Mid-Season 1979


ABC’s surge to the top of the Nielsen ratings in the mid-1970s led to a corresponding drop in the ratings for NBC. Fred Silverman, who was responsible for the rise of ABC, left that network to become president of NBC during the summer of 1978. The first true test of his ability came in the first few months of 1979, when all three networks premiered their mid-season replacements. Unfortunately for Silverman, NBC’s new shows performed terribly and the network ended the 1978-1979 season in even worse shape.

The “Jiggle” Factor

As the 1977-1978 season came to a close in late April 1978, several things were clear. First, ABC once again reigned supreme in the Nielsen ratings, thanks to the strength of sitcoms like Happy Days and Three’s Company and dramas Fantasy Island and Soap. Second, NBC was once again stuck in third place with only one program, Little House on the Prairie, in the Top 10 and only four in the Top 30. Third, CBS was somewhere in between ABC and NBC, thanks to solid performances from M*A*S*H, All in the Family and Alice, plus 60 Minutes.

Of course, long before the 1977-1978 season ended the networks were already crafting the 1978-1979 season. Work on NBC’s schedule for the upcoming season was hampered by the fact that incoming president Fred Silverman, who had previously performed wonders for both ABC and CBS, wouldn’t arrive until June.

If there was one thing that all three networks appeared to be focusing on as they plotted and pieced together their fall line-ups, it was sex. The success of so-called “jiggle” shows like Charlie’s Angels and Three’s Company and the racy Soap led the networks to one inescapable conclusion: sex sells. Said producer Garry Marshall, “It used to be that when the set jiggled you called the repairman; now when it doesn’t jiggle, you turn it off” [1].

20th Century-Fox’s director of television comedy development, Lynn Rother, explained further:

“When you look at ideas for hundreds of programs, and they all happen to feature women with big bosoms, you know there’s a trend. And when a trend starts, it’s like a wave that pours over you. What’s really unfortunate is that the women’s movement has been trying to get good, responsible women’s projects, and all of a sudden they pull the rug out, and you’re back with shows that have to have gorgeous, shapely blondes.” [2]

Just the titles alone of many of the projects under development for the 1978-1979 season were indicative of television’s preoccupation with sex: Coed Fever, Rollergirls, California Girls, Wayward Girls and The Arrangement (about a young unmarried couple living together) [3]. Rollergirls was given a spring tryout by NBC in anticipation for inclusion in its fall schedule.

The Networks Release Their Schedules

ABC was the first of the networks to announce its 1978-1979 schedule, on May 1st, 1978 [4]. Only three shows, The Six Million Dollar Man, Fish and Baretta, were cancelled. Five new programs were added to the schedule: half-hour sitcoms Apple Pie, Mork & Mindy and Taxi plus hour-long dramas Battlestar Galactica and Vega$. Several returning programs were given new time slots, including Carter Country, Soap and Starsky and Hutch.

On May 2nd, CBS announced its schedule, dropping seven shows and adding eight [5]. Three of those dropped shows — Maude, The Bob Newhart Show and The Carol Burnett Show — ended because their respective stars (Bea Arthur, Bob Newhart and Carol Burnett) had decided to call it a day. Cancelled outright were The Tony Randall Show, Kojak, Baby, I’m Back and On Our Own.

The eight new programs offered by CBS were hour-long variety series Mary, half-hour newsmagazine People, hour-long dramas Kaz, The Paper Chase, The American Girls and Flying High plus half-hour sitcoms In The Beginning and WKRP in Cincinnati.

NBC’s schedule, announced May 15th, was presumed to be a work in progress that would change once Fred Silverman arrived [6]. The network dropped roughly a third of the network’s current programming and added eight new shows. Gone were Chico and the Man, The Bionic Woman, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, Police Woman, CPO Sharkey, What Really Happened to the Class of ’65? and James at 15 (aka James at 16).

New on the schedule were half-hour comedies The Waverly Wonders and Legs, an hour-long sitcom called Coastocoast (a.k.a. Coast to Coast), an hour-long comedy/drama called Grandpa Goes to Washington and hour-long dramas The Eddie Capra Mysteries, W.E.B., The Sword of Justice, plus an hour-long variety series featuring Dick Clark. Operation Runaway, an hour-long drama that NBC was giving a spring tryout, was also on the proposed schedule.

As expected, when Fred Silverman took the reigns of NBC, he drastically altered the network’s fall schedule, attempting to move away from programs that focused on sex:

“It’s very obvious there are some very vocal forces that are speaking out against sex-oriented programs in prime time. It’s not just individual viewers, but also advertisers, PTA groups, and citizens–and we’d be crazy not to recognize that. It really is time to take a very close look at what we’re doing and move in another direction. Television should present things of value.” [7]

This new direction saw Silverman drop Coast to Coast outright and change the focus of both Legs and Operation Runaway. Legs, formerly a sitcom about two chorus girls, was retitled Who’s Watching the Kids? and would now be about two chorus girls raising their younger siblings. Operation Runaway was also dropped from the fall schedule for use in the spring [8].

Added by Silverman was an hour-long documentary series called Lifeline, which would follow doctors nationwide as they went about their daily lives. Several programs were also shifted to new time slots. With NBC’s schedule in place, it was just a matter of waiting for September and the start of the new fall season.

Although the 1978-1979 season officially began on Monday, September 18th, the networks — especially ABC — spent the previous two weeks showing specials and sneak previews. The race was underway.

Cancellations Come Quickly

Within a month of the start of the new season, the networks began handing out pink slips. Shows that were cancelled in October were for the most part off the air by November and the networks juggled their schedules to fill the empty time slots. The November sweeps period, filled with stunt programming, and the onset of holiday-themed specials in December helped offset the loss of new and returning shows.

CBS pulled Mary from its schedule after only four episodes at the behest of star Mary Tyler Moore. To fill the 8-9PM Sunday hour, the network simply moved All in the Family, Alice and Kaz forward and placed Dallas in the 10-11PM time slot, beginning October 22nd. The cancellation of The American Girls, which had preceded Dallas on Saturdays, gave CBS the opportunity to create a Saturday movie block starting November 4th.

Further expanded its movie block, CBS moved Good Times from Saturdays to Wednesdays to replace new sitcom In the Beginning. Newsmagazine People was cancelled and WKRP in Cincinnati was placed on hiatus after their November 6th broadcasts. The 8-9PM time slot was quickly filled by the premiere of The White Shadow on November 27th.

ABC canned its new Saturday sitcom Apple Pie and Carter Country was shifted from 8PM to 8:30PM to replace it, starting on October 28th. Welcome Back, Kotter was moved from Mondays to take over for Carter Country. Also cancelled was Operation Petticoat, which had premiered in September of 1977, and had followed Welcome Back, Kotter on Mondays. ABC filled the 8-9PM Monday time slot with specials until November 13th when Lucan returned for a brief second season.

NBC junked W.E.B. after its October 5th broadcast, filling the Thursday 10-11PM time slot with Weekend until David Cassidy–Man Undercover took over on November 2nd. The Waverly Wonders was pulled after its October 27th broadcast, replaced by the premiere of Diff’rent Strokes the following week.

Mid-Season Approaches

For the most part, any changes made between October and December were simply stop-gap measures meant to hold things together until the networks unrolled their mid-season schedules. Certainly, if any of the programs substituted for early cancellations drew high ratings, the networks would be thrilled. But it was more important to have something on the air to keep viewers from drifting away.

In November, Les Brown of The New York Times guessed that the three networks would premiere a total of fifteen mid-season replacements beginning in January 1979, with CBS and NBC fielding the most new shows [9]. He reported that one of the first things Fred Silverman did when he arrived at NBC in June 1978 was order roughly 60 pilots for mid-season, rightly realizing that all of NBC’s new fall shows would fail [10].

Over at CBS, mid-season was a chance to “solidify” the network’s second-place standing in the Nielsen ratings, according to CBS Broadcast Group president Gene F. Jankowski [11]. The network’s plan included the use of “limited run” series:

“We’re still running a business, after all, and contrary to what some believe, we don’t have unlimited resources. By using the limited-run approach, we’re able to try out two series instead of one that would have been produced in 10 to 13 episodes. This gives us twice the opportunity to find the next hit.” [12]

Of the networks, NBC was expected to make the most drastic changes to its schedule for mid-season, followed by CBS, while ABC would have the fewest alterations.

Mid-Season Plans Solidify

ABC, secure atop the Nielsen charts, was the first to unveil its final mid-season plan. On November 27th, the network announced a slate of four new series that would debut in January 1979, the revamping of Donny & Marie as The Osmond Family Hour, and several time slot changes for existing programs [13]. Additionally, How The West Was Won would return as a weekly series running two hours on Monday evenings. The new shows included three half-hour sitcoms — Makin’ It, Angie and an untitled small-screen version of the hit film National Lampoon’s Animal House — as well as an hour-long drama called Salvage I starring Andy Griffith.

NBC’s mid-season changes, announced November 29th, were much more significant than ABC’s [14]. The network, floundering in third place, would cancel half of its existing prime time shows, including all of the new programs introduced in September that were still on the air. On the chopping block were Grandpa Goes to Washington, Swords of Justice, Lifeline, Dick Clark’s Live Wednesday, The Eddie Capra Mysteries, Who’s Watching the Kids, plus replacement series David Cassidy–Man Undercover and returning series Project U.F.O.

Kept on the new schedule was another replacement series, Diff’rent Strokes, while newsmagazine Weekend was given a weekly slot. The network would introduce nine new programs, including five dramas and four sitcoms. The dramas: Supertrain, Little Women, Cliffhangers, Mrs. Columbo about the wife of detective Columbo; and Sweepstakes. The sitcoms: Hello, Larry, Turnabout, Brothers and Sisters and B.J. and the Bear.

CBS revealed its mid-season plans on December 5th, 1978 [15]. Five new shows would be added to the network’s schedule and many others would be shuffled to new time slots. Rhoda and The American Girls were cancelled while Good Times was placed on hiatus and WKRP in Cincinnati returned from hiatus. Also canned was The CBS Wednesday Movie, which opened up two hours of prime time space for the network.

Four of the five new CBS would be sitcoms: The Stockard Channing Show, Onward and Upward, Flatbush and Coed Fever. The fifth, The Dukes of Hazzard, was an hour-long adventure series.

January 1979: The First Mid-Season Shows Debut

The networks were in no rush to debut their mid-season replacements. The first few weeks of January 1979 were filled with a number of repeats, particularly on ABC, and the regular dose of specials, feature films and made-for-TV movies. Cancelled programs like Grandpa Goes to Washington and The Eddie Capra Mysteries aired a handful of remaining episodes before disappearing.

The return of NBC’s Joe and Valerie for a second limited run of three episodes was the first new programming to materialize, on Friday, January 5th, 1979. Both WKRP in Cincinnati on CBS and How the West Was Won on ABC bowed on Monday, January 15th, but they too were returning programs. The first true mid-season replacement to premiere was ABC’s sitcom Delta House on Thursday, January 18th.

The success of National Lampoon’s Animal House in 1978 led each of the networks to develop their own television versions, but only ABC was able to present a true follow-up to the film. Delta House was not only produced by the same people behind Animal House, it boasted several members of the original cast. John Belushi, who had starred in Animal House as Bluto Blutarsky, did not return for Delta House, so Josh Mostel was signed to play Bluto’s brother, Blotto. Actors John Vernon, Stephen Furst, Bruce McGill and James Widdoes did reprise their roles from the film. The rest of the cast was filled with replacements for those who, like Belushi, declined to appear in the television series.

The debut of Delta House, technically a sneak preview of the series, did quite well, ranking 10th for the week with a 28.3/41 rating [16].

NBC premiered its Animal House copy on Sunday, January 21st, following the conclusion of Super Bowl XIII. The sneak preview of Brothers and Sisters was scheduled to run from 7:30-8PM but didn’t actually start until 8:12PM [17]. Despite its lead-in, Brothers and Sisters could only muster a 28th ranking for the week, with a 31 share of the audience [18, 19].

The following week, both Delta House and Brothers and Sisters would move to their regular time slots. Brothers and Sisters joined NBC’s new Friday line-up, which premiered on January 26th and was an utter failure. Although Diff’rent Strokes started things off strongly, Turnabout, Brothers and Sisters and Hello, Larry and Sweepstakes ranked 50th, 51st, 52nd and 59th, respectively, out of 63 programs [20].

Delta House joined ABC’s Saturday schedule beginning January 27th and fell quite a bit from its debut the previous week, tying for 35th [21]. ABC’s revamped Osmond Family Hour premiered on Sunday, January 28th and tied for 48th [22]. The first regular Monday installment of ABC’s Salvage I, which had debuted as a two-hour made-for-TV movie on Saturday, January 20th, tied for 24th for the week [23]. As January came to a close, the networks had yet to debut a mid-season replacement that could be called a hit.

February 1979: Sweeps Again

February was another sweeps month for the networks, when local ad rates were calculated. Thus, each of the networks loaded their schedules with hit movies, specials and sneak previews, hoping to skew the ratings in favor of their affiliates. Les Brown, writing in The New York Times noted that the February 1979 sweeps month was especially crucial for CBS and NBC, as both had lost affiliates to ABC during the past months [24].

The efforts by CBS and NBC to dilute the ratings strength of ABC’s Roots: The Next Generation miniseries led Brown to call the week ending February 25th “the single most competitive week that has ever been experienced in broadcasting” [25]. Films scheduled for February included Gone With the Wind, Rocky, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and American Graffiti, among others. And in addition to Roots: The Next Generation, other high-profile miniseries included From Here to Eternity and Backstairs at the White House.

NBC had premiered Backstairs at the White House on Monday, January 29th. CBS broadcast the first installment of its Mr. Horn miniseries on Thursday, February 1st, the same night ABC previewed its new sitcom Makin’ It. On Sunday, February 4th, CBS aired Rocky from 8-10:30PM, followed by a preview of its Animal House copy, Coed Fever. Rocky topped the ratings chart for the week with a 36.9/52 rating, making it the third highest-rated film ever to be shown on television [26, 27]. The final episode of NBC’s Centennial miniseries was crushed by Rocky and ranked 28th for the week.

The preview of Makin’ It did well, ranking 10th, but when the sitcom moved to its regular Friday time slot, it sunk to 38th. And the sneak preview of Coed Fever after Rocky could only manage 19th place, losing enough of its lead-in that CBS pulled the series after that sole broadcast [28]. The biggest surprise during the first week of the February sweeps was the success of The Dukes of Hazzard on CBS. Its premiere on Friday, February 26th tied for 29th in the ratings; the next week it actually improved and tied for 20th place [29, 30].

The following week (February 5th through February 12th) was a relatively good one for NBC. The second part of Backstairs at the White House drew a 26.6 rating and ranked 7th for the week, while Diff’rent Strokes drew a 22.3 rating and ranked 15th [31]. Plus, the debut of the network’s expensive Supertrain ranked 17th and premiere of B.J. and the Bear tied for 22nd [32]. The bad news included the poor showings of the first part of Women in White (50th), the premiere of Little Women (58th) and the fact that the bulk of NBC’s Friday line-up was at the bottom of the Nielsen chart.

Nevertheless, ABC easily won the week on the strength of its hit sitcoms and the debut of Angie on Thursday, February 8th. Scheduled between Mork & Mindy and Barney Miller, the sitcom ranked 5th for the week with a 27.9 rating [33]. The battle for Sunday evening saw ABC broadcast One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, CBS the first half of Gone with the Wind and NBC the made-for-TV movie Elvis. All three ranked in the Top 15 for the week [34].

On Sunday, February 18th, ABC aired the first two-hour installment of Roots: The Next Generation from 8-10PM. CBS competed with Marathon Man from 9-11PM and NBC showed American Graffiti from 8-10:20PM. Roots: The Next Generation drew a strong 27.8/41 rating and tied for 8th for the week, while Marathon Man tied for 33rd and American Graffiti ranked 18th [35, 36]. NBC had little else crow about, aside from the continued success of Diff’rent Strokes and the premiere of its From Here to Eternity miniseries, which ranked 21st for the week [37].

The remaining six installments of Roots: The Next Generation were shown during the week ending February 25th. All six placed in the Top 15 for the week, with Part VII ranking the lowest at 11th [38]. ABC averaged a 20.1 rating for the week, the highest average for any network for any week since the original Roots in January 1977 [39].

The following week the networks offered the last of their mid-season replacements, save for a few stragglers. CBS premiered Billy and Flatbush on Monday, February 26th, while NBC showed the two-hour pilot to Mrs. Columbo. NBC’s Cliffhangers premiered on February 27th, CBS’s Married: The First Year on February 28th, and two new CBS entries on Sunday, March 4th: Stockard Channing in Just Friends and The Mary Tyler Moore Hour.

Ratings for these new programs were mixed. Billy ranked 43rd for the week, Flatbush tied for 46th, Cliffhangers 53rd and Married: The First Year 57th [40]. The pilot for Mrs. Columbo did well, ranking 18th, but when the series moved to its regular Thursday time slot it slipped to 45th [41]. Stockard Channing in Just Friends did well, ranking 14th, while The Mary Tyler Moore Show had to settle for 29th [42].

As the February sweeps came to a close, only two of the more than twenty mid-season replacements seemed to have caught the attention of viewers: Angie on ABC and The Dukes of Hazzard on CBS. The rest were either moderately successfully or, as was the case with most of NBC’s new programs, occupied the bottom of the Nielsen charts.

March 1979: NBC Hits New Low, ABC New High, And CBS Falters

On March 8th, NBC announced it was overhauling its mid-season schedule, canceling Little Women, Brothers and Sisters and Turnabout, among others [43]. That brought the number of programs canned by NBC during the 1978-1979 season to 16, which was reportedly the highest number of cancellations in a single season by a single network [44]. A slew of new limited series, dubbed the network’s “spring wave,” would take over for the cancelled programs.

Also on March 8th, producer Norman Lear announced that his series Mister Dugan, set to premiere on CBS on Sunday, March 11th, would not be shown due to the lead character not being shown as a “positive and accurate role model” [45]. The series had been shown to members of the Congressional Black Caucus who found it “unsatisfactory” [46]. Formerly called Onward and Upward, original star John Amos quit the series, objecting to its content.

On Tuesday, March 13th, ABC made history when Three’s Company drew a 38.5/58 rating, the highest rating for a regular episode of a television series, topping the January 10th, 1978 episode of Laverne & Shirley [47]. Following Three’s Company was the premiere of The Ropers with a 36.0/55 rating, which became the highest-rated series premiere since Mayberry R.F.D. bowed on September 23rd, 1968 [48]. For the week ending March 18th, ABC averaged an incredible 22.2 rating while NBC fell to one of its lowest ratings ever, a 13.6 [49].

A handful of additional mid-season replacements premiered in late March, including Harris and Company on March 15th, one of NBC’s “spring wave,” 13 Queens Blvd. on March 20th, The Mackenzie’s of Paradise Cove on March 27th, Friends on March 25th (all on ABC), and Miss Winslow & Son and Dear Detective on March 28th (both on CBS).

The End of the 1978-1979 Season (And The 1979-1980 Schedules)

According to ABC, the 1978-1979 season ended on Sunday, April 15th, after 31 weeks of competition that saw ABC easily trounce its rival networks, ranking first 26 times, tying with CBS for first once, and finishing second three times [50]. On April 23rd, ABC announced its fall schedule for the 1979-1980 season, canceling Battlestar Galactica, Delta House, Makin’ It, Welcome Back, Kotter, Starsky and Hutch, What’s Happening!!, Friends and How the West Was Won [51]. Still under consideration were Salvage I, Carter Country and The Osmond Family Hour (Salvage 1 would return briefly in November of 1979).

Both CBS and NBC released their fall schedules on May 1st [52]. CBS canned The Paper Chase, Kaz, Good Times and The Mary Tyler Moore Hour. Shockingly, NBC kept several of its low-rated mid-season replacements, including Hello, Larry, B.J. and the Bear and Mrs. Columbo (renamed Kate Columbo). It cancelled Cliffhangers, Supertrain, Whodunnit? and Highcliffe Manor (the last two were part of NBC’s “spring wave”).

NBC ended the 1978-1979 season with only four shows in the Top 30: Little House on the Prairie, The NBC Monday Movie, CHiPs and Diff’rent Strokes. CBS had eight, including two mid-season replacements, The Dukes of Hazzard and Stockard Channing in Just Friends. The latter was not renewed for the 1979-1980 season, but Stockard Channing returned to CBS in March 1980 in another short-lived mid-season replacement, The Stockard Channing Show.

ABC filled out the rest of the Top 30 with eighteen programs, including the Top Five and seven of the Top Ten. Although both Angie and The Ropers finished in the Top Ten, both would be cancelled during the 1979-1980 season. ABC’s strategy of splitting up its popular comedy blocks and shifting programs to different nights backfired and programs that had succeeded while scheduled between other popular shows failed when they were on their own.

NBC’s failure to cultivate new hits outside of Diff’rent Strokes could not be laid entirely on the shoulders of Fred Silverman. He inherited an already floundering network that had set in motion its schedule for the 1978-1979 season before he came aboard. The alterations Silverman made to the fall schedule — attempting to move away from sex — were commendable but perhaps destined to fail. In an ironic twist, the hit shows he had to compete with and find a way to counter program were the very programs he had overseen at ABC.

It is debatable as to what Silverman could have done differently when he took the reigns in June. If he had left Coast to Coast on the schedule and not changed the focus of Legs (a.k.a. Who’s Watching the Kids?) and Operation Runaway (which debuted in late May 1979 as a summer replacement), he would have still had to contend with a half-dozen other programs that failed to catch on in the ratings. And there is no way to know whether or not Coast to Coast would have done well. em>Flying High on CBS hadn’t, after all).

The position of strength ABC started the season with — especially on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and the bulk of Saturday — left little room for Silverman to cultivate new hits. CBS dominated Sunday evenings, leaving only Monday and Friday somewhat open. The only evening NBC did well on during the 1978-1979 season was Monday, thanks to Little House on the Prairie. And even that was only for one hour. CBS had a tight grip on the rest of the evening.

NBC’s disastrous mid-season schedule, which was Silverman’s first true attempt at fixing the network, was at the very least designed brilliantly, as Les Brown explained in early December of 1978:

“There is something of a grand design to NBC’s extensive midseason overhaul of its programming.

Each evening has been structured thematically or with a view to reaching a specific segment of the audience — females, males or young people. Each program has been placed strategically to counter ABC’s dominance of the audience-popularity ratings, and all the new programs have a common characteristic described by an NBC official as a ‘light, comedy touch’.” [53]

Certainly, Silverman could have done better than Supertrain. But Supertrain was not all that much different than ABC’s Love Boat, which performed well on Saturdays. If Supertrain had not been initially scheduled opposite Eight is Enough on Wednesdays, perhaps it would have caught on. When it was moved from Wednesdays in April 1979, it did no better.

When Silverman left NBC in 1981, the network was still hurting. But by the mid-1980s, thanks to the patience and cunning of Grant Tinker and Brandon Tartikoff, NBC was back on top. The fact that Silverman was never able to bring to NBC the sort of the ratings resurgence he had brought to CBS and then ABC may be because while at ABC he simply did his job too well. If Fred Silverman couldn’t go up against the ABC schedule Fred Silverman had created, nobody could.

Works Cited:

1 Lindsey, Robert. “TV Tunes In Sex as Crime Fades.” New York Times. 20 Mar. 1978: C15.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Shepard, Richard F. “ABC’s Fall TV Schedule to Retain 84% of Present Prime-Time Shows.” New York Times. 2 May 1978: 69.
5 Shepard, Richard F. “CBS-TV Adds 8, Drops 7.” New York Times. 3 May 1978: C22.
6 Shepard, Richard F. “NBC-TV Dropping Nearly a Third of Shows in Fall.” New York Times. 16 May 1978: 71.
7 Deeb, Gary. “Tempo TV & Radio: Silverman pledges class, not crass, for down-in-the-ratings NBC.” Chicago Tribune. 28 Jun. 1978: B8.
8 Ibid.
9 Brown, Les. “TV Networks Consider New Series.” New York Times. 20 Nov. 1978: C30.
10 Ibid.
11 Brown, Les. “Jankowski Is Heartened By CBS’s Ratings Gains.” New York Times. 25 Nov. 1978: 46.
12 Ibid.
13 “5 New Shows Coming in ’79 On ABC-TV.” New York Times. 28 Nov. 1978: C10.
14 Brown, Les. “NBC-TV Cancels Half Of Its Weekly Series.” New York Times. 30 Nov. 1978: C22.
15 Brown, Les. “5 New Shows Will Join CBS Roster Next Month.” New York Times. 6 Dec. 1978: C24.
16 Brown, Les. “ABC-TV Tops Nielsen Ratings.” New York Times. 24 Jan. 1979: C23.
17 Carmody, John. “The TV Column.” Washington Post. 23 Jan. 1979: B6.
18 Brown, Les. “ABC-TV Tops Nielsen Ratings.”
19 “The TV Column.” Washington Post. 24 Jan. 1979: B10.
20 “The TV Column.” Washington Post. 31 Jan. 1979: B8.
21 Ibid.
22 Ibid.
23 Carmody, John. “The TV Column.” Washington Post. 7 Feb. 1979: B8.
24 Brown, Les. “TV Gets Ready for the February “Sweeps” in Program Changes.” New York Times. 22 Jan. 1979: C15.
25 Ibid.
26 “TV Ratings.” New York Times. 7 Feb. 1979: C22.
27 Carmody, John. “The TV Column.” Washington Post. 7 Feb. 1979: B8.
28 Ibid.
29 “6 of the top 10 put ABC on top again.” Chicago Tribune. 2 Feb. 1979: C12.
30 Carmody, John. “The TV Column.” Washington Post. 7 Feb. 1979: B8.
31 “TV Ratings.” New York Times. 14 Feb. 1979: C22.
32 “The TV Column.” Washington Post. 14 Feb. 1979: D13.
33 “TV Ratings.” New York Times. 14 Feb. 1979: C22.
34 Ibid.
35 “The TV Column.” Washington Post. 21 Feb. 1979: B8.
36 Brown, Les. “‘Roots II’ Draws Well, But Not Like the Original.” New York Times. 21 Feb. 1979: C18.
37 Ibid.
38 Carmody, John. “The TV Column.” Washington Post. 28 Feb. 1979: B8.
39 Ibid.
40 Carmody, John. “The TV Column.” Washington Post. 7 Mar. 1979: B10.
41 Ibid.
42 Ibid.
43 Brown, Les. “6 New Series in NBC Spring Cleaning.” New York Times. 9 Mar. 1979: C29.
44 Ibid.
45 “Lear Witholds ‘Dugan’ Series.” New York Times. 9 Mar. 1979: C14.
46 Ibid.
47 Carmody, John. “The TV Column.” Washington Post. 16 Mar. 1979: B7.
48 Carmody, John. “The TV Column.” Washington Post. 21 Mar. 1979: B13.
49 Brown, Les. “ABC Sweeps Ratings.” New York Times. 21 Mar. 1979: C22.
50 Boyer, Peter J. Associated Press. 24 Apr. 1979: PM Cycle.
51 Brown, Les. “ABC-TV Announces Fall Schedule.” New York Times. 24 Apr. 1979: C20.
52 Pace, Eric. “NBC, CBS Release Schedules for Fall.” New York Times. 2 May 1979: C17.
53 Brown, Les. “New NBC-TV Program Tactics.” New York Times. 2 Dec. 1978: 14.

Originally Published July 31st, 2008
Last Updated June 9th, 2013



4 Comments

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    Norman Lear’s production company was supposed to have produced “THE ARRANGEMENT”, but once Fred Silverman took over as NBC’s chief programmer in the summer of ’78, he insisted the lead characters get married. Lear said, “If you do that, you’ll kill the whole point of the series”. Silverman refused to alter his opinion [he was determined to become a “changed programmer” from his days emphasizing “s-e-x” on ABC], and Lear, in protest, walked away from his commitment to produce the show. “THE ARRANGEMENT” never appeared on NBC- and neither did “COAST TO COAST”, which cost NBC four million dollars because Silverman cancelled the network’s order for the series.

    “THE AMERICAN GIRLS” bore a vague resemblance to “Electra Woman & Dynagirl” [as seen on “THE KROFFT SUPERSHOW” on ABC’s Saturday morning schedule, two years earlier], only the leads didn’t wear spandex costumes or possess “superpowers”- but Priscilla Barnes & Debra Clinger DID look a lot like Deidre Hall & Judy Strangis. They had a van, and their “mentor” sent them out into the field to track down stories for a fictional equivalent of “60 MINUTES” (and inadvertently fought “evil” along the way). Eleven episodes were filmed- five aired on the network.

    And then, of course, there was “FLYING HIGH”, CBS’ Friday night hour-long comedy/drama [10-11pm(et)] about three very attractive stewardesses. Mark Carliner produced the show, and only auditioned New York fashion models for the three leading roles, as he claimed he wanted “TV faces”. He found them in Connie Selleca, Patricia Klous and Kathryn Witt. According to Sally Bedell Smith’s “Up the Tube” (1981), Carliner, and what he referred to as “my three girls”, went directly to CBS’ New York headquarters to personally pitch the series. By the time Carliner and his crew left the elevator that took them to see the network’s chief programmer on the top floor, a few male CBS executives had seen Selleca, Witt and Klous enter the elevator on the ground floor, and called the programmer saying, “Buy the elevator. You’ve got to buy who’s in the elevator!” According to someone who sat in during the “pitch”, he claimed the girls were “absolute stiffs” in reading the pilot script, yet the network bought the show. It lasted longer than “THE AMERICAN GIRLS”, but only thirteen of the eighteen produced episodes were scheduled on CBS before they finally dumped it at the end of December.

    “MRS. COLUMBO”- by early 1979, Fred Silverman was desparate to produce a hit for NBC…ANY kind of hit. It was his idea to feature “Lt. Columbo’s wife” (often talked about by Columbo, but never seen) in her own mystery series, but creator/producers William Levinson and Richard Link wanted no part it, as they’d previously made a pact with Peter Falk “never to show Mrs. Columbo”. Silverman bypassed them, and got another Universal producer {James McAdams, then David Levinson} to film the series. Predictably, it faltered in the ratings. In an effort to draw more attention to Kate Mulgrew’s character, the series was quickly retitled “KATE COLUMBO”. Yet the series continued to slip in the ratings. Silverman, however, renewed it for the fall, finally deciding to sever all ties to “Columbo”, altering Kate’s last name to “Callahan”, and again retitling it “KATE LOVES A MYSTERY” (after all, thought Silverman {a big fan of radio as a kid}, it sounded a lot like “I LOVE A MYSTERY”, didn’t it? The difference was that Carleton E. Morse’s series was more imaginative than ANYTHING Silverman scheduled for NBC that year). It finally went off the air for good at the end of the year.

  • Dan says:

    Excellent analysis! Some of the short-lived shows were actually quite good, with writers/creators who continued on to other longer lasting programs. I have been able to find Eddie Capra Mysteries on bootleg DVD, as it was a favorite. For a show like WKRP, being moved around (and put on hiatus) ultimately killed what was one of the best comedies to ever air. The excellent Paper Chase met the same fate, until moving to pay-cable a few years later. By the Fall of 1979, TV entered a low period that was not revived until the debut of The A-Team in 1983.
    As a note, the opening credits to Sweepstakes can be found on You Tube, worth a look as they were unique in style and length. And the cancelling of Battlestar Galactica would be an entire essay in itself – a huge mistake (witness Galactica 1980).

  • Troy Lee Turner says:

    I know this could be the ultimate conspiracy theory, but is it possible that Silverman created the NBC lineup on purpose to throw the race, because he knew he couldn’t defeat the lineup he created?

    • Matthew says:

      It’s tempting to think that, but in reality, almost nobody goes into a show thinking that it’s going to fail. Before Silverman came to NBC, they seemed more focused on specials, movies and “big events” than series development; they had a few successful dramas to carry them, but barely had any other sitcoms left after SANFORD AND SON and CHICO AND THE MAN ended, and WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY was floundering partly because of competition from 60 MINUTES and partly because of the scarcity of new material. But ABC just had too many hits to count; they had 17 shows in the top 30 this season.

      On the other hand, you have to admire them for being willing to throw a bunch of odd ideas to the wall to see if they would stick.

      Maybe the people they were trying to reach were out disco dancing.

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