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Project RastkoHistory of Serb culture
TIA Janus

Miroslav Savicevic


Chapter from the book
"The history of Serbian Culture"
The history of Serbian culture  


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In September, 1938, at the Belgrade Fair, The "Phillips" Company from the Netherlands gave the first professional television demonstration in Serbia, with local actors and singers taking part in the programme. World War II followed, and not until after the reconstruction and economic regeneration it was again possible to consider the introduction of television. The first phase was, in a symbolic way, related to the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the world's radio-transmission founders, Nikola Tesla. On that occasion, in July, 1956, as a part of the Yugoslav radio-amateur exhibition, a television programme was broadcasted at the Technical School in Belgrade. It was viewed in Belgrade and the surrounding area.

Apart from this, Radio Belgrade had been trying to introduce a technically equipped television station which would be at the level of the television stations in the western European countries, and they have achieved this in 1958. In February, 1958, Radio Belgrade became Radio-Television Belgrade. From August 23 till September 2, it transmitted a test programme with almost all of the television genres, from a studio which was the first (both in Balkans and in the greater part of Europe) built exclusively for television (most often the studios were the adapted buildings). "It is without precedent that a television station, in the first eleven days of operation, broadcasts three to four hours of a high quality programme" - was the comment at the press conference after the test programme had ended. In less than three months, on November 28, the continuous transmission of television programmes started.

From the beginning of continuous broadcasting, until the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the television programme was a universal Yugoslav programme, based on the principle that every station broadcasted the programmes of the other Yugoslav stations as well. The Yugoslav Radio-Television (JRT) programme body established the programme's concept, scheme and schedule. The television stations of Belgrade, Zagreb and Ljubljana encompassed the universal JRT programme in 1958, and later on the television stations of Sarajevo (1961), Skopje (1964), Titograd (1964-1966), Novi Sad (1973-1974) and Prishtina (1974-1975) joined in; gradually the programmes of the television stations of the Serbo-Croat speaking regions became predominant. Because of its complex structure and multicultural character, this programme was unique in the world. It enabled the Serbian people in the other Republics to watch the programme of the Radio-Television Belgrade, since it was broadcast by the stations of the other Republics. Therefore, even when, at the beginning of the 1960s, the cultural and information closure of the republics ensued, they were still in contact with the home of their culture thanks to television.

The programme was transmitted live at first, either from the studio or from mobile units on site. Since the middle of the 1961, when Belgrade television obtained magnetoscopes and tone-film cameras, "live television" has gradually disappeared; mainly programmes recorded on video and film tapes are broadcasted. In that way, more preparation time was obtained for the programmes, but the original directness of television programming has been lost.

It should also be mentioned that Belgrade television, among the first in the world, began to apply its electronic technology in the recording of informative supplements (the work of so-called "mobile electronic teams"). The next technological move was the initiation of the colour television (the PAL system, December 31, 1971). In the second half of the 1970s the use of ENG launched the era of the electronic journalism, which facilitated quick reactions to impending events. Productive capacity increased as well, (there are new TV studios - eleven of them have been built in RTV Serbia, technologically improved mobile units, film laboratories, film and electronic montage) which has enabled the growth of the programme from several hours at the beginning of television Belgrade, to seventy seven hours a day on the Radio-Television Serbia. Simultaneously, a system of the transmitters and telecommunications has been built, so that the reception zone of the programme on the first network encompasses (encircles) the territory of Serbia with approximately 98% of the population, on the second network with 96% and on the third network with 67%. Among the constructions of the transmission installations and telecommunications, the television tower on Avala (1965) is an especially attractive one, 202.85 metres high together with its steel post. It was the first concrete television tower in the world with the cross section of an equilateral triangle (only towers with the circular cross sections had been built until then). After the terrestrial transmission network had been built, satellite programme broadcasting has been worked upon. Since 1991, six hours of the RTS programme have been transmitted by satellite to Europe and North America per day, so that the Serbs in diaspora and the others living there can watch it.

At first, Belgrade's television developed as a programme system on the first network (later Belgrade One), which covered the basic programme functions and their genres (informative, educational, entertainment, and artistic programmes) and their genres. With the beginning of programme broadcasting on the second network (Belgrade Two, December 31, 1971) the choice of programming widened, and the correlation between the First and the Second programme was based on the principles of complementarity, alternation, and competition. The programme offer then expanded with a third network (Belgrade Three, 1989), as well as with the introduction of the Belgrade Programme, the Morning Programme (1986) and various local and regional programmes. Beginning in the middle of the 1970s, along with the Belgrade television, television stations in the autonomous provinces of Vojvodina and Kosovo-Metohija began to broadcast - TV Novi Sad and TV Prishtina. Finally, on January 1, 1992, Radio-Television Serbia, comprised of RTV Belgrade, RTV Novi Sad and RTV Prishtina, was formed. The programme composition of RTV Serbia has a remarkable tendency toward the presentation of all the programme functions in its broadcasts, with high quality broadcasting in all media genres, addressing an audience which is quite divergent in terms of the levels of education, type of profession, national standing and religious confession, sex and so on. Alongside the programmes in SerboCroat, there are also programmes in the languages of the national minorities (Albanian, Hungarian, Slovak, Rumanian, Bulgarian, Ruthenian and Romany). The potential public of the RTV Serbia encompasses about 6.5 million people aged from ten upwards in the territory of the Republic Serbia, and a large number of spectators in the Republic of Montenegro, Republic of Srpska and the Republic of Serbian Krajina. RTS television programmes, thanks to the ground network, are being watched in the border areas of the neighbouring countries, and in some cases even further.

With the help of the RTS, television stations in the Republic of Srpska and the Republic Srpska Krajina are being established.

Recently, television stations which do not belong to the RTS system have also been founded. The "Politika" Television station and the "Nezavisna Politika Studio B" stations started broadcasting in 1990. Then, the "Art Kanal" station began in 1992, and the "Palma" station in 1993. These television stations are in their primary phases of development.

The spirit and the character of Serbian television have been based both on tradition and on contemporary Serbian culture, and it has been open to international values and to the changes which technological progress has brought. The uniqueness of Serbian television lies in its proximity to Serbian culture, and it has proved to be an important constituent even if it has been present only for the last 35 years. Creating its own genres, or, to put it better, creating a specific television art, television has enriched Serbian culture. That contribution, furthermore, is also in the presentation and the popularisation of the arts, as television participated in their creation and production (especially in terms of film). Television is unavoidable, for, even if it does not produce the arts, they are still presented broadcast via television to millions of people. Frankly, the contribution of television has also been questioned for it represents the so-called "mass culture". However, most of the television programmes that are to be discussed here are based on real values. Finally, as the most common and most powerful means of the mass communication, television has played a most important role in the cultural integration of the Serbian people in the former Yugoslavia and abroad.

Serbian television was formed primarily by professionals from radio, film, theatre and the press. These emissaries have gradually lost their attachments to their previous media. The electronic production of the programmes played the main role in this, whether it was "live television" or the camera recordings. Even the film production of the programme, which was at the forefront at times, submitted itself to the peculiar mode of television (serials) and to the specific language of television which nourishes a different type of the word-picture relation than film does. Simultaneously, new generations also began their professional careers, yet without the burden of experience in other media.

Taking the risk of not mentioning someone who should be mentioned, several people who have left their marks on the pioneer era of Serbian television and who have brought it to maturity must be mentioned. Radivoje Lola Djukic, a screen writer and director, and Novak Novakovic, an editor and screen writer, were the creators of the humoristic programme. The first seventeen episodes they wrote of the serial "The Service Station" (1959-1960) were inspired by Nusic, Chekov and O'Henry, and later on, for almost two decades, they were creating a humorously satirical portrait of our people in the course of the social changes that ensued. Radivoje Lola Djukic also played an important role as the manager of the television production and the editor of the cultural-educational programme in the early years of television. The writers Dusan Radovic (the editor of the children's programme for a time) and Aleksandar Popovic also contributed greatly. Advising and complementing each other, they constructed a peculiar television representation of our world which, moved from its point of orientation, looks for a new, illusory equilibrium: Dusan Radovic, remained faithful to children ("Starting with the letter, the letter", "Good night, children"...), but also addressed adults; and Aleksandar Popovic, giving an infantile tone, to the, at times, absurd world of adults ("The Furnished Room", "The Birth of a Working Nation"). Milan Kovacevic is one of the founders of the Belgrade Television documentary school. In the serial "Caravan", he created extremely valuable programmes for two decades, he spoke the language of the television with mastery. Among composers, Vojislav Kostic stands out with his compositions, written especially for television, among which the most notable are his compositions for the serial-musical "Our Shows", the sound of which encompasses a half a century in the Balkans. Finally, the announcer, Miloje Orlovic, is irreplaceable and our viewers have come to equate him with television itself in Serbia.

The contributions made by directors should be emphasized as well. Mirjana Samardzic, Slavoljub Stefanovic-Ravasi, Sava Mrmak and Zdravko Sotra have worked from the earliest days, and Aleksandar Djordjevic from 1961. They all began under the circumstances of "live television", and have been active until this day (Mirjana Samardzic retired in 1983), successfully keeping in step with the technological changes. After them, starting with the decline of the "live television", new generations of television directors came, who were inclined toward visual research and experimentation.

There are not many actors who have not appeared on television. Television brought about new relations for them and their public: they have often been identified with the characters they have interpreted. This is especially true of Mija Aleksic and Miodrag Petrovic Ckalja (the characters from the serials of Radivoje Djukic and Novak Novakovic), Mira Stupica (Kika Bibic from "TV Primer") and Jovan Janicijevic (Burdus from "The Musicians")

Like other fields of art and culture, television could not escape changes in the tastes of the viewers and the advancement of new young authors in the 1960s. One of the first such breakthroughs was "The Concert for the Crazy Young People" in 1967, which was based on the idea of Milan Bulatovic and carried out by young authors who introduced clips and pop groups into the programme. The next breakthrough was the documentary serial "Optional", created in the framework of the preparations for launching Belgrade Two: young authors, selected by Zora Korac, presented aspects of Serbian reality, which had not been investigated until then. Since then, the entry of new ideas and new generations has been a continuous process, and the programme has been created as a complex of various views, generational and others.

Since its beginnings, Serbian television has also been present in the rest of the world. With the transmission of the eclipse of the Sun from Jastrebac on February 15, 1961, Television Belgrade successfully presented itself to the world. Television Belgrade and Serbian culture testified to their presence on the world scene by participating in the first satellite transmission of programmes from Europe to America, on July 23, 1962. Miroslav's Gospel and the fresco copies from the National Museum in Belgrade were shown in that programme, along with Mona Lisa from Louvre, the Sistine Chapel and the Magna Charta from the British Museum. The transmission of the European championships in track and field in 1962 was especially remarkable. This was the most widely received transmission in the world until then: it was received in seventeen countries (the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960 were only received by sixteen). In 1963, Television Belgrade won its first international award. During years to come, Television Belgrade received prizes and recognitions at international festivals for a variety television genres. There was almost no genre (programme) for which Television Belgrade has not won some of those awards or recognitions. Prizes and recognitions for Television Novi Sad have dated since 1975. The festivals at which television stations, which are now part of RTS, have received awards are: Monte Carlo, The Golden Rose of Montreux, Prix Futura in Berlin, Prix Japon in Tokyo, Prix Jeunesse in Munich, Child in the Modern World in Milan, Armand Lanoux in Monte Carlo, Teleconfronto in Chinciano Terme, The Golden Harp in Dublin and Galway, The Golden Chest in Plovdiv, Prix Europa in Berlin, The Golden Mouflon in Nicosia, the Golden Prague, Prix Italia, Grand Prix International video dance, Sete, France, Eco Film in Ostrava, The Youth Festival in Costesti, Rumania, then at international festivals of television in Hollywood, TV film in Alexandria, medical film in Varna, as well as at the international festivals in Yugoslavia. The television stations which are now segments of RTS have participated, through JRT and bilaterally, in the international programme exchange, being present on the international market of television programmes. Dozens of various programmes have been telecasted abroad every year, which is not negligible if one takes into account the domination of large television networks on the international television market.

The blockade of SR Yugoslavia has considerably hindered the placement of programmes abroad. However, telecasting by means of satellite makes the presence of Serbian television in the world still possible.

In its thirty five-year old history, television in Serbia has been open to foreign television programmes. Foreign programmes ranged from one fifth to one third of the entire programme on Channels One and Two, and in some years even more. The basic principle has been to offer viewers the most valuable international television programmes, and to present television programmes from all regions of the world. In practice, television programmes and films from the USA and west European countries have been remarkably predominant.

The programmes of Serbian television have kept in step with innovations in the creative work and technology of television, establishing at the same time its own unique image by proceeding from life in domestic milieu. That process has unfolded in all programmes, from drama to documentary, creating positive results. The already mentioned awards at the international festivals, which have evaluated them as contributions to the art of television, testify to this fact.

The drama programme introduced a new sub-genre into Serbian literature - the television drama. At the beginning, it primarily had the character of a stage setting, but later, with the development of video recording and montage, along with the advancement of film technology, it surpassed those boundaries, often attaining the form of television film. From the very beginning, it was characterised by contemporary themes and modern expression. The documentary drama has been fostered since 1970s.

Serials came into being at the very beginning of Television Belgrade, as comedy serials in the framework of Entertainment-Humoristic Programme. Over many years, they attracted the greatest possible attention of the viewers, not only in Serbia, but all over former Yugoslavia. They have presented humorous and frequently satirical picture of the people and the society, in the best tradition of Serbian humour, becoming its mainstream more and more. The drama serials commenced later, in 1970s - first as television adaptations of prose works, most often novels and collections of stories by Serbian authors, and afterwards as biographical serials and serials on various themes.

The programme for children has been characterized by imaginativeness and experimentation. Relying strongly on Serbian literature and music for children, it has produced specific genres.

With its music programmes, television has been an important factor in the music culture of Serbia. Stimulation of the creative work of composers and interpreters, reassertion of the musical heritage and performance of musical-scenic works have been the basis of the repertoire in programming practice for many years. In creating a specific musical TV genre, possibilities for visualizing music have been searched for.

The entertainment programme has been developed in the form of musical- entertaining programmes and call-in shows. A segment of this programme has been based on recognized musical, literary and other cultural values.

Documentary programmes have focused on outstanding creative personalities. They have given testimony about local regions and people, and about significant events from the past and present.

Educational programmes are the intellectual heart of Serbian television. Their quality has attracted a broad viewership. They have primarily developed the documentary genre, occasionally introducing elements of staged programming, using even dominantly staged structures. Especially significant are the serials about the cultural heritage and the decisive events in Serbian history, which directed cultural trends as well.

Films occupy an important place in television programmes. The fundamental goal of the repertoire is to enrich the culture of film among the viewers. In the early years of Television Belgrade, the status of television as the presenter, importer and producer of films was not regulated, and the part which films held in the programme was smaller than in other television stations around the world. However, this was compensated for by the choice of the highest quality films. Soon afterwards, television became very important in showing films in Serbia, telecasting several hundred feature-length films per year, among which the audience was most attracted by domestic ones. In the past few years, the number of films which have been shown on the programmes of RTS has ranged from five hundred to one thousand. Besides telecasting films, RTS participates in financing film productions in Serbia. From 1990 to 1993, Television Belgrade, later Radio-Television Serbia, took part in financing twenty feature-length films and thirty-nine shorter ones.

Up to the present, the archive of Television Belgrade, Television Novi Sad and Television Pristina has been supplemented. It encompasses programmes and contributions which are recorded on 35 million meters of film. Video tapes with 40,900 hours of programming are also a segment of that reserve. Both film materials and video tapes with recorded programmes represent an invaluable cultural treasure, being certainly one of the most precious testimonies about the recent history and culture of the Serbian people.

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