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WSU Professor shared history of ABC network

With projector screens flashing images of ABC logos and famous celebrities, WSU adjunct history professor Tracey Smith presented “The ABC Television Network” Monday to a handful of Wildcats.

Gathered in the Lindquist Alumni Center, Smith uncovered pockets of the network’s history while sharing his personal journey writing his book on the subject.

“I chose this project because I wanted to write the history of the ABC network,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in how cultures like ABC intertwine with politics and other aspects of social history.”

Smith has been contracted to write the official history of the American Broadcasting Company Television Network by the company. With CBS and NBC histories already written, his project will be the first written history of ABC.

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WSU adjunct history professor and freelance writer Tracey Smith talked about the history of the ABC network during his lecture on Monday. (Source: Jamii Freston/The Signpost)

According to American Broadcasting Company website, the network has always been a prominent part in the “evolution of television network history.”

Despite being third-place ranked amongst CBS and NBC networks, ABC was still considered a “first” in innovation.

One of the reasons Smith chose ABC was because it still managed to come out on top despite competition with other networks.

“They were the ones who had to innovate in order to try to get ahead. They had a little bit more freedom to take chances because other networks were playing it safe,” Smith said. “ABC was struggling a little bit, so they had to be the ones to be ahead of the curve.”

Because of their bold decisions, ABC had top ratings during the mid 1970s and still holds records in television history, according to the website.

WSU history professor Eric Swedin thought the ABC network was a great topic to share with students because it was, in his words, a “dominant network before the explosion of cable.”

Swedin liked the idea that history can also be about pop-culture that impacted our society, and Smith’s lecture about ABC addressed this.

 “History is more than just the stories of kings and presidents,” Swedin said. “We live in a world where people have so many different media options. Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for a really popular show to be watched by the majority of the country.”

Finding Smith’s project interesting, Swedin and other members of the history department invited him to be one of the Weber Historical Society lecturers for spring 2015.

Although only about three-quarters into his project, Smith agreed to talk about the progress he’s made so far.

Some of the stories he shared with the audience were about his encounters with several celebrities and former ABC presidents and how he came out of the experience with new friendships.

With over 250 interviews conducted for the book, the best and worst part about this project was the interviewing, Smith said.

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Old ABC logo used for the American Broadcasting Company. (Source: MCT)

 “I will say it’s been a great experience and it’s been a learning experience,” he said. “I’ve had to set (interviews) all up myself. Whether they’re executives or celebrities related to the network, I’ve had to be resourceful at finding people and being patient.”

With the help of his literary agent, Smith has been working on this project for three years now and has written over 1,000 pages. Working full-time at Weber State, Smith anticipates another two years before the book is completed.

However, whether it’s writing three chapters at a time or interviewing celebrities between meetings, Smith has not lost sight of why he chose to do this project in the first place.

“I think television speaks to society,” Smith said. “It can reflect culture or follow culture and it’s interesting trying to determine that.”

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