Live television refers to a television production broadcast in real-time, as events happen, in the present.
From the early days of television until about 1958, live television was used heavily, except for filmed shows such as I Love Lucy and Gunsmoke. Although videotape was invented in 1957, it cost $300 per one hour reel (equivalent to $2,528 in 2016) meaning it was only very gradually adopted. Some genres, such as soap operas, did not completely abandon live broadcasts until the mid-1970s.
Today, television networks provide most live television for morning shows with television programs such as: Good Morning Britain, BBC Breakfast, This Morning, etc. broadcast live in the UK, Sunrise live in Australia, Canada AM live in Canada, and Today, Good Morning America & CBS This Morning in the U.S. airing live only in the Eastern Time Zone. (the only exceptions being CBS This Morning - Saturday and the Sunday edition of Weekend Today which air live in the Eastern & Central time zones)
Spanish language morning shows (such as Despierta America & Un Nuevo Día), unlike their English speaking counterparts, air live in the Eastern, Central, & Mountain time zones. (tape delayed in the Pacific time zone)
A few daytime talk shows in the U.S. broadcast live before a studio audience in select time zones. Shows such as Live! with Kelly and Michael & the Wendy Williams Show air live in the Eastern time zone only, while shows such as ABC's The View air live in the Eastern & Central time zones. The Talk on CBS airs live in the Eastern & Central time zones Monday through Thursday. (a separate program is taped on Thursday afternoon for airing on Friday) Affiliates in the remaining time zones air these programs on a tape delay.
Most other daytime talk shows (as well as late night programs) are taped before a live studio audience earlier in the day, and edited for later broadcast.
Talent shows (such as Dancing With The Stars) air live in the Eastern & Central time zones. Other talent shows (such as American Idol, The Voice, & America's Got Talent) will pre-record audition rounds and broadcast the live rounds in the Eastern & Central time zones where viewers have the opportunity to vote for their favorite contestants.
Most local television station newscasts are broadcast live in the U.S. as they are an essential medium for providing up-to-the-minute weather forecasts and breaking news stories. Broadcast television networks in the United States typically air their evening newscasts live in the Eastern & Central time zones. (a separate "Western Edition" is broadcast live to viewers in the Pacific Time Zone.)
When a major national breaking news event occurs, broadcast television networks will break into regularly scheduled programming and will televise a live "special report" in all time zones. Local television stations break into regularly scheduled programming in the event of severe weather warnings or major local breaking news stories that occur within their viewing area.
Cable news outlets (such as CNN & Fox News Channel) air continuous live programming during the day, and air rebroadcasts of earlier live shows during the late night hours, except in cases where breaking news occurs.
In general, a live television program was more common for broadcasting content produced specifically for commercial television in the early years of the medium, before technologies such as video tape appeared. As video tape recorders (VTR) became more prevalent, many entertainment programs were recorded and edited before broadcasting rather than being shown live. Entertainment events such as sports television and The Academy Awards continue to be generally broadcast live in all U.S. time zones. The advent of the Internet and social media outlets (e.g. Facebook & Twitter, which resulted in numerous "spoilers") prompted NBC to begin broadcasting the Golden Globe Awards live in all time zones in 2005, and CBS will begin offering it's affiliates in the Mountain & Pacific time zones a live broadcast of the Grammy Awards beginning in 2016.
Most other award shows in the USA typically air live in the Eastern & Central time zones.
Sunday morning news programs in the USA such as Meet The Press on NBC, This Week on ABC, & Fox News Sunday air live in the Eastern Time Zone (including select markets in the Central Time Zone), while CBS Sunday Morning & Face The Nation on CBS air live in the Eastern & Central time zones.
The Macy's Thanksgiving Parade on NBC airs live only in the Eastern Time Zone. CBS airs the Thanksgiving Parade live in the Eastern, Central, & Mountain time zones. (taped delayed in the remaining time zones) The McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade broadcasts live from Chicago, IL in all USA time zones on WGN America.
Other events that air live nationally in all USA time zones include Presidential and Congressional election coverage, Presidential Inaugurations, the State of the Union Address, Presidential news conferences, Presidential Addresses to the Nation, the Tournament of Roses Parade, and funerals of major national or international public & religious figures. (i.e. former presidents or a Pope) Local television stations air live local election coverage & special events. (such as large scale parades, big city marathons, funerals of major local public & religious figures, inauguration ceremonies of big city mayors and governors, installation masses of cardinals or bishops in a major Catholic archdiocese, and pep rallies for a major sports team who has won a title game in events such as the NBA Finals, Super Bowl, World Series, or the NCAA)
A more recent development by cable outlets (such as CNN & Fox News Channel) is to incorporate the word LIVE in their network logo (also known as a digital on-screen graphic) when those networks broadcast live content. Some (but not all) sports cable networks will opt to insert the word LIVE somewhere on the corner of the screen. With the exception of special reports & overseas sporting events, broadcast television networks rarely display such a graphic during its live programming. (although NBC did display the word LIVE next to their logo during its Olympic coverage when live content was being broadcast, a practice that is being continued by its sister station: NBCSN)
Local television station newscasts display time and temperature during their broadcasts, and only display the word LIVE when they air a news report or a live shot on location. Some networks have begun to insert (in addition to the word LIVE) the local time of where that news report is originating from, particularly when that report is airing live via satellite from overseas.
Uses of live television
Live television is often used as a device, even when it is not in various types of programming to take advantage of these often to great success in terms of attracting viewers. The NBC live comedy/variety program Saturday Night Live, for example, has been on that network continuously since 1975 and airs live in the Eastern & Central zones during the show's season which runs from September though May.
On September 25, 1997, NBC broadcast a special live episode of its hospital drama ER, which at the time ranked as the third most-watched episode of any medical drama program ever. Many television news programs, particularly local news ones in North America, have also used live television as a device to gain audience viewers by making their programs appear more exciting. With technologies such as production trucks, satellite truck uplinks, a news reporter can report live "on location" from anywhere where a story is happening in the city. This technique has attracted criticism for its overuse (like minor car accidents which often have no injuries) and resulting tendency to make stories appear more urgent than they actually are.
The unedited nature of live television can pose problems for television networks because of the potential for mishaps. To enforce the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations, television networks often broadcast live programs on a slight broadcast delay to give them the ability to censor words and images while keeping the broadcast as "live" as possible.
Notable events on live television
Many events have happened on live television broadcasts that are well-remembered, sometimes because they were part of a major breaking news story already, and always because they happened unexpectedly and before audiences of thousands or millions of viewers.
- September 30, 1929 – The BBC broadcast made the world's first television broadcast to British audiences: it is a live transmission.
- September 4, 1951 – The first national live television broadcast in the U.S. took place when President Harry Truman's speech at the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference in San Francisco, California, was transmitted over AT&T's transcontinental cable and microwave radio relay system to broadcast stations in local markets.
- January 14, 1952 – The Today Show, the first broadcast morning news program in the U.S., premieres. Initially airing live in the Eastern & Central time zones up until 1958, nowadays this program airs live only in the Eastern Time Zone.
- June 2, 1953 – the coronation of Her Majesty Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom was the first to be televised live on British television.
- July 23, 1962 – the first live transatlantic television broadcast via the Telstar I satellite.
- November 24, 1963 – Lee Harvey Oswald (the assassin of U.S. President John F. Kennedy) was shot in Dallas, Texas, by nightclub owner Jack Ruby while being transferred to a county jail. Oswald was taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital, the same hospital in which President Kennedy and Governor Connally had been treated two days before, but died within approximately two hours of being shot.
- November 25, 1963 – President John F. Kennedy's funeral was broadcast on live TV. It was seen by perhaps what was the largest viewing audience up to then. It was the first live TV coverage of a Presidential funeral. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas, three days before, on November 22, 1963. The assassination itself initiated four days of non-stop live television news coverage seen by millions.
- November 13, 1965 – Critic and author Kenneth Tynan became the first person to say the word "fuck" on British television on the live satirical programme BBC-3 while commenting on censorship during a TV debate.
- December 24, 1968 – Apollo 8 Genesis reading during the ninth orbit of the Moon
- July 20–21, 1969 – Apollo 11, the first astronauts walking on the Moon after the first manned landing. This event, broadcast live by nearly every television station in operation at the time, was viewed by 125 million viewers in the U.S. (93% of its television audience), and was the first live satellite broadcast in the State of Alaska. It was estimated to have been seen by 600 million viewers worldwide.
- November 7, 1970 – Felix Dennis, in a group interview on The Frost Programme, became the first person to say "cunt" on live TV.
- July 15, 1974 – Christine Chubbuck, a television news reporter for station WXLT-TV in Sarasota, Florida, committed suicide on live television by firing a revolver shot into her head.
- June 1, 1980 – CNN (Cable News Network), the first 24-hour cable news channel is launched.
- January 28, 1986 – The Challenger explosion was seen on live TV by millions in the U.S.
- November 9, 1989 – Live coverage of the abolition of travel restrictions and the opening of the border to West Berlin after mass panic and jubilation from East Germans.
- June 17, 1994 – The O. J. Simpson murder case slow-speed car chase of a Ford Bronco vehicle containing American football star and murder suspect O. J. Simpson was broadcast live throughout the U.S., with NBC interrupting its coverage of the 1994 NBA Finals to do so.
- April 30, 1998 – Daniel V. Jones, a cancer and HIV-positive patient apparently frustrated with his HMO coverage, ended a live televised stand-off with police on a Los Angeles freeway by committing suicide, shooting himself in the chin with a shotgun. The event, which took place on a Thursday afternoon, was witnessed by many children whose after-school cartoons had been interrupted in order to broadcast the incident, which originally began as a high-speed pursuit, and led many to criticize Los Angeles television stations' practice of airing police pursuits live.
- September 11, 2001 – At 9:03am Eastern Daylight Time, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center, in front of millions of viewers who were already watching live coverage of the unfolding terrorist attacks of that day. Major networks had broken into regular programming just minutes earlier with live shots of the twin towers after American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north tower at 8:46am. Millions of viewers around the world watching live coverage of the attacks saw both buildings collapse.
- March 23, 2003 – Sky News broadcast live coverage of US forces attacking an Iraqi position. Sky reporter David Bowden, embedded with the US Marines, gave a live running commentary on the battle, something viewers had not seen before.
- July 7, 2005 – A live television report on the unfolding situation on the 7 July 2005 London bombings captured the sound of the Tavistock Square bus explosion at 9:46am British Summer Time.
- September 28, 2012 – 33-year-old Jodon F. Romero committed suicide in a field after he carjacked a vehicle in Phoenix and went on an 80-mile car chase. This was accidentally broadcast on Studio B with Shepard Smith.
- August 26, 2015 - News reporter Alison Parker and camera man Adam Ward are murdered on live television by a former coworker during a new report. The shooter, Vester Flannigan, committed suicide some time later.
- August 1–16, 1936 – The 1936 Summer Olympics, held in Berlin, Germany, were the first Olympic Games (and sporting event) to have live television coverage. 
- May 17, 1939 – the first live televised sporting event in the U.S takes place: a college baseball game between the Columbia Lions & the Princeton Tigers, was broadcast by NBC from Columbia's Baker Field in New York City. Princeton won that game 8-6.
- March 19, 1953 – first live broadcast of The Academy Awards
- March 7, 1955 – first nationwide live broadcast of The Emmy Awards
- November 30, 1958 – Midway through transmission of the Armchair Theatre play Underground on the British ITV network, actor Gareth Jones died off-camera, forcing the cast to improvise the remainder of the broadcast.
- December 7, 1963 – Instant replay is used for the first time during the live transmission of the Army–Navy Game by its inventor, director Tony Verna.
- February 9, 1964 – The Beatles make their 1st appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. This live broadcast on CBS drew an estimated 73 million viewers, the largest audience in the history of American television up to that time.
- April 18, 1966 – The Academy Awards broadcast in color for the first time.
- June 25, 1967 – Our World, the first live international satellite television production aired, seen by 400 million people in 25 countries worldwide. It closed with The Beatles performing a new song: "All You Need Is Love", composed by John Lennon for the occasion.
- September 17, 1967 – While The Doors performed "Light My Fire" on The Ed Sullivan Show, frontman Jim Morrison used the word "higher" instead of the previously agreed-upon change "better".
- November 17, 1968 – A football game (known as the Heidi Game) between the New York Jets & the Oakland Raiders ran over its allotted time. At that time, NBC was contractually bound to air the children’s movie: “Heidi” at 7PM Eastern Time. NBC broke away from the game, after which Oakland scored 2 touchdowns in the final minute to win the game 43-32. This prompted outrage from sports fans, resulting in a change of policy where all televised sports events are now broadcast to its conclusion.
- March 16, 1971 – the first live broadcast of The Grammy Awards.
- March 5, 1975 – Graham Kennedy mimicked a crow call ("faaaaaaark") remniscient of the word fuck during a hairspray ad on The Graham Kennedy Show on the Nine Network in Australia. He was banned from live TV indefinitely for the stunt. He quits the network on April 17 after the network took advantage of the pre-taping to delete a speech critical of Senator Doug McClelland (the then Minister for the Media).
- October 11, 1975 – First episode of Saturday Night Live broadcast.
- December 1, 1976 – Appearing in a live interview on the Thames Television pre-watershed programme Today as last-minute replacements for fellow EMI artists Queen, the Sex Pistols were interviewed by Bill Grundy to promote their recently released "Anarchy in the U.K." single. During the interview, Steve Jones said the band had "fucking spent" its label advance and Johnny Rotten used the word "shit." Pistols guitarist Steve Jones called Grundy a "dirty sod" and a "dirty old man", leading Grundy to goad the band into swearing on live TV, and Jones ended the interview with "you dirty bastard," "you dirty fucker," and "what a fucking rotter". Grundy was fired by ITV and Today was cancelled.
- February 20, 1981 – Appearing on the live ABC comedy show Fridays as guest host, comedian Andy Kaufman refused to read his lines during the last sketch, to the annoyance of the cast and crew. The situation escalated into a minor brawl, and the network cut off the broadcast. Kaufman later admitted that the fight was planned by him and some of the cast and crew.
- April 15, 1984 – Comedian Tommy Cooper collapsed and subsequently died of a heart attack in front of millions of viewers on Live From Her Majesty's. The audience carried on laughing thinking it was part of his act, before the programme took a commercial break.
- July 13, 1985 – Live Aid, the first live global concert aired to 1.9 billion viewers in 150 countries worldwide.
- January 4, 1987 – A massive bench-clearing brawl occurred in the World Junior Hockey Championships between Canada and the Soviet Union. After Pavel Kostichkin took a two handed slash at Theoren Fleury, the Soviet Union's Evgeny Davydov came off the bench, eventually leading to both benches clearing. The officials walked off the ice and tried shutting off the arena lights, but the brawl lasted for 20 minutes until the IIHF declared the game null and void. Both teams were ejected from the tournament, and the Soviet team were barred from attending the end-of-tournament dinner.
- October 17, 1989 – Right before Game 3 of The 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics, the Loma Prieta earthquake occurred.
- February 1, 2004 – During a performance by singers Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl XXXVIII half time show, Timberlake pulled off a part of Jackson's leather corset, revealing her right breast covered by a piece of jewelry attached to her nipple. He later described the incident as a "wardrobe malfunction". The incident caused outrage among religious groups and demands for the FCC to crack down on indecency on television and radio. It resulted in broadcast television networks imposing a seven-second delay on all future live programming.
- April 21, 2004 – After commenting on a UEFA Champions League match on ITV1, Ron Atkinson thought that the broadcast had finished. However, although transmission in the UK had finished, he was still on air to various countries in the Middle East and proceeded to say that "...he is what is known in some schools as a fucking lazy thick nigger" towards Marcel Desailly. He resigned with immediate effect.
- August 20, 2006 – During a live dance performance of "Crazy Love Song" by the female pop trio SeeYa on the Korean television program SBS Inkigayo, a backup dancer who suffered from epilepsy had a seizure in the middle of the song. The performers ignored the interruption and completed the performance normally before and after the dancer was carried off the stage.
- April 14, 2007 – At the conclusion of an AFL match between Fremantle and West Coast on Network Ten, Eagles player Michael Braun concluded his Ross Glenndenning Medal acceptance speech with "Let's have a fucking good year" in front of a TV audience of 550,000 and a crowd of 42,051. Braun was fined $5,500 (equivalent to $6,277 in 2016) by the AFL for the incident.
- February 1, 2015 – Super Bowl XLIX, broadcast live on NBC, became the most watched television program in U.S. history to date garnering an average of 114.4 million viewers. Its half-time show featuring Katy Perry drew a record 118.5 million viewers.
- February 1, 2015 – NBC airs a rare Sunday Super Bowl edition of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon LIVE from the Orpheum Theater in Phoenix. AZ. This marks the first time since 1959 that the Tonight Show has aired LIVE.
Live television episodes
Although all programs were once live, the use of video tape means that very few television programs in the modern era have ever attempted such a feat. In the U.S., soap operas including As the World Turns and The Edge of Night were broadcast live until 1975.
On rare occasions, a scripted series will do an episode live to attract ratings. In the U.S. and Canada, the episode is occasionally performed twice: once for the east coast which is composed of the Eastern Time Zone and Central Time Zone and again three hours later for the west coast which is composed of the Mountain Time Zone and the Pacific Time Zone unless they have Dish Network or Direct TV who provides the live feed in all states. Currently, NBC is airing all live episodes of Undateable, now in its 3rd season, twice for both the East & West Coast.
Notable examples of shows that have had a live episode include:
- Gimme a Break! (1985)
- Roc (The entire second season, 1993)
- ER (1997)
- Coronation Street (for its 40th anniversary in 2000, its 50th anniversary in 2010 & ITV's 60th anniversary in 2015)
- The Drew Carey Show (1999, 2000, & 2001)
- One Life to Live (Went live for an entire week of episodes in May 2002)
- The Bill (2003 & 2005)
- The Daily Show (2004, 2008, 2009)
- Blue Heelers (2004)
- Will & Grace (2005 & 2006)
- Air Farce Live (All episodes from October 2007 - December 2008)
- The West Wing (2005) - An episode ("The Debate") was presented as a live debate between presidential candidates
- Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps (2008)
- EastEnders (for its 25th anniversary in 2010 and its 30th anniversary in 2015)
- 30 Rock: season five, "Live Show" (2010) and season six, "Live from Studio 6H" (2012)
- WWE Monday Night RAW (1993 to present)
- WWE SmackDown (occasional live specials)
- Emmerdale (For its 40th Anniversary)
- Undateable (the entire third season, 2015-16)
In recent years, there have been a number of special films broadcast live as well. These include the remakes of Fail Safe (2000) and The Quatermass Experiment (2005). Some recent examples of live episodic TV series include shows such as Melissa and Joey (2010), Whitney (2011) and Undateable (2014).
A live television advertisement was shown for the first time in 40 years to celebrate the arrival of the new Honda Accord in the United Kingdom. It was broadcast on Channel Four on 29 May 2008 at 20:10 during a special episode of 'Come Dine With Me'. The ad featured skydivers forming the letters of the word Honda over Spain.
Live television specials
Many live television specials were telecast during the pre-videotape era. Among the most successful were the 1955 and 1956 telecasts of Peter Pan, a 1954 musical adaptation of J. M. Barrie's 1904 play, starring Mary Martin, and Cyril Ritchard. This was such a hit that the show was restaged and rebroadcast (this time on videotape) with the same two stars and most of the rest of the cast in 1960, and rerun several times after that. The Peter Pan telecasts marked the first-ever telecasts of a complete Broadway musical with most of its original cast.
On December 5, 2013, NBC broadcast a live television special called "The Sound of Music Live!" starring Carrie Underwood. This program aired live in the Eastern & Central time zones, and was the first television musical special to air live on NBC in almost fifty years.
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- Caesar's Hours: My Life in Comedy, with Love and Laughter, by Sid Caesar with Eddy Friedfeld. Public Affairs, 2003.
- The Box: An Oral History of Television 1920-1961, by Jeff Kisseloff. Penguin Books, 1995.
- The Live Television Generation of Hollywood Film Directors, by Gorham Kindem. McFarland, 1994.
- Live Television: The Golden Age of 1946-1958 in New York, by Frank Sturcken. McFarland, 1990.
- Golden Age of Television: Notes from the Survivors, by Max Wilk. Moyer Bell Limited, 1989.
- Where Have I Been? An Autobiography, by Sid Caesar with Bill Davidson, Crown Publishers, Inc., 1982.
- "The History of Magnetic Recording", BBC, 20 December 2004. Retrieved on 23 October 2014.
- Shows such as The O'Reilly Factor on the Fox News Channel are pre-recorded the afternoon of its broadcast. However, this show occasionally airs live if breaking news or special events are being covered..
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- Performed twice so that viewers in multiple time zones saw a live version