Prime Time Saturday Night TV.

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?


Saturday Night’s Main Event: MAY 11, 1985

On May 11, 1985, Saturday Night’s Main Event aired on NBC in place of a Saturday Night Live rerun. This marked the return of Professional Wrestling to network Television for the first time since the 1950s.

Wrestling was one of the first true hit shows on television during the late forties and early fifties. Wrestling From Marigold on The Dumont Network and Wrestling from Hollywood on The Paramount Network made national stars out of Gorgeous George, Lou Thesz, Vern Gagne and many others. After the network shows got canceled, regional wrestling promotions all across the country started producing their own shows which aired on the local TV stations in markets where they promoted live events.

It was Cable that brought wrestling back to national television. Ted Turner’s Atlanta superstation, WTCG, later changed to WTBS, aired Georgia Championship Wrestling on Saturday nights. The WWE, then known as the WWF aired wrestling on The USA Network on Sundays morning, and Sunday evening. They also had a wrestling-themed talk show called Tuesday Night Titans on USA as well.

These shows were successful, but it really took MTV to take wrestling to the next level. MTV aired two successful wrestling specials, The Brawl to End It All in 1984 and The War to Settle the Score in 85. These specials originated with Cyndi Lauper’s music video for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” which featured Wrestling manager Lou Albano. Lauper and Albano then had a feud on WWF TV which lead to both of them being in the corner of two lady wrestlers fighting it out for the WWF Women’s Championship. Lauper represented Wendi Richter and Albano managed The Fabulous Moolah. When MTV aired the first special that featured the women’s championship match, it was the highest rated show in MTV’s then short history.

Due to this successful Rock N Wrestling connection on MTV, Dick Ebersol, the producer of Saturday Night Live at that time, partnered with Vince McMahon and the WWF to produce a series of specials that would air in SNL’s time slot when it was on hiatus. The specials were big rating hits during the mid and late eighties. The March 14, 1987 show which featured a battle royale that included Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant drew a rating of 11.6, which still stands as the highest rated show in that time slot.

Since Saturday Night’s Main Event was a hit, NBC decided to air some prime time specials with the WWF. The first of these shows simply called The Main Event, aired on February 5, 1988. It featured a WWF title match with Hulk Hogan vs Andre the Giant that was seen by 33 million viewers. It is still the most watched American wrestling program of all time.

Saturday Night’s Main aired on NBC up until 1991. Fox started airing the specials in 1992 and that lasted for two years. NBC revived the show in 2006 and aired specials until 2008.