Over the past seven years I’ve examined historical TV ratings from three seasons: 1966-1967, 1972-1973, and 1955-1956. Starting today I’ll be looking back at the 1987-1988 season. In the past, I mostly discussed the Top 10 programs each week but for 1987-1988 I’m going to be writing about the Bottom 10 programs. I think it will extremely interesting to see what wasn’t being watched each week. Plus, low-rated shows are more likely to be forgotten.
So why the 1987-1988 season? You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find complete weekly ratings charts. Most publications only listed the Top 10 or Top 20. However, USA Today published complete weekly charts during the 1987-1988 season. The charts only included ABC, CBS, and NBC programming. Although FOX was rated nationally by Nielsen starting in July 1987, USA Today did not begin including FOX programming in its weekly charts until December 1988.
The USA Today charts included ratings from the A.C. Nielsen Co. as well as another audience measurement firm called AGB Television Research (owned by AGB Research PLC, London). AGB tried and failed to compete with Nielsen in the national TV ratings game during the 1987-1988 season but was only able to convince CBS to subscribe to its service. Without the support of ABC and NBC, the company lost too much money and suspended its U.S. operation prior to the start of the 1988-1989 season.
(The 1987-1988 season was also the first to utilize “People Meters,” devices that were supposed to provide more accurate ratings. Both Nielsen and AGB used them. They proved controversial, however, when the networks saw their ratings fall–in some cases dramatically.)
For my look back at the 1987-1988 season I’ll be posting the Nielsen ranking, rating and share for the Bottom 10 programs each week as well as viewership as determined by AGB. That means the rating/share and viewer figures come from different companies, so who knows how well they match up. I will also be providing the highest-rated program each week to compare with the ten lowest-rated programs. For the record, during the 1987-1988 season each Nielsen ratings point equaled 887,000 households.
Week 1 of the 1987-1988 season started on Monday, September 21st, 1987 and ended on Sunday, September 27th, 1987. The highest-rated program was NBC’s The Cosby Show with a 31.5/51 Nielsen rating/share and 43.4 million viewers according to AGB. Here are the 10 lowest-rated programs on TV that week:
|60||I Married Dora||ABC||10.1/18||14,200,000|
|Spenser: For Hire||ABC||10.1/16||13,600,000|
|68||Once a Hero||ABC||3.7/7||6,700,000|
Copyright A.C. Nielsen Co. and AGB Television Research
Poor ABC placed eight shows in the Bottom 10; CBS and NBC each had one. Two of the ABC shows–I Married Dora and Full House–aired twice during the week. The two new sitcoms were launched on Tuesday, September 22nd alongside the network’s powerhouse sitcom duo of Who’s the Boss? and Growing Pains. Those special preview airings were very high-rated. When the sitcoms moved to their regular time slots on Friday, September 25th, they tanked.
Some of the low ratings are easy to explain. Sledge Hammer! aired opposite NBC’s The Cosby Show on Thursday, September 24th from 8-8:30PM while The Charmings aired opposite NBC’s A Different Word from 8:30-9PM. During that same hour, CBS aired Tour of Duty, which ranked 56th for the week, barely staying out of the Bottom 10.
Likewise, Spenser: For Hire aired Sunday, September 27th from 8-9PM opposite NBC’s Family Ties/My Two Dads and Murder, She Wrote, all of which ranked between 11th and 19th for the week.
Once a Hero, ABC’s flop sci-fi comedy series starring Milo O-Shea, premiered the previous week (on Saturday, September 19th, 1987). In its second outing on Saturday, September 26th it averaged a disastrous 3.7 rating and a puny 7% share of the audience on Saturday, September 26th from 8-9PM. A number of ABC affiliate pre-empted Once a Hero in favor of syndicated Star Trek: The Next Generation. ABC’s Saturday movie–1984’s Splash–fared slightly better with a 7.3 rating and a 14% share from 9-11PM.
“Using this chart.” USA Today. 30 Sep. 1987: 03.d
12 Replies to “Nielsen Bottom 10, September 21st-27th, 1987”
If I Love Dora and Full House tanked after moving to their regular Friday time slots Full House must have swam to the surface and been tossed a life preserver since it stayed on ABC until August 29, 1995.
Sorry, the name of the first show was, of course, I Married Dora.
I remember all those. What’s interesting are the actual viewer numbers. Those would be huge numbers nowadays and be in the top 10.
Technically, these weren’t the lowest rated shows on network TV, Fox was already on the air, and in fact “Sledge Hammer” even made a joke about them in its season premiere. However, as you noted USA Today wouldn’t include Fox on its chart until 1988. Interesting to note that “Full House” was on that chart. It was losing on Friday to “Rags to Riches”, a NBC knockoff of “Annie” that I bet even you don’t remember. At that time, I thought that Dave Coullier was the only funny thing about “Full House” and that maybe ABC would give him a “Mork and Mindy” type of show. Well, here it is 30 years later and Netflix isn’t doing a “Rags to Riches:TNG “, are they?
According to an article I came across the other day (I think in The New York Times), the Big Three networks refused to include FOX programming in the weekly rankings they distributed to the media. Apparently that changed at some point in 1988 or perhaps FOX began sending out its own weekly rankings. Somehow, USA Today was getting a hold of rankings for all four networks by December 1988.
You may be right about the boycott, but I do remember seeing other publications include Fox numbers in 1987, so Fox was definitely being rated by Nielson.
The 87-88 season is possibly my favorite TV year, between Max Headroom, the first season of Star Trek TNG and a weird short-lived post-apocalyptic kids show (Which I see was mentioned very briefly in the article on syndication of 1987) called “Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future”.
I’d forgotten that The Charmings was that year too. It kinda seems like the end of the ’80s was a big time for really weird sitcoms. The Charmings sticks in my head because these days the best way to describe it is “Imagine Once Upon a Time was a Miller-Boyett sitcom”.
I remember that show and how they changed Snow Whites in the second season, It always surprised me that they avoided the obvious “Bewitched” joke, since the evil queen was an Endora clone. The show’s most lasting effect was on Christopher Rich, who has played the same character ever since on “Murphy Brown” and “Reba” among other shows.
“Houston Knights” and “Once a Hero” are the only 2 programs in the bottom 10 I don’t ever remember watching a single episode.
“Spencer for Hire” & “Sledge Hammer!” were my favorites at the time.
Does USA Today have online editions of its previous issues because I would do like to see viewership numbers for 1987-88 and 1988-89 TV season?
Sledge Hammer was awesome! Bottom of the ratings but still averaged about 10 million viewers per week. Today’s networks would kill for those numbers ….
It’s so weird seeing “Full House” rank in the weekly Bottom 10, when you consider how much of a hit it would become later on.