Why do tv listings and commercials for tv shows use Eastern time?

I’ve always wondered how this standard came about. Every ad for a tv show uses Eastern time. All the rest of the country has to mentally subtract 1 hour for Central or 3 hours Pacific time.

I’ve lived in the Central time zone most of my life. I’m accustomed to doing the math constantly. No big deal. The commercial will say Dancing With the Stars, Mon at 8pm. I know it really comes on at 7pm in my part of the world.

But why was the tv standard set to Eastern?

Central time looks like a much bigger geographic area on this map.

We still get to do the math in the Central time zone. even on the internet. :wink:


Just noticed the Rose Parade says…Live! 11am ET/8am PT

There’s three hours difference in NY and LA. A big adjustment the folks in CA have to make.

Maybe the geographic area is bigger, but I’d guess that there are a lot more people living in Eastern than in Central.

The Eastern Time Zone has a much higher population. It wouldn’t surprise me if things are skewed skewed even more in its favor (for English language networks, at least) by the Spanish-speaking population that’s concentrated in the western part of the country.

The west coast (Pacific time) gets shows at the same hourly time as the east - no subtraction necessary. (Except for live broadcasts, of course.)

West coasterner here, and I haven’t seen any TV shows advertised in eastern time since TBS and TNT got their own satellite feed for the west coast back in the '90s.

For television the East coast is where most of it started, NYC specifically, more so than Hollywood. Technologically it was impossible to modify the TV schedule for every time zone. There were no satellites, the broadcast signal was sent from NYC via AT&T leased long lines to terrestrial transmitting towers all over the country. More important than satellites, video tape wasn’t commonplace until the mid 1960s so the only way to ‘time shift’ programming was thru kinescopes which was simply pointing a film camera at a TV studio’s monitor and filming the picture for later broadcast. The keniscope process was only used for the West coast feed, one, because it was expensive but more importantly, two, because the process of getting shows ready for air (developing & printing the film) was only barely possible in under three hours!

With today’s electronic storage and satellite communication you might ask why then don’t they now shift it for all four US time zones. It would still cost a lot more money to do this and it’s not seen as all that necessary. Not enough people in the Central & Mountain zones complain about it like you!


Just realized that the OP is more asking why the shows are *advertised *at the wrong times, not why they’re actually shown at them. I would again say money. They’d have to create copy & promos in four different versions.

Even before satellites, when network programs were sent by phone lines from the network offices in NYC to affiliate stations all over the country, it was common practice for stations on the west coast to tape the network feed and air it 3 hours later, so the shows would be seen at the same local time as the east coast.

Stations in the central time zone generally carried the feed live, so it was common for a show to be advertised as “8:00, 7:00 central.”

The mountain time zone also generally used the live feed, so they were 2 hours behind the eastern times.

The Master Speaks, though he did so over 30 years ago.

Thanks everyone. Cecil’s article was very helpful and so were the thread responses.

These days I rarely hear them say “10pm Eastern/9pm Central” in commercials for tv shows. I heard that a lot as a kid, but now its often shortened to only 10pm. Anyone in the Central time zone already knows to deduct that hour. We do it automatically.

People who live in the middle of the country are unimportant is how I’ve always thought of it. And I’ve never lived anywhere other than the middle of the country.

Most cable networks in the U.S.A. have both an east coast feed and a west coast feed. Some cable companies may put a different feed on than others. If you live in the western part of the country and your cable provider puts the east feed of a network on, you have to convert the time for your area. Also, if you live in a wonky time zone like the Mountain Time Zone (as I do), you’re an hour ahead of the west coast and have to adjust the program time accordingly, if for example, you see a promo for a show which says, “Mythbusters - Next Wednesday at 10:00 PM.”

And yes, if you look at your cable guide, it gives you the correct local times for programs. But if you hear a promo during the program, you still have to adjust the time mentally if you want to find it on the guide. 10:00 PM for the Pacific Time Zone means 11:00 if you live in Arizona.

At least we can get to bed at a decent time in the Central timezone. :wink: Prime time ends at 10pm for us. The folks on the East Coast have to stay awake until 11pm.

Regardless of your time zone, many people are at work or school by 8AM. We’re better rested in the middle of the country. :stuck_out_tongue:

I live in the Central Time Zone now, but grew up un an area of Indiana that was on Eastern Time, but did not observe DST. It wasn’t hard, but just more annoying to have to go by the Eastern time advertised part of the year, and Central the rest.

On a related note, in an apparent step backwards, my home region recently decided to adopt DST in the Eastern Time Zone, despite being about four times closer to Chicago than New York.