Operation Prime Time

Operation Prime Time (OPT) was a consortium of American independent television stations to develop prime time programming for independent stations. OPT and its spin-off syndication company, Television Program Enterprises (TPE), were formed by Al Masini. During its existence, OPT was considered the de facto fourth television network.[1] OPT was also called an occasional television network[2] and occasional program alternative.[3]

Operation Prime Time
Typeoccasional television network
United States
by Al Masini
SloganOperation Prime Time for better programming
Key people
Al Masini
Launch date
1976 (1976)
Dissolved1987 (1987)

OPT inspired syndication and network models that arose in later years, such as The Disney Afternoon, Prime Time Entertainment Network and MyNetworkTV.


Unlike the standard network advertising split, where the stations got the bulk of the ad time with the collective network only receiving one or two minutes of the dozen minutes available to sell, the OPT ad time would be sold at 1/3 of network rates or about $40,000 per half minute with the profits going back to the stations.[2]


With primarily only Big Three television networks providing new programming to TV stations in the 1970s, the unaffiliated stations had little network level quality programming to offer to advertisers. Producers of TV programs were also looking for an alternative to the standard network set up that paid the producers about three fourths of the production costs thus the show would only make money for the production company if it made enough episodes to place into rerun syndication. Advertisers were looking for new advertising outlets due to rising network ad costs with a 30% increase in 1977. Networks' income increased 143% from 1969 to 1974 while network payments to affiliates decreased by 2%.[2]


Al Masini, who represented 18 stations for advertising sales through his company TeleRep, discussed the independent stations' problem with other independent stations after a broadcast media meeting in February 1976.[2] Determined to offer an alternative, Masini rounded up a steering committee to form the new venture. Initial members of the committee included Shelly Cooper, General Manager of WGN-TV Chicago, Rich Frank of KCOP-TV Los Angeles,[2] and representatives of KTVU, WPIX and KSTW.[3] At the next broadcaster convention, the committee met to develop the details. The OPT committee then contacted Frank Price of Universal Television for the first program. Price offered Taylor Caldwell's novel Testimony of Two Men as a miniseries with Universal taking on a fifth of the production cost.[2] The committee was initially able to get 22 independent and 53 network-affiliated stations to sign on to OPT.[3] Advertisers like General Foods and Bristol-Myers abandoned the rival potential fourth network, Metromedia's MetroNet, for OPT, based on Metromedia's near Big 3 network cost per thousand viewers advertising cost and OPT reaching 80% of the country. Masini eventually lined up 93 stations, 73 of which were affiliates of ABC, NBC or CBS; of those affiliated with a network, these affiliates had to preempt part of their regular network prime time programming to make room for specials from OPT. KCOP's broadcast of Testimony of Two Men's first installment got a 16 rating and the second installment got an 18, well over their standard 4 rating, but in May, a traditional rerun period for the networks.[2]

Prime Time planned three book adaptions for their shows to air in May, July and November or December 1978 with two of them being John Jakes's The Bastard and The Rebels leading the way for the rest of the book series that OPT optioned including two then currently being written. Martin Gosch's and Richard Hammer's The Last Testimony of Lucky Luciano was the third adaptation scheduled for 1978.[4]

List of programs produced by OPT

Its initial programs were miniseries including adaptations of Testimony of Two Men and Son of the Captains and the Kings, the sequel to the 1976 NBC miniseries Captains and the Kings, also adapted from a novel by Caldwell.[2] OPT also distributed the animated Christmas special Yogi's First Christmas.

The most successful program from both OPT and TPE was, and still is, Entertainment Tonight, now produced and distributed by CBS Television Distribution. Other programs included Solid Gold, Star Search, and Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

See also


  1. MarketWire via Yahoo! Finance, December 1, 2010
  2. Nadel, Gerry (1977-05-30). "Who Owns Prime Time? The Threat of the 'Occasional' Networks". New York Magazine. New York: 33–36. Retrieved 2009-10-04.
  3. Sharbutt, Jay (March 9, 1977). "Lively Arts Operation Prime Time' Begins". The Free Lance-Star. Retrieved 27 June 2012.
  4. "Operation Prime Time sets three new shows" (PDF). Broadcasting. August 29, 1977. p. 20. Retrieved April 7, 2015.
  5. Buck, Jerry (May 20, 1978). "John Jakes' 'The Bastard' is latest effort from Operation Prime Time". Eugene Register-Guard. AP. Retrieved July 4, 2013.
  6. "'Rebels' Continues Kent Family Saga". The Pittsburg Press. May 13, 1979. p. TV5. Retrieved July 4, 2013.
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