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1987-88 -- The Schedule As We Knew It

Image result for full house 1988
Written in Scheduling Pictures by Bridger Cunningham

1987-88 was a landmark season.  Not because NBC reigned supreme a 3rd season in a row, but rather CBS would plummet to 3rd for the first time during its history.  The season began like the 1986-87 season with strong starts for NBC and CBS, but the latter lost its grip as ABC bolstered and properly positioned its laughs to take over a tired schedule.  Stroll through a breakdown, evening by evening.  The disintegration CBS faced is evident by its desperate grabs to reclaim Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.


Sundays were the only evening CBS ruled the schedule with no changes as compatible 60 Minutes and Murder, She Wrote spoke to a sophisticated demographic.  And their 9:00 movie outperformed both ABC and NBC's similar showings.  ABC made a feeble attempt to colonize the 9:00-11:00 with Dolly Parton's self-titled variety show and medical drama Buck James.  This effort ended by Winter, and the network returned to scheduling comfort food with a trite movie offering which outperformed its predecessors.  They also relocated struggling Spenser: For Hire, only to return the 8:00 hour to the Disney Sunday Movie in that same time table weeks later.  The network followed the military trend and attempted Supercarrier in March, only to implode after 8 episodes.  Various scheduling changes came about until MacGyver was relocated for summer showings to allow for Monday Night Baseball.

NBC's performance yielded moderate results.  The 7:00 hour struggled with sophomore family drama Our House, which was axed when it concluded its run.  In its place following its run, NBC burned off failed period piece Rags to Riches.  Family Ties made a telling move to 8:00, having relocated from the coveted Thursday comedy block at the start of the 6th season to make way for A Different World.  The series took 2nd in its timeslot, a success for the network as it had trouble locating programming on this night.  It's follow-up was newfound hit My Two Dads, which retained most of Family Ties' lead.  NBC took another risk and shopped another sitcom pilot, Day By Day, which had softer results in spring.  NBC was pleased with both 8:30 showings and renewed both shows.  And the 9:00 movie showing managed to reach the top-30.

And did anyone know about FOX this season?  Few did, but the fledgling joke of a network managed to gain visibility thanks to Johnny Depp vehicle 21 Jump Street.  8:00 featured horror-themed Werewolf, which managed to finish the season as FOX's 4th highest rated series.  However, reality crime series America's Most Wanted managed to narrowly best the scripted series after its debut.  The ever-tacky Bundys managed a three-way tie as the network's 1st place showing and rated 32-54% higher than other sitcoms on the new network.  The Tracey Ullman Show, a sketch variety piece featuring the self-titled star, lost much of MWC's lead-in but performed well enough for the network to experiment with a 2nd showing at 10:00.  And sitcom Duets performed with similar results as Tracey Ullman.


NBC managed to claim a 3rd dominant evening, thanks to the burgeoning popularity of ALF claiming 11th place in its strongest season.  Following the controversial firing of marquee star Valerie Harper, her sitcom was rebranded as Valerie's Family and replaced her character with Sandy Duncan.  The same controversy erupted similar to Kevin Can Wait's controversial firing of Erinn Hayes and killing off their respective characters.  Yet Valerie's family managed a 2.2 ratings gain thanks to ALF and the controversy, cracking the top-20.  NBC's Monday Night Movie managed to win its timeslot for most of the season.

ABC claimed 2nd place for the evening despite 8:00 showings of MacGyver continually jousting against the CBS sitcoms.  From 9:00-11:00, Football and the Monday Night Movie won the season.  CBS's Monday fortunes marred due to frequent rotations for all of its fares.  This schedule shows shuffling and damaging sitcoms is in the Tiffany Network's DNA.  The network worked feverishly to find an audience for Frank's Place, rotating the failing dramedy from 8:00, to 8:30, 9:30, and Tuesdays at 9:30 before dumping the show on Saturday in the summer.  The only series resistant to moves was top-30 favorite Newhart.  Frequent moves during this season are a suspected cause for why Kate & Allie met its end in 1989, and Designing Women became the staple for the next era on Mondays.

Cagney & Lacey, which narrowly escaped cancellation in 1983, was phased out of the schedule after 7 seasons.  In its place, CBS relocated freshman drama Wiseguy from Thursdays as it struggled against NBC's Cheers and Night Court.  The move increased Wiseguy's survival rate, and Cagney & Lacey left the air.  The network also attempted a revival piece for Dukes of Hazzard's Tom Wopat in Blue Skies, effectively being cancelled as ratings underperformed for a soft Summer.


3rd Place ABC located an evening of success, and its key to moving up the ladder.  Who's The Boss and Growing Pains plushly delivered ratings velvet from 8:00-9:00, prompting the network to take bold risks and open 8:30 to new sitcoms with great success.  The Wonder Years moved to this timeslot after a celebrated post-Superbowl XXII timeslot and cracked the top-10.  ABC pushed their luck again and juxtaposed Growing Pains Spinoff Just the Ten of Us in the same timslot on April 26.  The show only retained 74% of Who's the Boss' audience, yet proved to be an ideal risk for ABC colonizing Fridays the following season.  And Moonlighting and soapy thirtysomething won their 9:00-11:00 timeslots.

NBC took 2nd place as Matlock still delivered silver ratings at 8:00.  The 9:00 hour, however, experienced frequent rotations.  After JJ Starbuck struggled against Moonlighting, NBC pulled the struggling freshman in favor of top-30 dweller Hunter.  Most of Hunter's Nielsen glory derived from following the network's successful Saturday comedy block, but it pushed past JJ Starbuck.  Then, NBC launched top-20 Carroll O'Connor police drama In the Heat of the Night and offered a competitive option against Moonlighting.  And CBS hemorrhaged across the board despite sprucing up Spring with a failed sitcom block.  Freshman Houston Knights took a soft third at 8:00 against ABC and NBC, leading the network to launch 48 Hours in the winter of 1988.

Only Jake and the Fatman managed modest success and survived 9:00 as Crime Story lost to ABC and NBC in the Fall.  A spring comedy block featured failures of sitcoms Coming of Age and Trial and Error, the dissolution of sophomore sitcom My Sister Sam, and another failed move for heavily-marketed Frank's Place.  The network opted out shortly and played it safe with another movie night in Spring.  The network shopped Tuesday failure The Law & Harry in the same position with identical results.  3rd incarnation The Smothers Brothers Show only raised the ratings bar by three-tenths, marking a failed timeslot for the season.  After Magnum PI concluded, the network relocated modest-hit Jake and the Fatman to Wednesdays to open the gate for Tuesday sitcoms.  The Equalizer struggled in its 3rd season, taking 55th Place and managing a tenuous renewal.


The hills ran red with Nielsen ratings on Wednesday evenings for all networks.  ABC managed to sweep a victory as CBS and NBC struggled to anchor hits which cracked the top 30.  Perfect Strangers maintained a soft lead-in for the comedy block, so ABC shipped it out to help the struggling Friday lineup.  In its place, red-hot Growing Pains took 5th place and jumpstarted another strong comedy block well into the 90's.  Sophomore Head of the Class managed above-average grading in 23rd place, and dramedy Hooperman managed to win its timeslot in a sad 35th place.  Beyond that, 9:30 remained a lost cause between struggling freshman sitcoms Slap Maxwell and Just in Time.  The 10:00 hour softened for the first time in the decade as Dynasty disintegrated to 41st Place, prompting ABC to market new options with (both renewed) HeartBeat and China Beach.

NBC narrowly claimed 2nd Place, again, as Highway to Heaven became the only salvaged piece for the network.  It shifted from 8:00 to 9:00 as successful miniseries-inspired A Year in the Life failed to crack the top 50.  In the Spring, it moved into cancelled St. Elsewhere's timeslot and lowered the ratings plateau.  Critically-acclaimed St. Elsewhere stood in threat of frequent cancellations during its 6-season run, similar to the 2009-16 run for The Good Wife.  It ended due to rising production costs despite taking 2nd in its timeslot.  On March 9, NBC attempted wholesome Amish entertainment with Aaron's Way.  It cracked the top 30 (above Highway to Heaven) but exited amidst harsh criticism.

CBS faced disintegration as Magnum PI narrowly received a revival, and its 8th and last season barely grazed the top-40.  8:00 showing The Oldest Rookie failed to capitalize on the star-power of Paul Sorvino and burned off by January 13.


NBC continued to crackle on this evening with 8:00-9:30 taking the top 3 places in the season's roster.  It altered two places from the prior season.  The political clout of Bill Cosby allowed The Cosby Show's spinoff, A Different World, to colonize the plum 8:30 timeslot and displacing Family Ties to Sunday.  Mid-season, NBC attempted to help critically-acclaimed, poorly rated The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd to gain ground delivering a lackluster 68% retention out of powerhouse Cheers.  The show's cancellation delivered a silver lining as cable network Lifetime salvaged the piece.

CBS managed to take 2nd place without a cancellation in sight, save for repeat burnoff of Cagney & Lacey in the summer.  Freshman Vietnam period-piece Tour of Duty managed a paltry 74th place, underscoring as it shadowed 40% of NBC's sitcom success.  Its renewal came to fruition as ABC only delivered 71% of its 10.5 rating.  48 Hours retained a hair of Tour of Duty's run, and Wiseguy and Simon & Simon both built on the audience at 9:00.  Knots Landing lost its grip and fell out of the top-30 in its 9th season.  ABC's fortunes, however, dispensed of everything non-movie.  Sophomore comedy Sledge Hammer tanked on Thursdays and was shuffled over to Fridays.  Prior to the success of Once Upon a Time, fairly-tale-laced The Charmings was cursed under Snow White's deceased spell of ratings.  Mid-season science-fiction piece Probe lowered the bottom further, and the 8:00 timeslot burned off failure Max Headroom in the summer.  And Hotel and Buck James took springtime vacancies to die off at low rates from 9:00-11:00.


CBS declared a soft victory, thanks to aging soaps Dallas and Falcon Crest, as well as modest freshman hit Beauty and the Beast at 8:00.  Elsewhere, NBC and ABC delivered failures on a less-desired evening.  NBC attempted a second season of Rags to Riches, only to toss an 85th place yarn into the rag pile on Sundays.  8:00 attempted science fiction piece The Highwayman, only to take 3rd on a soft evening.  Aging Miami Vice took 2nd at 9:00, only to be shuffled in Spring to launch failed Hill Street Blues spinoff/sitcom Beverly Hills Buntz, which failed due to Dennis Franz willing to flash his derriere on the air.  He would change his mind six seasons later on NYPD Blue.

ABC apparently attempted Feng Shui with rotating its sitcoms.  New comedies Full House and I Married Dora failed to ignite fire at 8:00, and ABC faced the dilemma of which show to dispense.  Netflix best thank ABC for choosing wisely in late 1987.  9:00 tanked with Max Headroom failing to crack the top 100, and the network opened the floor for new sitcom Pursuit of Happiness and previously cancelled Mr. Belvedere to resurrect the glory.  After Mr. Belvere sadly became the highest-rated sitcom this evening, the network discarded Dora and Pursuit, opening the floor for new comedy The Thorns and struggling Sledge Hammer.  This lineup flopped further, so ABC transplanted modest-success Perfect Strangers to anchor 8:00, bumping Full House and Mr. Belvedere back 30 minutes before allowing the 9:30 timeslot to shuffle the failed sitcoms further.  Thankfully, ABC seized a ripe opportunity in 1988 and claimed this evening the following season.


Save for NBC's golden power of its 9:00 showing, Saturdays were a disposal ground for the three remaining networks.  Saturday Nights are known for the oldest business.  Network television gave this shameful business a run for its money by boasting more red (cancellations) than a hooker on everyone's favorite evening.  Too many failures to discuss as the pictorial depicts poor scheduling better.