With the series finale wrapped for Parks and Recreation, and at 10:59 p.m. on a Tuesday at that, NBC no longer has any claim on Thursday nights — or any night, really — as Must-See TV for sitcoms. The only network with a successful comedy programming block, as the definition of “successful” continues to slide under the weight of increasing competition from scripted and unscripted series on cable and streaming networks, is ABC’s Wednesday-night lineup of family comedies.
The Middle remains an underrated and underappreciated anchor, with its sixth season kicking off the night at 8 p.m. ET/PT (7 p.m. Central and Mountain). The Goldbergs not only has slid into Wednesdays from Tuesdays for its second season, but builds on the audience from The Middle with a loving tribute to the 1980s. Modern Family continues to rack up among the best ratings and most award nominations for comedies today, even if those sixth-season ratings have slipped in 2015 in the wake of FOX’s brash new soapy hip-hop hit, Empire. And black-ish is both a critical and popular hit in its rookie season, finally giving ABC an appropriate companion half-hour to Modern Family.
But about Empire. It really has exposed the potential weakness of ABC’s Wednesday comedy lineup. The changing landscape, too, sees a generation or two transitioning from watching TV when it’s scheduled to watching it online or on demand, making the likelihood of a must-see comedy lineup more and more unlikely. At least for the broadcast networks.
Over at HitFix, Alan Sepinwall followed up a reader’s query about NBC’s last great Thursday lineup — Community, Parks and Recreation, The Office and 30 Rock — with two even bigger and better lineups: the mid-1980s NBC Thursday of The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers and Night Court, and the mid-1970s CBS Saturday of All in the Family, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show. He also asked his readers to nominate their best all-time comedy blocks.
On this Throwback Thursday, let’s throw it all the way back to the beginnings of TV and take a look at the all-time great powerhouse nights of sitcoms, sketch and comedy variety programming in network television.
Spoiler alert: There will be no celebration of the ABC TGIF lineup that you Millennial kids grew up watching. Sorry. But no amount of your childhood nostalgia actually makes any of those shows better in retrospect.
Now. Let’s get time-hopping!
1953-54 CBS Mondays: The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, I Love Lucy, The Red Buttons Show
1962-63 CBS Wednesdays: The Many Loves of Dobey Gillis, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Dick Van Dyke Show
1962-63 ABC Thursdays from 7:30 p.m.: The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Donna Reed Show, Leave it to Beaver, My Three Sons, McHale’s Navy
1964-65 ABC Thursdays from 7:30 p.m.: The Flintstones, The Donna Reed Show, My Three Sons, Bewitched
1965-66 CBS Thursdays: The Munsters, Gilligan’s Island, My Three Sons
1967-68 ABC Thursdays from 7:30 p.m.: Batman, The Flying Nun, Bewitched, That Girl
1969-70 CBS Saturdays: Jackie Gleason Show, My Three Sons, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction
1970 ABC Friday promo:
1971-72/72-73 ABC Fridays: Brady Bunch, Partridge Family, Room 222, Odd Couple, Love American Style
1973-74/74-75 CBS Saturdays: All in the Family, M*A*S*H, Mary Tyler Moore Show, Bob Newhart Show, Carol Burnett Show (in midseason 1974-75, All in the Family spin-off The Jeffersons slotted into that 8:30 p.m. slot, while M*A*S*H moved off Saturday)
1975-76 midseason CBS Tuesdays: The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show, Good Times, M*A*S*H, One Day at a Time
1976-77 midseason CBS Saturdays: Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, All in the Family, Alice
1977-78 ABC Tuesdays: Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Three’s Company, Soap (the following season, 1978-79, Taxi replaced Soap in that lineup)
1978-79 ABC Thursdays: Mork & Mindy, What’s Happening!!, Barney Miller, Soap
1982-83 NBC Saturdays: Diff’rent Strokes, Silver Spoons, Mama’s Family, Taxi
1984-86 NBC Thursdays: The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court
We know things now we didn’t know then, but the fact remains: The Cosby Show was the juggernaut that launched NBC’s Must-See TV Thursdays in the mid-1980s, buttressed by the very-1980s Family Ties and workplace comedies Cheers and Night Court. NBC’s comeback was so strong it had a second four-sitcom bloc on Saturdays.
1985-86 NBC Saturdays: Gimme a Break, The Facts of Life, The Golden Girls, 227
NBC’s 1985 Fall season promo reel:
1988-89 CBS Mondays: Newhart, Kate & Allie, Murphy Brown, Designing Women
1988-89 ABC Tuesdays: Who’s the Boss, The Wonder Years, Roseanne, Anything But Love
1989-90 ABC Tuesdays: Who’s the Boss?, The Wonder Years, Roseanne, Coach
1989-90 ABC Wednesdays: Growing Pains, Head of the Class, Anything But Love, Doogie Howser M.D.
1990 ABC Tuesday promo:
1990-91 FOX Sundays from 7:30 p.m.: Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, In Living Color, Get a Life, Married…with Children
1991-92 ABC Tuesdays: Full House, Home Improvement, Roseanne, Coach
1992-93 FOX Sundays from 7:30 p.m.: The Ben Stiller Show, In Living Color, Roc, Married…with Children
1992-93 ABC Wednesdays: The Wonder Years, Doogie Howser M.D., Home Improvement, Coach
1993-94 NBC Thursdays: Mad About You, Wings, Seinfeld, Frasier
2000-01 FOX Sundays: Futurama, King of the Hill, The Simpsons, Malcolm in the mIddle (then The X-Files)
2009-10 NBC Thursdays, Community, Parks and Recreation, The Office, 30 Rock (at different points that season, the 10 p.m. hour was The Jay Leno Show, The Marriage Ref, or more repeats of The Office and Parks; while the fall season kicked off with three weeks of SNL Weekend Update Thursdays)
2011-12 ABC Wednesdays: The Middle, Suburgatory, Modern Family, Happy Endings
2014-15 ABC Wednesdays: The Middle, The Goldbergs, Modern Family, black-ish
What’s your favorite all-time network TV comedy lineup? How would you rank them? What’s your, hey Chris Rock, what’s your TOP FIVE?
I’d go with 1973 CBS Saturday, 1985 NBC Thursday, 1993 NBC Thursday, 1978 ABC Thursday, 1992 FOX Sunday. But you might be able to change my mind on that!
And just to circle around back to how much times have changed in terms of how many of us sit around the TV to watch these must-see comedy blocks, take a look at the relative ratings over the years. In millions of viewers…
1973 CBS Saturday
1. All in the Family: 20.654 million
4. M*A*S*H: 17.013
9. The Mary Tyler Moore Show: 15.292
12. The Bob Newhart Show:14.762
27. The Carol Burnett Show: 13.306
1. Laverne & Shirley: 22.722 million
2. Three’s Company: 22.573
3. Mork & Mindy: 21.307
4. Happy Days: 21.307
1985 NBC Thursday
1. The Cosby Show: 28.948 million
2. Family Ties: 25.770
5. Cheers: 20.358
11. Night Court: 17.953
2. Roseanne: 21.275 million
8. The Wonder Years: 17.683
12. Who’s the Boss?: 16.485
18. Coach: 15.657
21. Growing Pains: 14.183
22. Full House: 14.091
23. Designing Women: 14.091
26. Head of the Class: 13.630
27. Murphy Brown: 13.538
30. Doogie Howser, M.D.: 13.354
1994-1995 NBC Thursday
1. Seinfeld: 19.652 million
9. Friends: 14.882
11. Mad About You: 14.5
15. Frasier: 13.833
2000-2001 FOX Sunday
23. Malcolm in the Middle: 13.0 million
28. The Simpsons: 12.4
84. King of the Hill: 7.7
112. Futurama: 5.9
2009-2010 NBC Thursday
52. The Office: 7.799 million
86. 30 Rock: 5.880
97. Community: 4.990
108: Parks and Recreation: 4.599
Feb. 26, 2015, ABC Wednesday (live and same-day)
The Middle: 7.47 million
The Goldbergs: 7.64
Modern Family: 9.32