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Sunday, November 4, 2012

WEEKEND REWIND: ABC 1990-91 Season

ABC 1990-91 SEASON
ABC had dug its way out of its bad seasons in the mid 1980s and was flying high heading into the 1990s. It had the #1 show in TV (Roseanne), the hottest new show (America's Funniest Home Videos), the most talked about new show (Twin Peaks), and critically acclaimed and Emmy nominated shows (China Beach, thirtysomething, The Wonder Years). But the 1990-91 season was the first in a few years to not produce any new breakout hits. Luckily, their existing shows continued to do very well. ABC aired Super Bowl XXV during the season.

Mondays
(Sep 17-Dec 17)
8:00 MacGyver
9:00 Monday Night Football

(Jan 7-May 6)
8:00 MacGyver
9:00 Monday Night Movie
In the previous season, ABC went away from the movie for a drama lineup in April but it didn't work well so they went back to their old plan of MacGyver leading into Monday Night Football until December and then the Monday Night Movie for the remainder of the season. 

Tuesdays
(Sep 18-Jan 22)
8:00 Who's the Boss?
8:30 Head of the Class
9:00 Roseanne
9:30 Coach (starting Sep 25)
10:00 thirtysomething (starting Sep 25)

(Jan 29-Mar 5)
8:00 Who's the Boss?
8:30 Davis Rules
9:00 Roseanne
9:30 Coach
10:00 thirtysomething

(Mar 12-Apr 2)
8:00 Who's the Boss?
8:30 Davis Rules
9:00 Roseanne
9:30 Coach
10:00 Eddie Dodd

(Apr 9-May 14)
8:00 Who's the Boss?
8:30 Baby Talk (Apr 16-May 7)
9:00 Roseanne
9:30 Stat (starting Apr 16)
10:00 thirtysomething
"Davis Rules"
"Eddie Dodd"
Tuesday nights were the best nights for ABC years but there were some chinks in the armor this year as some veteran shows were slipping and none of the newbies that came at midseason caught on though it still had it's top rated show - Roseanne - as the anchor show. ABC made the odd decision to not use the Roseanne lead-in for a new show. Maybe they were still burned by the Chicken Soup problems the year before. Instead they gave it to frequent companion Coach which always did well but it seems like they never used the Roseanne lead-in like they could have. Earlier in the night were reliable veterans Who's the Boss? and Head of the Class. But there were some problems there too as Who's the Boss? slipped out of the Top 20 for the first time since its first season and Head of the Class was in its final season. With series star Howard Hesseman having left the previous season, Class tried to soldier on and ABC moved it to the stronger Tuesday night in hopes of keeping it going. Even though the ratings didn't completely tank, ABC decided to cancel the show after five seasons and it was pulled in January before getting a proper series finale after the season ended. When Class was pulled, it was replaced by Davis Rules, which had gotten the coveted post-Super Bowl berth. But unlike The Wonder Years three years before, the Super Bowl did not help Rules become a hit. The family sitcom starring Randy Quaid as an elementary school principal won an Emmy award for Best Supporting Actor (Jonathan Winters) and had a great timeslot and did alright but ABC couldn't make it work. They originally planned to bring it back in midseason 1992 but decided not to and CBS picked up the show but it only lasted half a season there as well. At the very end of the season, ABC moved Friday show Baby Talk to a Tuesday slot where it managed to do enough to get a second season. Coach ended its season early and ABC finally tried a show after Roseanne for the first time since Chicken Soup. But Stat, a medical sitcom, did very little at the tail end of the season. For most of the season, thirtysomething remained in the 10pm hour but they gave a show a rest to launch another one. Eddie Dodd, a legal drama starring Treat Williams could not find an audience and thirtysomething was back earlier than expected. But then a very surprising move happened in May. After four seasons, ABC abruptly cancelled thirtysomething. While the show had never been a huge ratings success, very few were expecting ABC to pull the plug and the much loved but polarizing show never got a proper series finale. Despite that, the show has endured long beyond its four seasons and is still beloved by fans from the time even if it is very much a product of its time.

Wednesdays
(Sep 19-Dec 26)
8:00 The Wonder Years
8:30 Growing Pains
9:00 Doogie Howser MD
9:30 Married People
10:00 Cop Rock (starting Sep 26)

(Jan 9-30)
8:00 The Wonder Years
8:30 Growing Pains
9:00 Doogie Howser MD
9:30 Married People
10:00 Equal Justice

(Feb 6-Apr 10)
8:00 The Wonder Years
8:30 Growing Pains
9:00 Doogie Howser MD
9:30 Anything But Love
10:00 Equal Justice

(Apr 17-May 1)
8:00 The Wonder Years
8:30 Growing Pains
9:00 Doogie Howser MD
9:30 My Life and Times (starting Apr 24)
10:00 Gabriel's Fire
"Married People"
"Cop Rock"
Like other years, ABC Wednesdays were a weaker version of their Tuesday night lineup. The 8-9:30pm slots stayed exactly the same all year starting with The Wonder Years which moved from its comfortable Tuesday home to the lead-off spot on Wednesdays. The show proved to be a successful lead-off though but it helped that it had established shows after it starting with Growing Pains, which shifted back half an hour. The show was aging but still formidable. At 9pm was second year show Doogie Howser MD. The show did well but was never quite suited to an anchor slot. The 9:30pm slot was a revolving door. It started with new comedy Married People. The ensemble comedy about three married couples in the same apartment building featured Jay Thomas and Bess Armstrong and was one of the higher rated shows to get cancelled. It apparently didn't do enough by ABC's standards and they yanked it in January in favor of the third season of Anything But Love. The show continued to be ABC's favorite show to just place anywhere but yet in managed to cheat death again and get a fourth season. It was the Rules of Engagement of its day. At the very end of the season, ABC aired the odd half hour drama My Life and Times which was about an elderly man in 2035 reminiscing about his life. The show featured Megan Mullally and Helen Hunt and only lasted two episodes in its slot before the final four episodes were burned off over two Thursdays at the end of May. The 10pm hour started with one of the most notorious flops and oddest entries on a schedule ever. Steven Bochco, creator of hits like Hill Street Blues and LA Law, created Cop Rock, a show that mixed police drama with a musical. Yes, you read that right. The incredibly ill-conceived show actually managed 11 episodes before ABC pulled the plug on the series. It was one of those situations where everyone was so critical, ABC seemingly kept it on out of stubbornness. Eventually they called a spade a spade and one of the most memorable flops was cancelled but it hasn't been forgotten. It has been featured on many "worst" lists over the years. There were a couple other network attempts but it wasn't until Glee that a show successfully added in musical numbers. When Cop Rock was cancelled, it was replaced by the second season of Equal Justice, which had been held until midseason. The show couldn't make things work as it had barely snagged a renewal the season before. The very end of the show saw the end of the season for Gabriel's Fire, which got a second season with a big retooling.

Thursdays
(Sep 20-Mar 14)
8:00 Father Dowling Mysteries
9:00 Gabriel's Fire
10:00 Primetime Live

(Mar 28-May 2)
8:00 Father Dowling Mysteries
9:00 Twin Peaks (through Apr 18)
10:00 Primetime Live
"Gabriel's Fire"
Thursday nights were pretty stable for ABC this year but not high rated as NBC's Must See TV continued to dominate the evening. The 8pm slot belonged to the third season of Father Dowling Mysteries. The show had moved to ABC from NBC after its first season but they ultimately couldn't make it work either though it made a valiant effort against the powerhouses on NBC. At 9pm was the new drama Gabriel's Fire starring James Earl Jones. The detective drama was a critical success that earned Jones an Emmy but it couldn't find a mass audience in one of the most difficult slots on the schedule. ABC took that into account and revamped the show when they decided to renew it for a second season by renaming it Pros and Cons and changing some of the cast and format. When Gabriel's moved to Wednesday, ABC returned Twin Peaks to its original Thursday home but unlike the previous season when it was the most talked about new show, it was finishing off its run this year. The show burned hot but quickly and by the time it returned to Thursday, very few cared about it anymore. The 10pm hour belonged to Primetime Live all season.

Fridays
(Sep 21-Mar 8)
8:00 Full House
8:30 Family Matters
9:00 Perfect Strangers
9:30 Going Places
10:00 20/20

(Mar 15-Apr 12)
8:00 Full House
8:30 Family Matters
9:00 Perfect Strangers
9:30 Baby Talk
10:00 20/20

(Apr 26-May 10)
8:00 Full House
8:30 Dinosaurs
9:00 Family Matters
9:30 Perfect Strangers
10:00 20/20
"Baby Talk"
"Dinosaurs"
Friday nights had the second year of TGIF and they started with all Miller-Boyett sitcoms. Full House led off the night and was now a huge hit for ABC. The show was one of the most iconic from this era of TGIF and did what no show had done on Fridays for ABC in years. It was followed by second year smash Family Matters which was a perfect fit with Full House in style. 9pm belonged to the veteran Perfect Strangers which continued to do well on Fridays though not as well as the 8pm hour. The 9:30pm slot was given to a new Miller-Boyett sitcom but luck did not strike again here. Going Places featured a young Heather Locklear and was about young TV comedy writers living in a California beach house. The show was more adult themed and didn't fit with the family friendly shows that aired before it. The show was retooled a bit to be more like the others but it was too little, too late. In March, it was replaced by Baby Talk, a critically panned show that was a clear ripoff of the successful Look Who's Talking movie series. The show starred Julia Duffy and a young George Clooney and featured Tony Danza as the talking baby. Despite the critical drubbing, it managed to get a midseason renewal albeit with a format change. That seemed to be a frequent occurrence with this weak freshman class from ABC. I have a feeling this isn't one of George Clooney's prouder moments. At the very end of the year, Family Matters and Perfect Strangers slid back half an hour to make room for Dinosaurs, an odd but successful satire featuring puppet dinosaurs from Jim Henson Productions. The show didn't seem like it should work but it quietly managed a run of several seasons even though the ratings were never spectacular. Despite being silly and family friendly, the show also explored several serious topics. Throughout the year, reliable newsmagazine 20/20 aired at 10pm.

Saturdays
(Sep 29-Dec 8)
8:00 The Young Riders
9:00 China Beach
10:00 Twin Peaks (starting Oct 6)

(Jan 12-Feb 16)
8:00 The Young Riders
9:00 Under Cover
10:00 Twin Peaks

(Mar 2-Apr 20)
8:00 The Young Riders
9:00 ABC Saturday Night Movie
Saturday night was home to underachieving dramas as only one show made it to the next season. The 8pm slot all season was given to western The Young Riders which was the highest rated on a low rated night. This was the right spot for a show like this but the ceiling was only so high. The 9pm & 10pm slots were initially given to two shows in their final seasons. China Beach was still a critical hit but had never found an audience as it bounced around the schedule. It was pulled in December and returned for a burnoff in the summer. This led to a very odd situation as the Emmy period of eligibility allowed star Dana Delany to be nominated for (and win) the 1992 Emmy Award even though the show had ended more than a year before. At 10pm was Twin Peaks, a heavily discussed but ratings challenged show. The buzzy show from the year before became old news in the fall of 1990. ABC insisted that Peaks reveal Laura Palmer's killer, the central mystery to the show, and when they did the show became even less of an appointment viewing. It had gone from a huge story to a bust in just over a year. In January, Under Cover took the place of China Beach. The spy drama had the unfortunate situation of having a storyline that had to be pulled when the Persian Gulf War broke out. It was bad luck but the show was unlikely to survive anyway in this sleepy timeslot. By March, ABC had bagged the second two drama hours and filled the slot with a movie instead.

Sundays
7:00 Life Goes On
8:00 America's Funniest Home Videos
8:30 America's Funniest People
9:00 Sunday Night Movie
"America's Funniest People"
ABC's Sundays were a model of consistency this season starting with year two of family drama Life Goes On. The show continued to struggle in the ratings but survive due to the difficulty of programming the 7pm Sunday hour. An hour of comedy followed starting with America's Funniest Home Videos, the massive midseason hit from the year before. The show continued to be a dominant player though it wasn't quite as popular as its ridiculous spring run. It was paired with the very similar America's Funniest People. Much like Videos was hosted by Full House star Bob Saget, People was hosted by his co-star Dave Coulier as well as Arleen Sorkin (and later Tawny Kitaean). This show was more focused on people trying to be funny rather than accidental humor moments as shown in Videos. It proved to be the perfect companion to Videos and was by far ABC's highest rated new show of the year. A movie followed and the strong 8pm lead-in helped it to take second to CBS's movie.

ABC 1990-91 Stats

Shows in the Top 30
3. Roseanne
7. America's Funniest Home Videos
9. Monday Night Football
13. America's Funniest People
14. Full House
15. Family Matters
18. Coach
19. Who's the Boss?
24. Doogie Howser MD
26. Head of the Class
27. Growing Pains/Baby Tallk/Davis Rules
30. The Wonder Years

Fall Shows Survival: 2/5 (40%)
Gabriel's Fire, America's Funniest People

Midseason Shows Survival: 2/7 (29%) 
Baby Talk, Dinosaurs

Total New Shows Survival Rate: 4/12 (33%)

Cancelled/Ended Series
Head of the Class (5 seasons)
thirtysomething/China Beach (4 seasons)
Father Dowling Mysteries (3 seasons)
Equal Justice/Twin Peaks (2 seasons)
Married People/Going Places/Cop Rock/Under Cover/Davis Rules/Eddie Dodd/Stat/My Life and Times (1 season)

Emmy Award Nominess & Winners (Major Categories)
China Beach (Nominee, Outstanding Drama Series)
thirtysomething (Nominee, Outstanding Drama Series)
The Wonder Years (Nominee, Outstanding Comedy Series)
James Earl Jones, Gabriel's Fire (WINNER, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series)
Peter Falk, Columbo (series of TV movies) (Nominee, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series)
Kyle MacLachlan, Twin Peaks (Nominee, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series)
Patricia Wettig, thirtysomething (WINNER, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series)
Dana Delany, thirtysomething (Nominee, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series)
John Goodman, Roseanne (Nominee, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series)
Craig T. Nelson, Coach (Nominee, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series)
Timothy Busfield, thirtysomething (WINNER, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series)
David Clennon, thirtysomething (Nominee, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series)
Madge Sinclair, Gabriel's Fire (WINNER, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series)
Marg Helgenberger, China Beach (Nominee, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series)
Piper Laurie, Twin Peaks (Nominee, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series)
Melanie Mayron, thirtysomething (Nominee, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series)
Jonathan Winters, Davis Rules (WINNER, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series)
Jerry Van Dyke, Coach (Nominee, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series)

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