TV listings first graced the British population with their presence in the Radio Times on 2 November 1936 and the US followed suit on 3 April 1953, a trend that was to grow and grow in both popularity and success. Listings were briefly scuppered during the Second World War when television was cancelled but came back with a vengeance afterwards with more pages. Then, after the introduction of the first ITV commercial channel in September 1955, TV Times was released.
The basic function of a TV listing is to give viewers the dates, times and channels of programmes that will be shown throughout the day, week and sometimes even by the month. The benefits of having a TV listing guide are immense as it allows viewers to plan their days around their favourite programmes so that we should never forget what is on, when and on which channel. Genius!
It may sound like a simple concept but guides have never been so in-depth and complex as they are today, with not only times, channels and days supplied but whole plot lines exposed as well as briefer story summaries for individual episodes being common place. Until fairly recently, TV listings were heavily regulated with listings only being allowed to feature in the in-house publications: ITV and Channel 4 programmes in TV Times and BBC programmes in the Radio Times.
In 1991, the British couch potatoes stood up for their rights and the deregulation of TV listings was welcomed: now, all publications are free to produce listings for all of the UK mainstream terrestrial, satellite and cable channels, including both digital and analogue. As well as the two main publications, there are many independent guides printed by local and national newspapers and magazines. The Radio Times is the market-leading publisher of TV listings, with its comprehensive radio listings alongside, and remains unrivalled in the industry.
Available to the public on a Tuesday, Radio Times originally started listing the TV schedules on a Sunday to Saturday fashion until 1960 when publication day changed to a Friday through to Saturday. Since 1969, Christmas editions have been released as a double issue because many people enjoy planning the festival’s TV watching in advance and get busy organising times and dates to catch that year’s re-run of the Snowman or the Queen’s speech.
As well as the well-established publications, local and national newspapers often advertise TV listings but on a smaller scale and tend to feature only terrestrial channels and some of the major cable and satellite programmes. Film guides are also common place in TV listing guides and, with film maestro Barry Norman and more recently Jonathan Ross, offering their opinions on recent releases, it is easy to find out which films to watch and which to avoid. At the very least, information is provided about the basic plot and featured actors, which means viewers are free to make up their own minds about what’s hot and what’s not.
Many of the magazines dedicated to TV listings boast glossy front pages, often with pictures of popular soap stars and, as well as the listings, there is an abundance of information on everything from future storylines to interviews with various actors. It is no secret that the UK public are big fans of TV, from soap addicts to the classic couch potato, and the TV listings are a natural addition to the increasing offerings of today’s television.
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