Which TV network owns the Peacock streaming service?

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Published September 7, 2023

Duh! is a weekly column that gives circuitous answers to obvious questions. If you dig it, you can find 100 more of these essays in the Geeks Who Drink book, Duh!.

Consider the insane number of events in America’s Baby Boom year of 1956 that still reverberate through the ages:

  • Singing “Hound Dog,” Elvis Presley shook his junk at Milton Berle on national TV – which, considering Miltie’s anatomic legacy, was certainly a choice.
  • Ike Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway System into existence, becoming indirectly responsible for all those maniacs and idiots who insist on driving faster and/or slower than you.
  • Marilyn Monroe married Arthur Miller, setting unrealistic expectations for several generations of nebbishy writers (hi!)1

Onto that pile, we can throw the birth of the logo for a streaming service that wouldn’t even launch for 64 more years.

John J. Graham was the prescient creator of NBC’s peacock, the same year he was promoted to Art Director of Advertising and Promotion. The network, having just jumped from radio to TV in the previous decade, now needed a way to tell people when a broadcast was available in color.2 “Why don’t you just use a peacock?” Mrs. Graham suggested, and then it was off to the sketchbook… and history! The original 11-feather version (with the same six colors) was so well-loved that it was used in the same way for 20 years … and then the ‘70s happened.

On New Year’s 1976 – the dawn of America’s bicentennial year – the suits at NBC caved in to the pressures of “corporate unisex” design and canned the peacock in favor of a big abstract N in red and blue. It was the culmination of an outside marketing firm’s study that cost the network a reported $1 million ($5.5 million in 2023). Gilda Radner promptly dressed up like the new logo to mock it alongside Chevy Chase on NBC’s Saturday Night (the original title of SNL).

In February, their headache got even worse. The public media station Nebraska Educational Television noticed that give-or-take a color, the new logo was exactly the same as theirs. They filed a suit that the National Broadcasting Company settled for $800,000 worth of equipment, plus $55,000 for a new logo3 (a total of $4.7 million today).

For that steep price NBC got to keep the big blocky N, but it was a short-lived win. The next year, focus group testing showed that people really liked the peacock, and so in 1979 it came back to stay. The logo got its stylized, six-feather look in 1986, and in 2020 it got yet another boost when NBC chose Peacock as the name of its new streaming service.

None of this was any help to John Graham, though. Even though he was totally vindicated during the big blocky N fiasco, he was still unceremoniously canned in the midst of it, in late 1977. He rode out his early retirement as a book illustrator, and died in 1994, at age 70. So the next time you settle down for some Real Housewives of New York City, pour one out for ol’ John, okay?

  1. Hell, all these things happened in June! In fact, the wedding and the interstate thing were the same day (Friday the 29th).
  2. Or really to make sure the 99 percent knew when they were missing out on a color broadcast: The Big Three networks didn’t fully convert to color until the late ‘60s, and a majority of households didn’t have one until the early ‘70s
  3. Isn’t $55,000 a lot less than the $1 million that NBC paid for their new (infringing) logo? Yes, yes it is.