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1985-86 Sitcoms -- NBC Soars as Its Competition Plunges

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Written Shattering Nielsen Library Volumes by Bridger Cunningham

NBC was the three letter word to know in the 1985-86 season.  Only three short years earlier, the network was scraping for hits to advertise as passable.  The fortunes changed as two years in a row, they found landmark sitcoms to anchor two prominent evenings -- The Cosby Show on Thursdays, and Golden Girls on Saturdays.  Each show bolstered the surrounding shows, as well as increase soft interest in middling shows like Miami Vice.  The network increased 20% from the year before, primarily due to sitcoms Cosby, Cheers, Family Ties and The Golden Girls blazing bright at the top of the charts.  The reverse fortune beguiled ABC and CBS, both of which dropped 8% and 13.5%, respectively.  NBC's surge left CBS in the middle of the pack, as ABC drifted further from its next competitor.


The season augmented two additional entries in sitcoms to 27 entries over the 3 networks.  NBC held steady to 12 entries, yet salvaged 2 additional shows.  CBS shopped one less entry and only spared its Monday entries, while ABC added three additional helpings of sitcoms, only to spare 4 shows total.  NBC Thursdays were untouchable, landing at the top of the pack.  Saturdays returned from the dead (ratings) due to Golden Girls, with The Facts of Life and Gimme a Break receiving a mild bump.  New entry 227 maintained a modest status of Golden Girls' valued standard, leading to a renaissance for a once silent evening.  NBC also took interest in launching Monday sitcoms, and retired the Sunday 7pm comedies as both landed in the bottom of the ratings.  However, both experienced syndicated renaissances.

Over at ABC, they reclaimed Tuesdays with family-friendly sitcoms Who's The Boss and Growing Pains, both reigning in the top 20 as two of ABC's leading treasures of the season.  Please note Perfect Strangers was omitted from the season average as it debuted late in the season.   It was ABC's soft 5th sitcom renewal and would appear the following season.  Fridays presented a mixed fortune, as Webster and Mr. Belvedere experienced mild declines, yet landed in the top 50.  The 9pm hour shuffled several failed sitcoms, leading to the axing of longstanding early 80's fares Benson and Diff'rent Strokes (which ABC fished out of NBC's rubbish pile the previous season.  Another attempt at Saturday sitcoms met with tumultuous waters, with all fares scrapped.

CBS held its course with Monday dynamos Newhart and Kate &Allie.  Both remained steady or grew, while the Wednesday sitcom block experienced disastrous results.  All helpings, including Mary Tyler Moore's sitcom Mary, were bladed as they landed in the bottom third of the overall ratings.  The Middle of the Pack and Anemic ranges often present outlying renewals and cancellations, but 1986 kept to cold hard numbers.  The lowest-rated sitcom to be renewed was ABC's Mr. Belvedere in 45th Place, which also aired on Fridays.  Anything rating below these standards was discarded.

NBC's strategies for comedy blocks succeeded, while ABC's one attempt met with mixed results.  CBS appeared to have little foresight for sitcom futures, as they were scattered over two limited hours or burned off over undesirable timeslots.  The upcoming seasons succeeded with sitcom block entries, explaining NBC's windfall during this era.

Nielsen released numbers at the end of April, and a sitcom needed 7 collected episodes aired to be counted in the season average.  This left CBS entries Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Melba off the radar, as well as ABC's Perfect Strangers.  16 out of 27 entries presented a positive season for sitcoms and a demand for the following season to bank more entries to keep relevant with the family-friendly 80's.