“Mustn’t See TV?”: A Case Study of NBC’s 1983-84 Television Season

Date of Award

December 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communications


Robert Thompson


NBC, Television

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


This research project uses the case study method to explore NBC’s 1983-84 television season, dubbed “the September Train Wreck of 1983.” Examining trade publication articles, mainstream press, and the programs themselves, this case study applies a “Network Executive Auteur” theory to the programming strategies of Grant Tinker, NBC Chairman and CEO, and Brandon Tartikoff, President of NBC Entertainment. Conventional wisdom at the time portrayed Tinker and Tartikoff’s network decisions as desperate and unfocused. However, a closer look suggests that Tinker and Tartikoff essentially invented a hybrid of “highbrow/lowbrow/middlebrow” programming to combat the audience fragmentation brought on by the penetration of cable television.


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