The Fall of the NBC Thursday Night Lineup

Friends Season 10

It is the end of an era for the NBC network. The network that brought us such huge Thursday night hits as Seinfeld, Friends, and The Office did not air a single comedy during its NBC Thursday night lineup a few weeks ago. This is big news considering at least one comedy has aired on the Peacock network on that day of the week for that last 33 years. Over the course of three decades, there were times when a comedy would not air on Thursday, but that would be during the summer months or when NBC would air special programming during the night. It is no shock to viewers that NBC decided to make this decision. Comedies have been struggling greatly on the NBC Thursday Night lineup since Friends left the air after ten glorious season in 2004. Let’s take a look back over thirty years and relive some of the highs (Must See TV era) and the lows (Comedy Night Done Right era) NBC has experienced on Thursday nights.

The 1980’s

NBC’s “Must See TV” slogan was first used during the NBC Thursday night lineup in 1982 and stuck around until 2006. The first two series to become a part of this legacy were Cheers, starring Ted Danson and Shelley Long, and Taxi, starring Tong Danza and Danny Devito. This was the year that Cheers premiered and when Taxi would make the transition from ABC to NBC. Cheers would remain a part of the NBC Thursday night lineup for its entire eleven-season run, while Taxi would end after only being on NBC for one year.

The following year, NBC added the 8 o’clock hour to its comedy block with Gimme a Break! anchoring the night. This would also be the year that Family Ties would make the move to Thursday nights and eventually become a top ten rated show. The ratings continued to climb for the NBC Thursday night lineup of shows when The Cosby Show would begin airing at 8 PM. The series would be the most watched show on television for five of its eight seasons. NBC decided to take advantage of the success of The Cosby Show and spin-off the character Denise Huxtable after she graduated from high school. A Different World would follow Denise to Hillman College and be a top ten most watched program during its first four seasons. Other popular sitcoms on the NBC Thursday night lineup during the 1980’s were Night Court and Dear John. 

The 1990’s

The Cosby Show, A Different World, and Cheers continued to be successful comedies for the NBC Thursday night lineup in the early 90’s; however, by 1993, all three of these series would end their runs on television. During that time, NBC was able to find success with Seinfeld (though not at first) and Wings. In 1993, NBC would move Mad About You to Thursdays and the Cheers spinoff Frasier would premiere. The following year Friends would begin airing after Mad About You and continue to stay on Thursdays for its entire run. It would anchor the night from season two forward, while Seinfeld would air at 9 PM. Other popular series that aired on the NBC Thursday night lineup during the 1990’s were The Single Guy, Suddenly Susan, and Veronica’s Closet.

Early 2000’s

This is around the time that NBC would begin to struggle on Thursday nights. Friends was still a top ten program, but the network was competing against CBS series’ Survivor and CSI. Will & Grace proved to be a successful sitcom and actually cracked the top ten during the 2001-2002 television season, which was the same season that Friends was the most watched series on TV. Just Shoot Me and Scrubs were top 20 shows during this time as well.

Post-Friends Era

When Friends would end in 2004, NBC thought they would find success by creating a spin-off for the character Joey Tribbiani. The move proved to be bad one as Joey would only last for two seasons before being cancelled. Also, by this time Will & Grace had declined significantly in ratings and would not even crack the top fifty of the most-watched television shows of the 2005-2006 season. According to TV.com, since 2005, NBC has created 47 sitcoms. That equates to an average of four new comedy shows a year. Of those 47 only 11 were awarded with a second season. A meager five of the 11 series received pickup for a third season. Those shows are My Name is Earl (cancelled after four seasons), The Office, Parks and Recreation, Community, and 30 Rock. NBC decided to air reality programming during the 9 PM hour during this time frame, a first for the network in 20 years. The Apprentice and Deal or No Deal proved to be successful for the network on Thursdays.

Comedy Night Done Right

NBC decided to change their slogan since it was clear that the shows airing on Thursday nights were no longer considered “Must See.” In 2006, NBC used the slogan “Comedy Night Done Right,” The one and only series to rank in the top 50 most popular shows during this time was The Office. Some series that aired that you may have forgotten about include Andy Barker PI, The Paul Reiser Show, Up All Night, Outsourced, Perfect Couples, 1600 Penn, Go On, and Whitney. Up All Night and Whitney would be the only two to make it to a second season. The network received stiff competition from ABC, which aired Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal.

2013-Present

NBC would end up dropping the “Comedy Night Done Right” slogan in 2013, when it was clear that NBC was not doing anything right when it came to their Thursday night programming. That season Community and Parks and Recreation would continue to air despite low ratings. NBC would debut three new comedies: Welcome to the Family, The Michael J. Fox Show, and Sean Saves the World. Welcome to the Family would last three episodes. NBC was hoping that Michael J. Fox and Sean Hayes’ shows would be ratings winners since the two actors had both been on Thursday night comedies that were successful for the network in the past. However, both shows would not make it to a second season. In the fall of 2014, The Biggest Loser would air at 8 PM. The last time a comedy did not anchor NBC’s Thursday night block was in 2008 when Deal or No Deal would briefly air at that time. 2014 also saw the addition of two brand new comedies. However, A to Z and Bad Judge would both be canceled after thirteen episodes.

The new Thursday night comedy-less block features the new series The Slap followed by The Blacklist.

What was your favorite NBC Thursday night comedy? Let us know in the comments section below.

[Photo via NBC]


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