Quick, name a show that currently airs on Network TV in primetime on Saturday night. Yeah, we can’t either. Saturday night is no longer a big night for TV and it hasn’t been that way in a good while, but that was not always the case.
Some first wave Gen Xers might remember watching Kung Fu and Emergency in the mid-seventies. Many also remember their parents watching the blockbuster CBS lineup which included All in the Family, M.A.S.H., The Jeffersons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Bob Newhart Show. CBS also had the show that is probably most associated with Saturday nights in the seventies, The Carol Burnett Show.
In the late seventies, Saturday became home to some classic shows such as Rhoda, Welcome Back Kotter, and Good Times, which were all winding down and would soon be canceled. This time period would also include the debut of two long-running staples of Saturday night, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island on ABC. NBC also had a hit with CHiPs at 8 pm.
CHiPs moved to Sunday in 1980 and was replaced with another big hit, Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters. In 1981, ABC made their powerful lineup even stronger with the addition of T.J. Hooker. With all of the CBS comedy hits from the seventies now canceled or moved to another night, NBC became the sitcom king with a slew of new shows like Silver Spoons, Bosom Buddies, Gimmie a Break, and Mama’s Family. Diff’rent Strokes also made the move from Thursday and stayed there until 1985.
By the mid-eighties, the classic ABC line up was gone. The network and CBS both filled Saturday night with a revolving list of short-lived shows while NBC added to their dominance by adding The Golden Girls, Amen, and 227 to the list of sitcoms. They also added the cop drama Hunter at 10 pm.
FOX became the fourth network in 1986 but really struck gold with the addition of COPS in 1989. The show would go on to air in primetime for 32 seasons. The late eighties also saw the addition of yet another hit sitcom on NBC, Empty Nest.
In the nineties, the number of hit shows became fewer but there were still some bright spots. FOX had another long-running hit with America’s Most Wanted which ran for 25 seasons. CBS had Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and the show that defined Saturday nights in the nineties for the network, Walker Texas Ranger. NBC had Sisters, which could be looked at as their last original hit on a Saturday night.
Network TV on Saturday night is now comprised of sports, news shows like Dateline, and repeats of programs that air on another night. It’s also a night that is aimed at older viewers. Gen X might be the last generation that really grew up watching primetime TV on Saturday nights. What were your favorite shows to watch on Saturday night?