Yesterday, I wistfully looked back at a time when the three broadcast networks were often viewed by more than 85% of the TV sets in use during primetime. I want to tell you about the first time I was asked to make a scheduling decision – and how it resulted in one of the biggest nights of network television.
Back in the late ’80s, sweeps (months when local stations were measured by Nielsen) were extremely important. For local stations it meant money, and for the networks who provided the programming to their affiliates it was all about bragging rights.
In 1989, I was VP Audience Research (the ratings dude) at NBC. In January, I received a call from Lee Currlin and Brandon Tartikoff. Lee was Brandon’s scheduler, the job I would be doing for Warren Littlefield starting in 1991. ABC was about to revive the “Columbo” series with Peter Falk. “Columbo” had started on NBC as part of a mystery movie wheel. ABC announced that the first “Columbo” movie would air on a Monday night in the February sweep and Brandon, ever the competitor and showman, was trying to think of a way to counter it. He was convinced “Columbo” was going to be huge, and I think he was also upset that a franchise that he had developed was on another network.
His idea was to create a night of all comedies and call it “Night of a Thousand Laughs.” He and Lee assigned little old me the task of selecting the six comedies and scheduling them. I thought about it and suggested the following:
- “The Cosby Show”
- “Night Court”
- “Golden Girls”
- “Empty Nest”
Brandon and Lee approved. You have no idea how terrifying it was to know that you had just scheduled a night of primetime.
Anyway, we woke up the morning after to a three-network share of well over 90%. It was one of the biggest nights ever. The irony, though, was that the driver on the night turned out to be a little miniseries on CBS called “Lonesome Dove” that Brandon had dismissed. We held our own, but for the wrong reason.
“Night of a Thousand Laughs” became an institution at NBC. I’m pretty sure when I took over scheduling I used it a time or two.
When I came to FOX and we created “Animation Domination,” my pal Joe Earley and I often talked about doing a “Night of a Hundred Farts.” Never happened.