June 8, 2016

From the mailbag: A TV Guide online website?

This week an email from reader Mike Dowling, who writes:

I've been a fan of your itsabouttv.com for years--you do an amazing job of recreating TV as it was.  I've had a question that nobody has been able to answer.

Why doesn't anybody put old TV Guides online?  You come the closest, I would enjoy reading the actual pages.  Does the current owner hold the copywrite?  Has anybody tried it?

Great question, Mike - I've never seen an online repository of TV Guides (although I've certainly found the odd article and/or picture spread). and this gives me the opportunity to advertise for an opening at It's About TV, a non-paying volunteer job that offers you only an opportunity to have your name on the masthead - well, that plus I'll be eternally grateful.* The position available is Legal Counsels to the Editor.

*From Peanuts many years ago - Sally: "If you do this for me, big brother, I'll be eternally grateful" Charlie Brown: "Eternity is a long time."  Sally: (after a pause) "How about until next week?"

Mike's suggestion raises some questions: would creating such a website, with scans of entire images, be covered under some aspect of Creative Commons or anything like it? The material wouldn't be used for a book (at least not by me), and although I'd assume the content of the issues is covered under copywrite, does that only necessitate giving credit, or does it mean getting permission as well? And assuming this could be done at all, what kind of restrictions would exist?

This website has scans of many, many issues of the always-interesting Television magazine, which is no longer published, and this is the kind of website I'd envision - one in which the national section (you know, the shiny pages) would be reproduced for each issue, along with as many different programming listings as could be collected. I'm reasonably confident that with the number of collectors out there, as well as the number of classic TV buffs (like us), this kind of project is certainly doable. (Finding someone to host it, as well as how to get all the issues scanned, is another question, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.)

Therefore, the only question would seem to be whether this is legal, or if we'll all be doing our next blog session from some tennis prison somewhere. Is there someone (or a number of someones) out there confident enough in their own knowledge to offer a legal opinion on this? Because if it can be done, I think it's worth pursuing, and I also think a lot of you would want to be involved in it. So let me know in the comments, or email me if you'd prefer. After all, you'd be doing the classic TV community a great service. And you'd have our eternal gratitude.


  1. I've been looking for a site like you just described for years. I'd love to have access to such a resource to use in my own personal TV viewing. If it turns out to be illegal to post scans of the actual Guide pages, maybe the content of those pages could be posted? Surely just the TV listings themselves can't be covered by copyright, since it was general knowledge at the time. It would be considerably more time consuming and labor intensive to do it that way, but may be local high school kids could be hired cheaply to do the transcription?

  2. The principal problem with a TV GUIDE archival website would be -

    - well, to start with, which edition do you start with?

    Over the years, as TV grew, TV GUIDE added more and more local editions, covering new cities; many areas had regional editions that overlapped each other.

    Example: at different times here in Chicago, depending on where you lived, there were sometimes three or four editions available to you, covering outlying areas.
    If you lived in the northernmost parts of 'Chicagoland', there was the Illinois-Wisconsin edition, with listings for Chicago, Rockford IL, Milwaukee, and Madison WI; at one point I had my subscription switched to this from the Chicago Metro edition.
    At this same time, there was an Illinois-Indiana edition, aimed at the southernmost region; this included South Bend, Fort Wayne, and Indianapolis, IN.
    That's just one region; at its peak, TV GUIDE had upwards of 200 different regionals, with much overlapping.

    So how big do you want to go?
    Whoever would want to start something like this would need guaranteed underwriting in the multi-millions just to organize the massive amounts of material.
    Kickstarter would have a meltdown.
    The time to have done something like an archive would have been while it was still ongoing - and that time passed a while back.

    In the immortal word of Nero Wolfe - pfui.

    1. I wouldn't say that. I think the question is whether or not the pages in the national section can be reproduced without running into copyright trouble. If Creative Commons allows for those to be reproduced, then you're talking about a doable project, at least in that you're only dealing with one issue a week.

      As for the local pages, my original thought had been to use the listing from a representative market, i.e. New York or Chicago, to establish the likelihood of what was on that week in terms of network programming, and to give the flavor of a current area. You have that one listing for every week, and then people are free to upload additional listings from other markets. You only have to have one, but you can have as many as you like, and there's no requirement you have to have them all.

      Anyone with a scanner can do an issue, with or without listings, in a fairly reasonable period of time and upload it as a PDF. The real challenge is to get questions settled with the host site, the format to be used, the way in which you turn the pages from one to another, and the other aesthetic considerations.

      It is, however, all a moot point if the copyright prevents the reproduction of the articles, so we have to establish 1) if that can be done, and 2) if there has to be a qualification for the website, i.e. a site that derives no profit from it.

  3. Copyrights are pretty heavily protected. I'd think you'd be better off to make a proposal to TV Guide for what you have in mind, particularly something that they couldn't easily do themselves, and let them take the lead, including the selling of advertising with you getting a cut.

  4. The Library of Congress has TV Guide microfilms of every issue in every edition. I was able to view a few of them back in 1995, but since then those microfilms are off-limits to the public. :(

    I love finding colleges & universities which have local editions onsite. My alma mater, Baylor Univ., had microfilms going back to when Texas got its first TV Guide edition in Jan. 1954 (It covered DFW & Houston mostly.) then switched to the old DFW edition, which also covered Waco, 1955-1958, and then finally went to N TX edition from 1959 forward. Oddly enough the university didn't realize that the Waco-Temple stations were moved from N TX to S TX edition from 9/24/1960 to 9/28/1968 then moved back to N TX, so you can't see what was on tv in Waco for those years at the library.

    I've also viewed old issues of TV Guide at TN/Knoxville (The library there used the NY Metro edition up to 3/26/1960, when Knoxville tv stations were finally included in TV Guide.), AL/Tuscaloosa (N AL), Dartmouth (New England & N New England), and UNT/Denton (N TX). When my parents briefly lived in Ft. Wayne, IN, I visited the public library there, which had a great collection of bound issues from IN & N IN editions.

  5. I would try to have three different versions; NY, Chicago and LA. All three markets have network O & O stations, which means very little network programming would be pre-empted. I'm hoping that since the original posting, some headway has been made on this project.



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