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premature death

Friday night death slot

The term Friday night death slot refers to the idea that television shows broadcast on Friday nights in the United States face a greater than average chance of being cancelled. The term possibly began as a reflection of certain shows' dominance of Friday night in the 1980s, but today it reflects the belief that Americans are rarely at home to watch TV on Fridays.

On the other hand, placement in the slot can occasionally yield improved ratings for a struggling show: If such a show suffers low ratings earlier in the broadcast week because it must compete against more attractive programming, a move to Friday evening may improve its ratings because the other shows competing for viewers in the new time slot are weaker or less well known.

Therefore, the Friday night death slot offers networks an opportunity to test the long-term prospects of a traditionally strong show going through a period of struggle: If it regains viewers when placed against the weaker competition featured on Friday evenings, network executives may attribute its ratings drop in its previous time slot to competition with the specific shows aired by other networks at the same time. Therefore, they may restore it to its previous time slot once its quality recovers and/or competing shows hit a slump. (For example, NBC moved season 17 of Law & Order from 10:00 PM EST Wednesday to 10:00 PM EST Friday but returned the series to its Wednesday slot for season 18 and has subsequently renewed it for a nineteenth season. ) If, however, the show is unable to regain viewers even against weaker competition, the odds are greater that its decline has resulted from a substantive and permanent shift in audience tastes, such that the show is unlikely to recover popularity and executives have greater incentive to cancel it.

Whether networks exploit this fact by purposefully moving programs to Friday nights to justify their cancellation is the subject of much continuing debate and cynicism among fans of programs scheduled at these times.

FOX and Fridays

The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. (1993-1994), M.A.N.T.I.S. (1994-1995), Strange Luck (1995-1996), VR.5 (1995), Brimstone (1998-1999), Greed (1999-2000), Dark Angel (2000-2002), The Lone Gunmen (2001), Fastlane (2002-2003), Firefly (2002-2003),John Doe (2002-2003), Wanda at Large (2003), Playing It Straight (2004), Wonderfalls (2004), Boston Public (2000-2004), Jonny Zero (2005), Killer Instinct (2005), Malcolm in The Middle (2000-2006), The Bernie Mac Show (2001-2006), Justice (2006), Standoff (2006-2007), Vanished (2006), The Wedding Bells (2007), Nashville (2007), Canterbury's Law (2008), and The Return of Jezebel James (2008) are all examples of FOX shows that started on Friday nights and lasted only a few episodes, or moved to Friday nights, lost the battle for television ratings, and were eventually cancelled. However, at least one FOX show that premiered on Friday nights, The X-Files, became a success, especially after moving to Sunday nights in the fall of 1996. Incidentally, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr, which premiered in 1993 in the Friday night slot along with the X-Files, was quickly cancelled. The X-Files ran 6 years in its Sunday timeslot.

TGIF on ABC

In the early 1990s, ABC succeeded on Friday nights by creating a family-friendly TGIF lineup with sitcoms such as Full House, Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, Family Matters, Step by Step, Hangin' with Mr. Cooper, Boy Meets World, and Perfect Strangers. By the late 1990s the majority of the TGIF shows had been canceled. The TGIF brand was put to rest in 2000 after the cancellation of Boy Meets World, and the departure of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, which moved to The WB. The Hughleys which was part of TGIF would be picked up after cancelation by the UPN. In the fall of 2000, ABC attempted an older skewing comedy block featuring Two Guys, A Girl and A Pizza Place and The Norm Show, which were both relocated from Wednesday Night, they were accompanied by the short-lived Madigan Men and The Trouble with Normal. All four shows would soon be cancelled.

In 2001, ABC attempted to fill the slot with the reality show The Mole, but it was pulled after only three weeks. In the early-mid 2000s, ABC attempted to relaunch TGIF with shows such as Life with Bonnie (during the 2003 season), George Lopez (during the 2003 season) Less Than Perfect (during the 2004 season), Eight Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter (during the 2004 season) and Hope and Faith, an effort that ended by 2004.

I Love Saturday Night On ABC dumping ground

Originally, ABC's I Love Saturday Night concept was developed to capitalize on the popularity of TGIF and heavy promotion of the lineup was done during TGIF and other popular nights on the network. Unfortunately, the concept never caught on. This started in 1992 with the moving of longtime series Perfect Strangers, Who's the Boss? and Growing Pains to Saturday to make way for newer shows on TGIF. Midseason replacement Capitol Critters was also moved to Saturday. All shows, including MacGyver were cancelled in spring 1992. Perfect Strangers was brought back for six episodes in summer 1993 to resolve all loose ends on the show. Other shows moved to Saturdays and were quickly cancelled included Twin Peaks, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Where I Live, George, and Thea.

CBS and Fridays

CBS, in an effort to revive Friday night television in the 1990s, first attempted to compete with ABC launching a comedy night in the fall of 1992 with The Golden Palace (a spinoff/continuation of NBC's The Golden Girls, along with Monday-night Top-10 hits Major Dad and Designing Women, along with a new sitcom from Bob Newhart, Bob. This initial effort failed, and only Bob was renewed for the 1993–1994 season.

In the fall of 1997, CBS tried to capitalize off the cancellations of Friday night programs on rival ABC. They gave shows such as Step by Step and Family Matters a second life and created the CBS Block Party to take away ABC's viewers. In September 1997, the CBS Block Party kicked off with Family Matters and Step by Step in their original timeslots and The Gregory Hines Show and Meego were added to the mix. However, CBS failed to adequately promote the programs, resulting in their cancellation after one season. Some argue that viewers of the shows had grown older and moved on to other viewing options which caused the ratings decrease. CBS did not try to use the concept again, sticking to dramas from that point on.

The phenomenon is now seen in regard to other original programming on CBS as well. Joan of Arcadia, which had a successful freshman year in the 2003–2004 season—and was even renewed unusually early, in January 2004, for the following fall season—was cancelled after its second year. The popular CBS show CSI was originally aired on Friday nights before being moved to Thursday nights months after its fall 2000 series premiere; it has remained on Thursday nights ever since. Another popular series that aired on Friday nights at the beginning of the 1996-97 season was Everybody Loves Raymond. After its debut, the show received low ratings; however, the network kept the show and moved it from Fridays to Monday nights, midway throughout the season, to boost ratings, and Raymond performed well over 9 seasons. A similar thing happened previously during the 1990-91 season when the struggling Burt Reynolds comedy Evening Shade was moved to Mondays and would go on to run for four seasons. CBS has also found success in its Friday night lineup with The Ghost Whisperer, The Price Is Right $1,000,000 Spectacular, and Numb3rs. However, the network has also had its fair share of failures on Fridays, including Robbery Homicide Division, Moonlight and Swingtown. The Ex-List, CBS's latest entry into the Friday night lineup, appears to have a limited life span by the nature of its plot (it takes place over the course of one year).

The case of Star Trek and NBC

A famous example of a television series brought to a premature death by being moved to Friday nights was the original Star Trek series, which aired on NBC. Producer Gene Roddenberry lost a fight with Laugh-In producer George Schlatter over the 8:30 p.m. Monday-night time slot. Roddenberry said he had been promised the slot when the show was renewed, after fans deluged NBC with mail in protest (a long-held Hollywood tradition holds that one single letter also represents the opinions of 20 other people that didn't have the time to write).

That would have meant Laugh-In would have had to start a half-hour later, and Schlatter did not see why his show, a ratings smash, had to yield that time to the poorly-rated Star Trek, and made no secret of his displeasure. Roddenberry, who never forgave the network for this, made good on a threat to withdraw from personally producing the show, which when combined with the departure of others involved behind the scenes hastened its decline and ensured that there would be no fourth season, and while Schlatter won the battle, it was at his own expense, as it caused Laugh-In cast member Judy Carne to resign in sympathy.

This was only a year before NBC began using demographic breakdowns to decide which shows to air. NBC discovered that even in the 10 p.m. Friday slot, the show nevertheless attracted an audience segment advertisers would have found highly desirable, as it consisted mainly of married couples with lots of disposable income.

In an echo of what happened with the original Star Trek, the prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise was rescheduled from Wednesday to Friday nights on UPN for its fourth season (2004–2005), a move which preceded its cancellation in February 2005.

Successful shows that died on Fridays

  • The A-Team 1986, NBC. Fifth and final season.
  • Diff'rent Strokes 1985-86, ABC. Final season and only season on ABC.
  • Get Smart 1969-70, CBS. Fifth and final season, also the only season to air on CBS.
  • Knight Rider 1985-86, NBC. Fourth and final season.
  • JAG 2003-2005, CBS. Seasons 9 and 10, final two seasons.
  • Scarecrow and Mrs. King 1986-87, CBS. Fourth and final season.

Programs that buck the phenomenon

However, many popular shows, such as Sanford and Son (NBC, 1972-1977), The Partridge Family (ABC, 1970-1974), Monk (USA, 2002-present), Miami Vice (NBC, 1984-1990), Dallas (CBS, 1978-1991), Falcon Crest (CBS, 1981-1990), The Incredible Hulk (CBS, 1978-1982), The Dukes of Hazzard (CBS, 1979-1985), Providence (NBC, 1999-2002), Ghost Whisperer (CBS, 2005-present), Nash Bridges (CBS, 1996-2001), Picket Fences (CBS, 1992-1996), The X-Files (FOX, 1993-2002), Reba (The WB/The CW, 2001-2007), Sabrina, the Teenage Witch (ABC/The WB, 1996-2003) Grounded for Life (FOX/The WB, 2001-2005), Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC, 1999-present), and The Price Is Right $1,000,000 Spectacular (CBS, 2003-present) have been launched on Friday nights and become successful. Often this will result in in the "promotion" of the series for Friday sweeps; for instance, FOX later moved The X-Files to Sunday nights, and NBC relocated Law and Order: Special Victims Unit to Tuesdays. Reba also moved from Fridays to Sunday nights when it moved to The CW for what would turn out to be its final season. It could be argued, however, that Grounded for Life was a victim, as FOX cancelled it before it went on to achieve success on The WB. The Price Is Right $1,000,000 Spectacular has moved around between Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and it has had its greatest ratings success in the Friday 8 p.m. time slot.

Similarly, Battlestar Galactica flourished at 10 p.m. on Fridays on the Sci-Fi Channel from January 2005 to January 2007, in which time it became one of Sci-Fi's highest-rated programs. For several years, Sci-Fi Channel in fact placed its three highest rated shows on Friday night, airing Galactica alongside Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis in a three-hour Sci-Fi Friday block. This is no longer the case as of the 2006/07 season, however; as of January 21, 2007, Galactica was moved to Sunday nights. It was moved back to Fridays for its last season. Although the name of the block and shows aired on it have changed, the block itself has been (for the most part) very good for many of the Sci-Fi Channel's original shows.

UPN/The CW's WWE Friday Night SmackDown!, originally named SmackDown!, was first broadcast on UPN on Thursdays to compete with WCW Thunder. UPN moved the show to Friday nights in the United States on September 9, 2005, because of low ratings in its original Thursday-night slot, and the show has retained its Friday night timeslot since moving to The CW. Upon its move to the "death slot," UPN/CW Friday nights have seen a substantial increase in ratings over UPN's movies and most of the WB's sitcoms. SmackDown! had also initially garnered even better ratings in the death slot than the ratings on its former Thursday-night airings (after the merging of WCW with WWE in 2001). Despite this, The CW chose to cancel Smackdown which will begin airing on MyNetworkTV in fall of 2008.

References

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