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Television in the Soviet Union was owned, controlled and censored by the state. The body governing television in the era of the Soviet Union was the Gosteleradio committee, which was responsible for both the Soviet Central Television and the All-Union Radio.
In 1938, television broadcasting began in Moscow and Leningrad under the auspices of the All-Union Committee for Radiofication and Radio Broadcasting at the USSR Sovnarkom (Всесоюзный комитет по радиофикации и радиовещанию при СНК СССР).
On 1 October 1934, Russia's first televisions were produced. The B-2 had a 3 × 4 cm screen and a mechanical raster scan in 30 lines at 12.5 frames per second. On 15 November 1934, Moscow had its first television broadcast. It was a concert. Then, on 15 October 1935, the first film was broadcast.
On 9 March 1938, a first experimental studio television program was broadcast from Shabolovka tower in Moscow. Three weeks later, the first full film, The Great Citizen (Великий гражданин) was broadcast. On 7 June 1938, a television broadcast was trialled in Leningrad.
World War II disrupted regular television broadcasting until it was re-instated in Moscow on 15 December 1945. On 4 November 1948, the Moscow television centre started broadcasting in a 625 line standard. On 29 June 1949, the first out of studio broadcast of a football match was broadcast live from the Dynamo sports stadium. On 24 August 1950, a long range broadcast was made from Moscow to Ryazan.
In time for the golden jubilee year of the October Revolution in 1967, SECAM colour broadcasts debuted in both Moscow and Leningrad on their respective local TV channels. By 1973, the Soviet television service had grown into six full national channels, plus republican and regional stations serving all republics and minority communities.
The size and geography of the Soviet Union made television broadcasting difficult. These factors included mountains such as the Urals, the Taiga and the Steppes and the encompassing of eleven different time zones. For instance, a program broadcast at 18:00 in Moscow would be shown at 21:00 in Frunze, Kirghizia. The population density was irregular with many more residents found in the west. The Soviet Union was also relaying broadcasts to other Warsaw Pact states.
The Soviet broadcast television standard used System D (OIRT VHF band with the "R" channels ranging from R1 to R12) and System K (pan-European/African UHF band), with SECAM as the color system standard. The resulting system is commonly referred to as "SECAM D/K".
There were six television channels (called "programmes") in the Soviet Union. The "First Programme" was the main channel with time slots for regional programming. (see #Regional television services below). The other channels included the All Union Programme (the second channel), the Moscow Programme (the third channel), the Fourth Programme (the fourth channel), the Fifth programme (broadcast from Leningrad) and the Sixth Programme (sports, science and technology).
Not all channels were available across the Soviet Union. Until perestroika and the establishment of the Gorizont satellite network, many regions only had access to the First Programme and the All Union Programme. The new satellite network had enough transponders for all six channels to be carried to the entire Soviet Union. This increased the variation of television programmes offered. The new channels offered urban news and entertainment (Channel 3); culture, documentaries and programmes for the Intelligentsia (Channel 4), information and entertainment from the point of view of another city (Channel 5) and scientific and technological content (Channel 6).
In addition to the national television channels, each of the Republics of the Soviet Union (RSS) and Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics of the Soviet Union (ARSS) had its own state radio and television company or state broadcasting committees. The regional company or committee was able to broadcast regional programming in Russian or the local language alongside the official First Programme schedule. The regional company or committee was able to broadcast additional channels for their coverage area only. Alongside them were a number of city television stations that served as retransmitters of national programming with local opt-outs for news and current affairs.
In 1990, there were 90 Orbita satellites, supplying programming to 900 main transmitters and over 4,000 relay stations. The best known Soviet satellites were the Molniya (or "Lightning") satellites. Other satellite groups were named the Gorizont ("Horizon"), Ekran ("Screen"), and Statsionar ("Stationary") satellites. People residing outside the Soviet Union who used a TVRO satellite television could receive Soviet broadcasts.
Broadcasts were time-shifted to counter the problems of the Soviet Union's geography and time zones. The national television channels were only on the air for part of the day giving room in the schedule to time-shift. There were two types of Soviet time-shifting, one based on a similar radio programme, and "Double" programs, which was composite time-shifting for the different time zones.
Only the First Programme was time-shifted based on the pattern of a similar radio programme, the All-Union First Programme from Soviet radio. TV Orbita-1 was broadcast in time zones UTC +11, +12, and +13 time zones. TV Orbita-2 was broadcast in time zones UTC +9 and +10 time zones, TV Orbita-3 in UTC +7 and +8 time zones, TV Orbita-4 in UTC +5 and +6 and the First Programme in time zones UTC +2, +3, and +4.
All other national television channels (the All-Union, Moscow, Fourth and Leningrad programmes) used the "double" programme composite time-shifting format.
Soviet TV programming was diverse. It was similar to that of American PBS. It included news programmes, educational programmes, documentaries, occasional movies, and children's programmes. Major sports events such as soccer and ice hockey matches were often broadcast live. Programming was domestic or made in Warsaw Pact countries.
The broadcasts had relatively high levels of self-censorship. Prohibited topics included criticism against the status and implementation of Soviet ideology, all aspects of erotica, nudity, graphic portrayal of violence and coarse language and illicit drug use.
The leading news programmes used presenters with exemplary diction and excellent knowledge of the Russian language. Sergey Georgyevich Lapin, chairman of the USSR State Committee for Television and Radio (1970 to 1985) made a number of rules. Male presenters could not have beards and had to wear a tie and jacket. Women were not allowed to wear pants. Lapin banned a broadcast of a close up of Alla Pugacheva singing into the microphone, as he considered it reminiscent of oral sex. Lapin and his committee were accused of anti-semitism in the television programming.
Despite these limitations, television grew in popularity. The average daily volume of broadcasting grew from 1673 hours in 1971 to 3,700 hours in 1985. A new television and radio complex, the "PTRC" was built for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. The Ostankino Technical Center in Moscow was one of the largest in the world at that time.
In the late 1980s, the nature of programming began to change. Some Western programs, mostly from the United Kingdom and Latin America, were imported. Talk shows and game shows were introduced, often copied from their western counterparts. For example, the game show, Pole Chudes (The Field of Miracles) based on Wheel of Fortune. Free speech regulations were gradually eased.
Until the late 1980s, Soviet television had no advertisements. Even then, they were rare, because few companies could produce advertisements about themselves.
In the beginning of the 1960s television in the USSR was expanding rapidly. The increase in the number of channels and the duration of daily broadcast caused shortage of content deemed suitable for broadcast. This led to production of television films, in particular of multiple-episode television films (Russian: многосерийный телевизионный фильм)—the official Soviet moniker for miniseries. Despite that the Soviet Union started broadcasting in color in 1967, color TV sets did not become widespread until the end of the 1980s. This justified shooting made-for-TV movies on black-and-white film.
The 1965 four-episode Calling for fire, danger close is considered the first Soviet miniseries. It is a period drama set in the Second World War depicting the Soviet guerrilla fighters infiltrating German compound and directing the fire of the regular Soviet Army to destroy the German airfield. During the 1970s the straightforward fervor gave way to a more nuanced interplay of patriotism, family and everyday life wrapped into traditional genres of crime drama, spy show or thriller. One of the most popular Soviet miniseries—Seventeen Moments of Spring about a Soviet spy operating in Nazi Germany—was shot in 1972. This 12-episode miniseries incorporated features of political thriller and docudrama and included excerpts from period newsreels. Originally produced in black-and-white in 4:3 aspect ratio, it was colorized and re-formatted for wide-screen TVs in 2009.
Other popular miniseries of the Soviet era include The Shadows Disappear at Noon (1971, 7 episodes) about the fate of several generations of locals from a Siberian village, The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed (1979, 5 episodes) about the fight against criminals in the immediate post-war period, and TASS Is Authorized to Declare... (1984, 10 episodes) about the tug-of-war of Soviet and American intelligence agencies.
Numerous miniseries were produced for children in the 1970s-1980s. Among them are: The Adventures of Buratino (1976, 2 episodes)—an adaptation of The Golden Key, or the Adventures of Buratino by Alexey Tolstoy, which in turn is a retelling of The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi; The Two Captains (1976, 6 episodes)—an adaptation of The Two Captains by Veniamin Kaverin about a search for a lost Arctic expedition and the discovery of Severnaya Zemlya; The Adventures of Elektronic (1979, 3 episodes) about a humanoid robot meeting and befriending his prototype—a 6th grade schoolboy; Guest from the Future (1985, 5 episodes) about a boy and a girl travelling in time and fighting intergalactic criminals. In each of these, CTV-USSR co-produced them with the Gorky Film Studio.
- О РЕСПУБЛИКАНСКИХ МИНИСТЕРСТВАХ И ГОСУДАРСТВЕННЫХ КОМИТЕТАХ РСФСР. Закон. Верховный Совет РСФСР. 14.07.90 101-1 :: Инновации и предпринимательство: гранты, технологии, патенты In Russian.
- Указ Президента РСФСР от 28.11.1991 № 242 «О реорганизации центральных органов государственного управления РСФСР» In Russian.
- "Why was it so dangerous to watch Soviet TV sets?". www.rbth.com.
- ОБ УТВЕРЖДЕНИИ ПОЛОЖЕНИЯ О МИНИСТЕРСТВЕ ПЕЧАТИ И ИНФОРМАЦИИ РОССИЙСКОЙ ФЕДЕРАЦИИ. Постановление Правительства РФ от 18.05.93 № 473 in Russian.
- "Television film in the USSR (in Russian)". russiancinema.ru (in Russian). Retrieved 2017-09-22.
- "Vyzyvaem ogon na sebya (Calling for fire, danger close)". imdb.com. Retrieved 2017-09-22.
- "Seventeen Moments of Spring". imdb.com. Retrieved 2017-09-22.
- "Teni ischezayut v polden (The Shadows Disappear at Noon)". imdb.com. Retrieved 2017-09-22.
- "Dva kapitana (The Two Captains)". imdb.com. Retrieved 2017-09-22.
- 1990 edition of the WRTH (World Radio and Television Handbook)
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