It’s no secret that NBC is struggling. It’s not just the last place network; it’s not even close. The once high-flying network — home of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” “Ironside,” “The Waltons” and “Rockford Files” — hasn’t had a decent hit in years with the exception of “Diff’rent Strokes,” “The Facts of Life,”, and Saturday Night Live, which isn’t nearly as good as it once was. It’s so bad for NBC that they’ve actually lost affiliates in major markets, like Atlanta, and the network lost nearly $100 million, thanks to NBC’s decision not to air the 1980 summer Olympics after President Carter pulled out the Americans.
Just how bad is it? Bad enough that at their upfronts, NBC announced that they have renewed, for a second time, what was the lowest rated show on ALL OF TELEVISION? “Cheers” was the last placed show on television in the 1982-83 season, and it didn’t improve much this season with “We Got It Made” and “Mama’s Family” as it’s lead ins. “Simon and Simon” on ABC has regularly been kicking “Cheers” ass.
So why renew the low-rated “Cheers” for a third season? Because the network simply didn’t have anything better. It helps, of course, that “Cheers” is the best sitcom on television, but like a lot of critical darlings, the audiences just don’t understand it. It has a darker edger that audiences haven’t been able to warm up to. NBC is hoping that audiences will finally gravitate toward “Cheers” in its third season. In fact, they have so much faith in the show that — despite suffering ratings — they’ve decided to boost its prospect by programming Bill Cosby’s new sitcom as a lead-in next season.
It’s a risky move. Bill Cosby is not exactly in the prime of his career, and even if he can bring in an audience, there’s not guarantee that they’ll stick around for “Cheers,” in which case, NBC will have wasted a prime lead-in opportunity.
It’s a strategy that NBC’s new chief of programming, Brandon Tartikoff, thinks will work, however. Tartikoff employed a similar strategy in his decision to continue renewing the low-rated “Hill Street Blues.” It’s shown some improvement in the ratings, and NBC is hoping that, by keeping it on Thursday nights, “The Cosby Show” will turn around the ratings of “Cheers,” which will boost “Hill Street Blues” even more.
Hopefully, “The Cosby Show” can also improve the ratings of its immediate time-slot partner, “Family Ties,” which is moving from Wednesday’s to Thursdays. NBC is also renewing mid-season replacement, “Night Court,” to air after “Cheers.” Good luck to Tartikoff, but as much as critic’s like it, I don’t see NBC succeeding with this schedule next season, not when these shows are competing against the likes of “Magnum P.I.” and “Knots Landing.”
8:00: “The Cosby Show”
8:30: “Family Ties”
9:30: “Night Court”
10:00: “Hill Street Blues”