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