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1988-89 Ratings History -- The WGA Writer's Strike Changes The TV Landscape, NBC still rules


Written Protesting Program Preemptions by Bridger Cunningham

The WGA Strike of 1988 crippled the television landscape, leading to some shows being preempted to November premieres and missing the crucial September-October ratings investment.  NBC ruled, of course, and ABC's franchise was nicked yet held steady in 2nd.  CBS held fairly steady, yet registered its second time in 3rd place in its entire history.  Roseanne made waves when it debuted on ABC, leading the network to look into ramping up its Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.  Friday family-friendly sitcoms finally stabilized and thrived, thanks to the increasing popularity of Full House.

The WGA Strike was not the only event to change the television landscape.  Thanks for a controversial episode of Married... With Children on January 15, 1989, Michigan housewife Terry Rakolta led a boycott of the crude sitcom.  Her efforts were counterproductive, as people began asking "Who is FOX?" instead of saying "FOX Who?"  The publicity forced smaller markets to scramble for affiliates, leading to the network's ratings exploding.


Trending Hot -- Like previous years, NBC's Thursday and Saturday sitcoms burned nuclear and fired out more ratings sensations.  Over at ABC, sitcoms also became the network's ticket to reclaiming lost ground.  Tuesdays experienced the greatest numbers with Roseanne's debut, while Wednesdays took the steady but slow route.  The greatest growth, however, was Friday's family friendly fares.  Full House ascended so fast it was rotated back to lead the block at 8pm.  All shows except tail-end Just the Ten Of Us experienced significant increases, leading to the birth of ABC's TGIF brand the next fall.  FOX's numbers were still in the cellar, but the MWC controversy allowed all shows to experience growth and publicity.  Nightly movies provided a great solution for networks to plug scheduling holes, with several placing in the top 40.

Trending Tepid -- Monday's comedy block enjoyed the female dominant success of Designing Women and Murphy Brown, yet the CBS comedy brand experienced trouble as Newhart faded and Kate and Allie lost its viewers following the strike.  Upscale dramas had mixed results, evident with LA Law's ascension and Moonlighting descending into the abyss.

Trending Cold -- Soaps were on the decline.  Aside from a mild renaissance Knots Landing experienced, soaps went out of trend.  Loss of marquee stars led to ratings losses, and Dynasty exited the air and took ABC out of the soap game in 1989.  Overall, CBS' identity struggled this season with few fortunes coming their way.