For faster navigation, this Iframe is preloading the Wikiwand page for Television special.

Television special

A television special (often TV special, or rarely television spectacular) is a standalone television show which may also temporarily interrupt episodic programming normally scheduled for a given time slot. Some specials provide a full range of entertainment and informational value available via the television medium (news, drama, comedy, variety, cultural), in various formats (live television, documentary, studio production, animation, film), and in any viewing lengths (short films, feature films, miniseries, telethons).[1][2]


The types of shows described as television specials include:[2]


The production of early television shows was very expensive, with few guarantees of public success, and ongoing (weekly) shows typically required a single, major sponsor to operate. As such, a good deal of programming was one-off shows, accommodating smaller sponsors and not requiring a loyal audience following. As the industry matured, this trend reversed; by the 1950s, most networks aimed to provide stable, routine, and proven content to their audiences. Television executives, such as CBS president James Aubrey, sought to avoid any disruption in viewing habits which might cause viewers to move to another network. These weekly series, though, typically became too expensive for any single sponsor, so stand-alone shows offered a way to continue accommodating the single-sponsor practice, leading to shows like Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951, sponsored by Hallmark Cards as part of the Hallmark Television Playhouse) and the Ford 50th Anniversary Show (1953, a two-hour variety show simulcast on both CBS and NBC).[1][3][4]

In 1954, NBC president Sylvester Weaver pioneered an innovative style of programming which he called "spectaculars".[5] These stand-alone broadcasts, usually 90 minutes in length, were designed to attract large, new audiences and bring prestige to the network. The spectaculars aired on three nights every fourth week - a major gamble because it controversially broke up viewer routines and risked stable weekly sponsorship deals.

To address this, Weaver used his "magazine" style which involved selling segments of each show to a different sponsor, a practice which would evolve into the modern "commercial". The three initial spectacular blocks were Hallmark Hall of Fame (Sundays, produced by Albert McCleery), Producer's Showcase (Mondays, produced by Fred Coe), Max Liebman Presents (Saturdays, produced by Max Liebman). In time, the term "spectacular" was seen as hyperbolic, and so led to the more modern and modest term, "special".[3][4] Weaver's strategy was not as successful as CBS's predictably scheduled and prefilmed programs, and he was fired in 1956.[5]

In the 1960s, multi-part specials, which aired over several days in a week or on the same day for several weeks, evolved from this format, though these were more commonly called miniseries. The term "TV special" formerly applied more to dramas or musicals presented live or on videotape (such as Peter Pan) than to filmed presentations especially made for television, which were (and still are) referred to as made-for-TV movies.

In the era before cable and home video, television audiences often had to wait an entire year or more to see a special program or film that had a great impact on first viewing. Today, online streaming often makes it possible for viewers to watch a television show again almost immediately after it is aired, and home video—which has largely given way to digital downloads—makes it possible for the general public to own copies of television shows and films.

See also


  1. ^ a b Brown, Lester L. (1992). "Specials". Les Brown's Encyclopedia of Television (3rd ed.). Gale Research, Inc. pp. 525–526. ISBN 978-0-8103-8871-0.
  2. ^ a b Terrace, Vincent (2013). "Preface". Television Specials (2nd ed.). McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-7864-7444-8. Retrieved 20 April 2018 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ a b Brown, Lester L. (1992). "Spectaculars". Les Brown's Encyclopedia of Television (3rd ed.). Gale Research, Inc. p. 526. ISBN 978-0-8103-8871-0.
  4. ^ a b O'Dell, Cary. "Encyclopedia of Television - "Special/Spectacular"". Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  5. ^ a b Baughman, James L. (Winter 1997). ""Show Business in the Living Room": Management Expectations for American Television, 1947-56". Business and Economic History. 26 (2). Cambridge University Press: 718–726. JSTOR 23703062.
{{bottomLinkPreText}} {{bottomLinkText}}
Television special
Listen to this article

This browser is not supported by Wikiwand :(
Wikiwand requires a browser with modern capabilities in order to provide you with the best reading experience.
Please download and use one of the following browsers:

This article was just edited, click to reload
This article has been deleted on Wikipedia (Why?)

Back to homepage

Please click Add in the dialog above
Please click Allow in the top-left corner,
then click Install Now in the dialog
Please click Open in the download dialog,
then click Install
Please click the "Downloads" icon in the Safari toolbar, open the first download in the list,
then click Install

Install Wikiwand

Install on Chrome Install on Firefox
Don't forget to rate us

Tell your friends about Wikiwand!

Gmail Facebook Twitter Link

Enjoying Wikiwand?

Tell your friends and spread the love:
Share on Gmail Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Buffer

Our magic isn't perfect

You can help our automatic cover photo selection by reporting an unsuitable photo.

This photo is visually disturbing This photo is not a good choice

Thank you for helping!

Your input will affect cover photo selection, along with input from other users.


Get ready for Wikiwand 2.0 🎉! the new version arrives on September 1st! Don't want to wait?