Pity poor Saturday night.  Once the home of Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart and Archie Bunker, Saturday night has become a TV dumping ground. At best, it’s an island of misfit shows that don’t quite fit on weeknight prime time.

And when I speak of prime time Saturday night, I’m talking specifically of the big networks (cable channels aren’t bound by days of the week in pursuit of niche audiences). Folks tend not to watch a lot of network TV on Saturday night. The key 18-to-49 demographic tends to be out socializing. What’s left is a small group of shut-ins, older folks and those nursing Friday night hangovers.

So you can forget the stylish dramas, splashy dance-offs, and smart-ass sitcoms where everyone talks real fast. Saturday night prime time is ….different. It’s similar to the equally abandoned Friday night – only more lame. Yet, somehow, Saturday is still interesting to watch. How is that possible?

For all you network execs out there looking for programming ideas, Saturday night shows break down into several categories:

REAL CRIME WITH A SHAKY CAM

COPS  was a hit for Fox back when it didn’t have any and it remains the unchallenged King of Saturday night. It’s the reality show that launched a thousand other cable shows about folks doing their job – be it tow truck driver, meter maid or ice road trucker – while talking to a shaky camera. I probably know more about crime in Baton Rouge and Savannah Georgia than I really care to know. But that doesn’t make the show any less fascinating.  It’s hard to imagine modern TV watching without that COPS image of a shirtless guy resisting arrest:

The show’s success led directly to more investigative Saturday real crimes shows like America’s Most Wanted and 48 Hour MysteriesCOPS also inspired a host parodies on shows like South Park and The X-Files and endless bad YouTube variations:

OLD-SCHOOL ACTIONER

As I said, those watching TV on a Saturday night represent the old, the married and the too-young-to-party. So what in the world would that group all enjoy watching together?

Walker: Texas Ranger apparently. Cheesy action. Simple moralizing. Predictable storylines. It was perfect. And it stacks up as the last legitimate Saturday night drama hit. Walker was old school. So old-school he was hilarious. Even stoned teen-agers could find something to love in the show. Conan O’Brien used to run random clips from Walker that were bizarre – yet strangely made you want to watch the show:

Other action-oriented family fare – the syndicated Hercules and Xena – found a curious audience in Saturday shut-ins. In recent years, though, new action shows on Saturday have given way to reruns of successful weekday shows – mostly of the crime drama variety. Where’s our new Walker? Hell, I’d take the old one again…

NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME SPORTS

There have been repeated failed efforts to establish a sports presence on Saturday night – most notable with the XFL. It was no surprise that the upstart league chose Saturday night.  The league’s founder was Vince McMahon, the guy who brought us decades of Saturday night wrestling. Still, Saturday night football? Just didn’t seem right. And the efforts to jazz up the action with swooping camera and miked players didn’t disguise the fact the football wasn’t that good. The XFL died in one year, but don’t count out another football league in Saturday’s future:

DEAD SHOWS WALKING

Sometimes, a network just doesn’t want to waste a weeknight on a show they have little faith in. So Saturday night has brought us a lot of overlooked or quickly forgotten fare. Short-lived dramas like Hack, Citizen Baines and The Agency came and went. So did reboots like Star Search and Hunter. This year’s How To Be A Gentleman was even cancelled before it moved to Saturday to run out the string.

And does anyone remember the reality series Game Show In My Head or The Will? The latter one is best remembered (or forgotten) for airing but one episode. Apparently, you can still suck so bad on Saturday night, you can get canned with extreme prejudice: