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1984-85 Sitcoms -- NBC Says No to Soaps as ABC and CBS Binge on Dynasty and Dallas Cocaine

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Written Doing a Flashdance by Bridger Cunningham

Welcome back to 1984, the year sitcoms experienced their first of many rebirths.  After the late 1970's fantasy bubble, plus the saucy primetime soap deliveries of the early 1980's, fans tired of the fast burn and crash.  Much like cocaine swept the country like an endemic, Escapist and Soap fares became a tiring trend.  Enter NBC, who never flourished during these trends.  They had a few middling 60-minute showings and several soft sitcoms.  Then, they tapped Bill Cosby to deliver a sitcom about everyday life for an upscale New York City black family.  Fans flocked, and NBC's fortunes changed.


Unlike the last two entries, which centered on 4 networks in the height of sitcom demand, 1984-85 was the first year of recovery as the previous crop of sitcoms aged, burned off or failed to capture landmark ratings.  Only 25 entries straddled the season, with 14 returning the following year.  This is less than half of the 1989-90 and 1992-93 seasons which tried out 55 and 53 sitcoms, respectively.  Of these 25 entries, NBC poised 48% of that market with 12 entries.  The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers and Night Court graced the solid Thursday evenings, placing between 3rd and 19th Place among all shows, and 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 6th highest as sitcoms.  CBS, who took 1st place the previous season, delivered successful Monday night laughs with Newhart and Kate and Allie, who placed 16th and 17th for the season, as well as 5th and 6th highest in this table.

ABC's biggest laughs were generated from Dynasty, which binged on enough vice to 1st place.  Sadly, that was not classified as a comedy, and it burned off like a wild night out.  ABC's highest-rated sitcom for the season was Webster, as it placed 23rd for the season.  Its minor success story is this season laid the bedrock for two sitcoms, as well as a stronghold on the Friday sitcom market which would continue well through the 90's.  Who's the Boss started soft and built momentum, while Mr. Belvedere held the Friday fort until critically-acclaimed sitcoms to join them in upcoming seasons.  It fared better than mid-season entry Off The Rack, which is only remembered as it featured Michael J. Fox's Back to the Future Girlfriend, Claudia Wells.


ABC struggled mid-decade to reinvent itself after reigning in the last eras.  As Three's Company aged, ABC attempted a rebirth centered on John Ritter, which crashed and burned.  Too many late nights of 70's jokes were irrelevant during the mid-80's.  Like ABC, CBS had to part with it's 70's kitsch and parted with Alice, the Jeffersons and spinoff After-MASH like bell bottoms and old social topics.  They also dispensed Happy Days sensation Scott Baio, an odd choice as his sitcom flourished in original syndication.  CBS seemed to be out of era in past and future, as they axed George Clooney's E/R.  No, not the powerhouse who ruled the 90's and 2000's on NBC.  But rather a sitcom which inappropriately cast a 23-year old as a doctor.  Viewers could not suspend disbelief.  Well, not until 1989's Doogie Howser that is.  Perhaps E/R may have succeeded had Clooney been typecast as a 16-year old Doctor.  Though CBS narrowly took 2nd place from ABC, this season left CBS in deficit for sitcoms.

While NBC ruled Thursdays, they also sported several soft sitcoms.  Silver Spoons and Punky Brewster teetered on rating in the Abyss, yet they stabilized a soft timeslot on Sundays and provided family-friendly laughs.  Gimme a Break! never excelled like 1982 entries Cheers and Family Ties.  Like Cheers' death of Nicolas Colasanto, Gimme a Break! was affected by the death of Dolph Sweet in early 1985.  Break stood in threat of cancellation, yet NBC treated its sitcoms loyal as they bolstered the network in leaner years.  That same fortune did not greet Diff'Rent Strokes, which was cancelled after 7 seasons.  However, their spinoff, Facts of Life, managed to settle the soft Saturdays.

NBC and ABC laid groundwork for future enterprises, the greatest victory of the season.  Who's the Boss would anchor ABC Tuesdays, whilst Mr. Belvedere waited around and gave ABC a purpose for sitcoms on Fridays.  NBC staked Thursdays to strong perfection for the next 20 years, and Gimme a Break! provided a need for laughs on Saturdays.  Mondays on CBS belonged to NBC, who two seasons later would have 4 sitcoms at all times on this evening for 28 years.  Most fittingly, NBC reclaimed 1st place, which it would retain for 14 of the 16 seasons.