washingtonpost.com  > Print Edition > Sunday Sections > Sunday Arts

Car Makers, Still A Driving Force in TV

By Lisa de Moraes
Sunday, March 20, 2005; Page N09

So why does the television season start in September?

Sure, at the end of the summer, viewing levels begin to rise as night comes earlier and the crisp weather sends us indoors. On the other hand, maybe thoughts turn to television in September because that's when the TV season has started since before some of us were born.

"The Ed Sullivan Show," powered by Lincoln-Mercury (and its star too).

But really, why September?

That's easy: cars.

It's the time of year when automobile manufacturers used to launch their new car lines, says David Poltrack, CBS executive vice president for research and planning.

In the early days of TV, auto manufacturers were the No. 1 advertisers, though tobacco companies were also big. "It was," he explains, "the time the advertisers wanted to focus on."

Car companies are still the top advertisers on the networks today, though their launches are more spread out in the calendar year, he says.

Plus, back in those early days, car companies sponsored, and even produced, a lot of TV programming. When "The Ed Sullivan Show" (originally called "Toast of the Town") debuted in 1948, it was sponsored by Lincoln-Mercury; nearly a decade later, the theme song for "The Dinah Shore Chevy Show" was "See the U.S.A. in Your Chevrolet."

"They put these shows on when they wanted to put them on," Poltrack says.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company