Not long ago, if two shows you liked aired in the same time slot, you had to make a decision Sophie’s Choice-style.
Nowadays, things are less desperate for the avid TV viewer. You’ve got options: repeat airings, multiple venues for viewing, timezone-shifting, and – if all else fails – there’s always DVDs and Netflix down the line.
That said, initial audience ratings still mean a big deal to networks. And how a show performs opposite its direct competition can decide its fate. Many a decent show has fallen victim to bad or unfortunate scheduling. And many more will no doubt suffer that fate in the future.
Here are a few memorable scheduling victims and victors of the past – and possible future:
THE SIMPSONS VERSUS THE COSBY SHOW (1990) – In 1990, Fox got this crazy idea to move its only hit, The Simpsons, to Thursdays and take on ratings juggernaut The Cosby Show. Fox figured the show would help its other Thursday shows – including Beverly Hills, 90210. And it seemed to work, initially. Though more households tuned into The Cosby Show on its first night, more viewers actually watched the premiere of The Simpsons. Odd. Overall, The Cosby Show beat The Simpsons handily for the season – ranking #5 while the cartoon ranked #38. Things would change the following year as The Simpsons continued to grow in popularity.
GLEE VERSUS NO ORDINARY FAMILY (2010-11) – Here’s one of many examples of a fledgling show unable to get a foothold due to established competition. The sci-fi family drama No Ordinary Family was a decent show with a unique premise – a family of superheroes – that targeted both the youth viewership and families as well. But it lasted only one season and few remember it. You can blame Glee for part of that. The musical series was a huge, instant hit that was entering its second season at the time. And it targeted much the same audience as No Ordinary Family.
A timeslot shift in the spring proved too little too late. No Ordinary Family was cancelled in May, 2011 due to low ratings. Glee was renewed a week later:
THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY VERSUS ALL IN THE FAMILY (1973-74) – Want to kill a successful show? Just put it up against a TV classic. Pity the poor Partridges. After three good years on Friday night’s so-called Family Night (in which they finished in the Top 20), someone at ABC got the idea to put it up against All In The Family. Archie Bunker and the gang were in the midst of a five-year run as TV’s most popular show. The Partridge Family proved no opposition. Its ratings dropped like a stone and it was cancelled at season’s end:
LOST VERSUS AMERICAN IDOL (2004-2010) – Lost is an interesting case of a show that rarely won its timeslot, yet it garnered good enough ratings to be considered a hit. Lost’s rival early on was American Idol, which was enjoying a run as a Top Five-rated show. Twice the American Idol finale aired up against the Lost finale – and twice Idol doubled Lost in viewers.
Nevertheless, the folks who watched Lost over the years were very loyal – never straying up the dial. Nor did anyone watching another show come over to Lost. Even after American Idol moved to another night in 2007, Lost’s ratings stayed pretty much the same. It also finished third (!) in its timeslot behind Grey’s Anatomy and CSI. Wow. That’s a lot of viewers fighting over the remote.
COMMUNITY VERSUS TWO AND HALF MEN/BIG BANG THEORY (2009- )– Congratulations go out to the offbeat Community for surviving to reach its fourth season. A critical darling, the show has never come close to high ratings – peaking at #94 in its first season. But you can’t really blame the show. Community has had the misfortune of airing opposite two (!) veteran top ten-rated shows – Two And A Half Men and The Big Bang Theory. Comedy versus comedy is never a good mix. Things don’t get any more promising this season, as Community moves to the dead zone of Friday night – a time when the people who would watch the strange and snarky show aren’t home watching TV.
HAPPY ENDINGS VERSUS NEW GIRL (THIS SEASON) – Keep an eye on this head-to-head battle. While I prefer New Girl over Happy Endings, aren’t they kind of the same show? Quirky, eccentric young characters talking really fast? Yup. Same show. Happy Endings will be followed this season by Don’t Trust The B*tch In Apartment 23. New Girl will be followed by The Mindy Project. Again – quirky, fast-talking shows about eccentric young people. I recommend flipping a coin every week: