braun from Illinois, and Patty Murray from Washington—bringing to eight the total number of women in the Senate. Forty-eight women were elected to the House, and women helped elect Democratic presidential candidate Bill...
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Degeneres, Ellen 1958-
COMEDIENNE AND ACTRESS
Depending on whom one asks, it was either a triumph for social justice or a further indicator of the moral decline of Western civilization. In April 1997 actor and comedian Ellen DeGeneres revealed that she was a lesbian. and her character, Ellen Morgan, also came out, making Ellen the first sitcom ever with a gay lead character. News of this impending declaration leaked in September 1996, setting off a sensational debate about gays both on TV and in American life. In March of 1997, ABC finally announced that Ellen Morgan would indeed come out on a special one-hour episode the last day of April. For DeGeneres, her declaration was something she had put off for a long time, attempting to keep her personal life separate from her professional one. When DeGeneres approached ABC about having her character discover that she is a lesbian, however, she knew that the time had come for her to be more open and honest about her own life. Furthermore, when she made her decision to go public, she did so in a big way, making the cover of Time magazine and appearing with her partner, actor Anne Heche, on The Oprah Winfrey...
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Glass, Ira 1959-
At the end of the 1990s Ira Glass was changing the face of American journalism with his weekly radio program, This American Life. Run out of Chicago public radio station WBEZ, This American Life was a show of stories held together by a theme. After only three and a half years on the air the program aired on 350 public radio stations to an audience of more than 830,000. The show began when WBEZ received a MacArthur Foundation grant to create a weekly arts/news show and asked Glass to produce it. Instead, Glass pitched the station his idea for a human interest show he wanted to host featuring stories about everyday Americans. WBEZ bought the idea, and the show began broadcasting in November 1995 with an annual budget of $224,000. In its first year it won a Peabody Award and in its second year was awarded a $350,000 grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Later the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts became underwriters, and the show developed a collaboration with Amazon.com that brought in about $125,000 per year. Even Hollywood had contacted Glass about a possible television version of the show.
Glass grew up in Baltimore and then attended Northwestern University and Brown University. His...
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Kaczynski, Theodore John 1942-
Antitechnology Serial Killer.
Over a seventeen-year period, a mysterious terrorist mailed or planted sixteen package bombs that killed three people and wounded twenty-three others, and he managed to elude the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Postal Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms until 3 April 1996. He was dubbed the "Unabomber" because his first targets were related to universities (un) and airlines (a). His identity became known only when his brother recognized his antitechnology rantings in a manifesto published in the Washington Post and contacted federal authorities.
Theodore John Kaczynski was born in Chicago on 22 May 1942. He went to Harvard on scholarship at age sixteen and then earned a Ph.D. in math from the University of Michigan. Upon graduation in 1967, he was appointed assistant professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley. He resigned suddenly from that post in 1969 and then lived and worked in Salt Lake City through the mid 1970s. In 1978 he moved back to Chicago. In 1988 and again in 1991,...
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Kelley, David E. 1956-
Producer of the Decade.
At the end of the 1990s, David E. Kelley had five shows on television and Emmys for Best Drama and Best Comedy. Without a doubt, Kelley was the most influential TV producer of the decade. Kelley started his TV career as a story editor for L.A. Law (1986-1994). The next year he became executive story editor and then supervising producer. When Steven Bochco left the show after its third season, Kelley became executive producer. Following L.A. Law, Kelley was creative consultant for Doogie Howser, M.D. (1989-1993), another Bochco production, and then executive producer of Picket Fences (1992-1996), Chicago Hope (1994-), Ally McBeal (1997-), The Practice (1997-), and Snoops (1999-). His shows have won seven Emmys for Out-standing Drama and Outstanding Comedy.
Kelley was born in Maine in 1956. He attended Princeton University and Boston University Law School. An associate at a law firm in 1983, he used his legal experience as the basis for a movie script that was produced as From the Hip (1987), starring Judd Nelson, Elizabeth Perkins, and John Hurt. When Bochco was planning L.A. Law, he began to look for writers with some legal expertise. He saw Kelley's script and invited him to discuss the...
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Kennedy, John Fitzgerald, Jr. 196O-1999
LAWYER AND PUBLISHER
Another Kennedy Tragedy.
John F. Kennedy jr. was only thirty-eight when he died Friday, 16 July 1999, when the small plane he was piloting crashed off the coast of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. Killed along with him were his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her sister, Lauren Bessette. They were on their way to cousin Rory Elizabeth Katherine Kennedy's wedding. When Kennedy did not arrive, a family member contacted the Coast Guard, which launched an intensive search Saturday morning. That afternoon debris from the plane began to wash up on shore. The nation waited in shock as television provided around-the-clock coverage of the search. By Sunday hope was all but gone, and finally the Coast Guard announced that it had changed its search-and-rescue mission to search-and-recover. The bodies, still in the fuselage, were recovered Wednesday; Kennedy was cremated and buried at sea within twenty-four hours.
America's Crown Prince.
America's fascination with "John-John" Kennedy began when his father was elected president in 1960, seventeen days before John Jr.'s birth on 25 November....
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Williams, Brian 1959-
CORRESPONDENT AND NEWS ANCHORMAN
A Road Less Traveled.
Brian Williams was a fast-rising star as the White House correspondent on NBC News when he took an unusual career turn for an aspiring nightly anchor. He accepted an offer to become anchor on an all-news cable channel launched in 1996 by NBC and Microsoft. Most journalists travel in the other direction, from cable to network news, but Williams had no trouble making the decision to front his own hour-long news program on MSNBC, The News with Brian Williams. He continued to anchor the Saturday edition of NBC Nightly News, however, and is rumored to be a possible future replacement for Tom Brokaw.
Williams dreamed of being a news anchor as a child in Middletown, New Jersey. He worked his way through a Catholic high school and took classes at Catholic University and George Washington University. He never graduated and instead chose a low-level job in the White House during Jimmy Carter's presidency. From there, Williams spent a short while running the political action committee of the National Association of Broadcasters...
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Winfrey, Oprah 1954-
ACTRESS AND TALK SHOW HOST
At The Top.
Time named Oprah Winfrey one of the most important people of the twentieth century, and in 1998 Entertainment Weekly ranked her first in its annual list of the most influential people in Hollywood, In 1997 Newsweek named her the most important person in books and media, and TV Guide called her the television performer of the year. She received the George Foster Peabody Individual Achievement Award and the International Radio and Television Society (IRTS) Gold Medal Award in 1996, as well as the National Academy of Television Arts and Science's Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998. She has won seven Emmy Awards for Outstanding Talk Show Host and nine Emmys for Outstanding Talk Show. The first African American woman to own her own production studio, Winfrey revolutionized television talk shows. Since her show began in syndication in 1986, it remained the number one talk show for twelve consecutive seasons and boasted an audience of thirty-three million viewers every weekday in the United States. The show was also broadcast in 135 countries worldwide. In 1999, Oprah, with an...
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People in the News
On 4 June 1997 United Press International (UPI) names James Adams, Washington bureau chief for the Sunday Times of London, as its chief executive officer.
On 18 June 1997 John J. Agoglia resigns as president of NBC Enterprises. He was directly responsible for the network's dealings with the entertainment industry.
On 25 September 1997 TV sportscaster Marv Albert pleads guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery in a sex scandal that leads to his firing from NBC. He receives a twelve-month suspended sentence and is ordered to undergo counseling, and returns to sports broadcasting in July 1999.
Disgraced TV evangelist James Orsen Bakker is released after serving 4.5 years in a federal prison. He was convicted in October 1989 on charges of selling $158 million worth of essentially nonexistent timeshares at his Heritage USA Christian theme park.
In August 1998 Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle is suspended for two months after the newspaper discovered he had used jokes from George Carlin's Brain Droppings (1997) in his column, as well as fabricated facts and sources. He resigned shortly thereafter and went to work for the Sunday Daily News.
In July 1994 Jeffrey P. Bezos founds Amazon.com, an Internet...
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Outstanding Drama Series: L.A. Law (NBC)
Outstanding Comedy Series: Murphy Brown (CBS)
Outstanding Variety Series: In Living Color (FOX)
Outstanding Drama Series: L.A. Law (NBC)
Outstanding Comedy Series: Cheers (NBC)
Outstanding Drama Series: Northern Exposure (CBS)
Outstanding Comedy Series: Murphy Brown (CBS)
Outstanding Variety Series: The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (NBC)
Outstanding Drama Series: Picket Fences (CBS)
Outstanding Comedy Series: Seinfeld (NBC)
Outstanding Variety Series: Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Outstanding Drama Series: Picket Fences (CBS)
Outstanding Comedy Series: Frasier (NBC)
Outstanding Variety Series: Late Show with David Letterman (CBS)
Outstanding Drama Series: NYPD Blue (ABC)
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Morey Amsterdam, 83, vaudeville performer, composer, and actor best known as Buddy Sorrell on The Dick Van Dyke Show, 28 October 1996.
Robert Angus, 74, producer of The Adventures of Ozzie and
Harriet and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, 5 February 1996. Harry S. Ashmore, 81, 1958 Pulitzer Prize-winner for his editorials during the school integration crisis at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, 20 January 1998.
Gene Autry, 91, actor, the original singing cowboy, and composer of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," 2 October 1998.
Keyes Beech, 76, foreign correspondent who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1951 for his coverage of the Korean War, 15 February 1990.
Bob Bell, 75, TV's Bozo the Clown for twenty-five years, 8 December 1997.
Erma Bombeck, 69, humorist and housewife-turned-columnist, 22 April 1996.
Sonny Bono, 62, singer, costar of the 1970s hit variety show The Sonny and Cher Show, and U. S. congressman from California, 5 January 1998.
Jack Brickhouse, 82, sportscaster and the first voice heard on WGN-TV when it signed on the air in 1948, 6 August 1998.
Wally Bruner, 66, host of the TV game show...
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Beulah Ainley, Black Journalists, White Media (Stoke on Trent, England: Trentham Books, 1998);
Robin Andersen, Consumer Culture and TV Programming (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1995);
Stephen Ansolabehere, Roy Behr, and Shanto Iyengar, The Media Game: American Politics in the Television Age (New York: Macmillan, 1993);
Joey Anuff and Ana Marie Cox, eds., Suck: Worst-case Scenarios in Media, Culture, Advertising, and the Internet (San Francisco, Cal.: Wired, 1997);
Ben H. Bagdikian, The Media Monopoly (Boston: Beacon, 1983);
James Baughman, The Republic of Mass Culture: Journalism, Filmmaking, and Broadcasting in America Since 1941 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992);
Margaret A. Blanchard, ed., History of the Mass Media in the United States: An Encyclopedia (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1998);
Leo Bogart, The American Media System and its Commercial Culture (New York: Gannett Foundation Media Center, Columbia University, 1991);
Charlotte Brunsdon, Julie D'Acci, and Lynn Spigel, Film and Politics in America: A Social Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997);
Lionel Chetwynd, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sleaze: Media...
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Important Events in the Media, 1990–1999
- Large city newspaper readership continues to decline. More than nine million New Yorkers bought Sunday papers in 1950. In 1990 that figure is 3.2 million.
- More than five hundred of the nation's 3,100 magazines begin publication this year. Most of the new mags fall into the categories of lifestyle, sex, and service.
- The police/courtroom Law and Order, Twin Peaks, and America's Funniest Home Videos all premiere. The sitcoms In Living Color and Fresh Prince of Bel Air, starring Damon Wayans and Will Smith respectively, also debut, as do the highly successful cartoon series The Simpsons. and a sitcom about "nothing" called simply Seinfeld.
- On February 22, Hughes Communications, News Corp, National Broadcasting Company (NBC), and Cablevision Systems Corporation create Sky Cable, a joint effort to launch direct-broadcast satellite TV program service with as many as 108 channels.
- On March 6, Whittle Communications LP airs its first installment of Channel One, a daily news program for high school students.
- On March 29, the major music producers agree to place warning labels on recordings that might offend some people. Some companies have already been warning of lyrics that are explicit about sex or violence. However, the new labels...
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