Television, it’s often been said without much exaggeration, was invented to sell soap. And the fall television season was invented to sell cars.
As Preston Beckman, a retired network scheduler who presided over the Must-See TV era of NBC and the peak of American Idol at Fox (and now tweets as the Masked Scheduler) put it to me recently, “I would always gauge the start of the fall season by the first episode of Bonanza — which would also be a preview of the Chevy cars that came out in the fall.”
From television’s early days, the broadcast networks had structured their business so that most of their new and returning shows would premiere in the fall. By the Sixties, the practice became codified, starting with ABC debuting the bulk of its 1962-63 schedule in the same week in October. The other networks followed suit, and with one notable exception,