1987-88 Sitcom Scorecard -- Unilateral Drops as ABC Rebounds, CBS Plunges and FOX Is a Joke

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Written Widening the Sitcom Berth by Bridger Cunningham

The 1987-88 experienced the expansion of 17 sitcoms, albeit the primary three networks' averages dropped drastically from the season before.  Why?  That is because a 4th network's debut, FOX, demanded changes.  As the data counted for shows which debuted by the close of March, FOX was omitted from previous data.  In order to include the full compass, the window widened into the summer window.  Two laughing stocks made their entrance into Nielsen data during the 1987-88 season.  FOX's ratings were so poor, they called for their own classification in this table beneath the Anemic range.  The second "embarrassment" to debut this season was ABC's Full House, which registered in 71st place among the 124 entries.  It's a good thing ABC opted to renew this show over other failed Friday entries, as it remained a mainstay for 8 seasons and in 2016 would debut as one of Netflix's leading draws.

It is obvious from the blue paint covering the top of the chart NBC once again ruled the sitcom (and network) franchise.  Their ratings were down as their leaders "plunged" into the 20's (ha!), yet they possessed 9 sitcoms in the top 20 for the entire season.  ABC had its share of stinkers in the lower end of the register, and it somehow stabilized so it could overtake CBS on both the sitcom and overall Nielsen measures, ending a 4-year downturn of fortune.  CBS took ABC's 3rd place by a winder margin in sitcoms, followed by overall network ranks being nosed out in spring 1988.

The hype surrounding NBC's Cosby faded (slightly), yet Thursdays ruled as all four sitcoms ranked 7th place or higher.  Saturdays also presented the peacock with prominence as The Golden Girls bolstered its surrounding company into winning their timeslots.  The only casualty this evening was the final season of The Facts of Life, ending the only entry left from the 1970's as the girls bowed out.  Family Ties took a sharp plunge after moving from its plum Thursday timeslot to Sundays, yet managed to stabilize the network's soft Sunday lineup.  Making Mondays hairy paid off, as ALF hit its zenith during its second season.  Not only did it launch the greatest Halloween mask of the 80's only second to Jason's hockey mask, but it also helped stabilize the turbulence that hit Valerie's Family (previously Valerie, next to become the Hogan Family) amidst Valerie Harper's infamous dismissal from NBC.

The peacock managed to avoid two high-profile cast changes with their sitcoms remaining afloat.  In addition to Harper's dismissal (which resulted in the bittersweet killing off of the title character), Cheers fans were reeling from Shelley Long walking away from her landmark role, Diane Chambers as the series gained momentum.  The result?  NBC hired Kirstie Alley to play harried businesswoman Rebecca Howe.  The ratings were down from 1986-87 due to Cosby's loss, yet the show remained the 3rd place tentpole.  The network experienced mild hemorrhages from middling performers, yet The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd shipped off to cable network Lifetime in the first-ever broadcast to cable reprieve.

Blending comedy and drama added four additional entries into the sitcom roster, with ABC's The Wonder Years breaking into the top-10.  John Ritter dramedy Hooperman experienced moderate success on ABC, while CBS faltered with Frank's Place and NBC turned blue, literally, with Rags to Riches.  The Family-First era of sitcoms proved kind to ABC, as its sitcom roster enhanced surrounding Growing Pains and Who's the Boss anchoring Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  Initially powering through Tuesdays, ABC moved Growing Pains to Wednesday to liven up its soft ratings.  After Growing Pains moved mid-season, it helped launch new dramedy Wonder Years, as well as modest spinoff Just the Ten of Us.  Perfect Strangers moved to Fridays and helped mesh a disastrous lineup.

ABC Fridays experienced a cavalcade of scheduling mixups scattering 10 shows over the four timeslots.  After a last-minute renewal, Mr. Belvedere returned to embarrassing ratings.  It struggled to support a new lineup, leading ABC to move Perfect Strangers to anchor the evening in early 1988.  This move enabled the struggling Full House to gain momentum, as well as cement 90 minutes of programming.  CBS lost its stranglehold over Fridays with its soaps Dallas and Falcon Crest, and ABC seized the opportunity.  Seeing improved performance with its spring configuration, ABC opted to enlist Just the Ten of Us to move the next season and enrich its third comedy block evening.

CBS added 3 additional sitcoms to its roster, yet only renewed 3 of its 9 entries.  Designing Women maintained a respectable performance, yet Newhart and Kate and Allie experienced declines as they aged.  My Sister Sam blazed into 17th place the previous season, yet tanked in 100th place as the network egregiously moved it to an ill-fated Saturday timeslot.  Mid-season, CBS attempted to take on ABC Tuesdays to be trounced, dispensing of several sitcoms including My Sister Sam.  The Tiffany network tarnished, and their adult-based sitcoms failed to generate the heat of NBC sitcoms and ABC's family-friendly offerings.

The greatest laugh FOX created was how far down its sitcoms rated.  Married... With Children managed to outshine its fellow sitcoms, some of which could fit both of their ratings inside their meager measure.  FOX was ahead of its time belting out laughs from incarcerated dames with Women in Prison, a G-rated fare compared to Netflix's 2013 powerhouse Orange is the New Black.  The tone changed in the 1987-88 season as ABC and NBC displayed solid evenings, CBS lost its touch and FOX scraped the barrel.

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