Last night, after Parks and Recreation — a low-rated, but much beloved comedy – ended its seven-season run on NBC, it marked the end of an era. NBC and its primetime comedies have been a staple of, to borrow their tagline, must-see television since the mid-1980s, when The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, and Night Court were all shown on the same evening.
The NBC Thursday night lineup used to be so strong that even bad shows could do pretty okay if they were sandwiched in between, say, Friends and Seinfeld, which was NBC’s strategy: Move higher rated shows to another night to foster in new comedies. This was a smart strategy in theory, but it rarely worked. And it led to nights of true must-see television being short lived, as popular shows were jettisoned off to Tuesday to be replaced by something no one wanted.
Because of this constant reshuffling, the lauded ‘90s NBC Thursday night comedy lineup was (A) never stable and (B) never had all of its best shows all on at once. The best four lineups of the ‘90s look like this:
1993-1994: Mad About You, Wings, Seinfeld, Frasier
1994-1995: Mad About You, Friends, Seinfeld, Madmen of the People
1995-1996: Friends, The Single Guy, Seinfeld, Caroline in the City
1997-1998: Friends, Just Shoot Me!, Seinfeld, Veronica’s Closet
What’s funny is that, just 10 years ago, Thursday night comedy lineup looked to be dead: Joey and Will & Grace led off the night, followed by The Apprentice. Do you know how there are sometimes stories about a terminally ill person who will all of sudden seemingly start to recover, right before he or she eventually passes away? This is what happened to Must-See TV.