The Shows of NBC's "Must See TV"

NBC has ruled Thursday nights for a long, long time - close to twenty years. The emergence of Thursday as NBC's strongest night of television catapulted the network from a struggling, peretual loser in the network battles to the number one television network. This is the most profitable night in television history. I was wondering at one point, what are the shows that have made up the Must-see TV lineup over the years? Granted, I haven't been a faithful watcher of many (if any) of these shows, so I'm perhaps not the best equipped to come up with this information, but not seeing a similar history of Thursday nights on the network, I've put together this work-in-progress. I think it started with "The Cosby Show" back in the early 80's, and since then, NBC has managed to stick to its tried-and-true format of four situation comedies and one drama. The shows on the hour have always been strong, while the 8:30 and particularly, the 9:30 slots have been mixed, especially in recent years. Here's a look, in reverse chronological order, of the shows that have made up this night. I've only included shows that began the season. If you know of mid-season replacements, I'd be interested in knowing about them. Please feel free to email me with additions or suggestions. All times are given in Eastern Standard/Daylight Time - they show differently in the West.

2002-2003

 
8:00

Friends

8:30 Scrubs
9:00 Will & Grace
9:30 Good Morning, Miami
10:00 ER
   

2001-2002

 
8:00 Friends
8:30 Inside Schwartz
9:00 Will & Grace
9:30 Just Shoot Me
10:00 ER
   

2000-2001

 
8:00 Friends
8:30 Cursed
9:00 Will & Grace
9:30 Just Shoot Me
10:00 ER
   

1999-2000

 
8:00 Friends
8:30 Jesse
9:00 Frasier
9:30 Stark Raving Mad
10:00 ER
   

1998-1999

 
8:00 Friends
8:30 Jesse
9:00 Frasier
9:30 Veronica's Closet
10:00 ER
   

1997-1998

 
8:00 Friends
8:30 Union Square
9:00 Seinfeld
9:30 Veronica's Closet
10:00 ER
   

1996-1997

 
8:00 Friends
8:30 The Single Guy
9:00 Seinfeld
9:30 Suddenly Susan
10:00 ER
   

1995-1996

 
8:00 Friends
8:30 The Single Guy
9:00 Seinfeld
9:30 Caroline In The City
10:00 ER
   

1994-1995

 
8:00 Mad About You
8:30 Friends
9:00 Seinfeld
9:30 Madman Of The People
10:00 ER
   

1993-1994

 
8:00 Mad About You
8:30 Wings
9:00 Seinfeld
9:30 Frasier
10:00 L.A. Law
   

1992-1993

 
8:00 A Different World
8:30 Final Appeal
9:00 Cheers
9:30 Wings
10:00 L.A. Law
   
1991-1992  
8:00 The Cosby Show
8:30 A Different World
9:00 Cheers
9:30 Wings
10:00 L.A. Law
   

1990-1991

 
8:00 The Cosby Show
8:30 A Different World
9:00 Cheers
9:30 Grand
10:00 L.A. Law
   

1989-1990

 
8:00 The Cosby Show
8:30 A Different World
9:00 Cheers
9:30 Dear John...
10:00 L.A. Law
   

1988-1989

 
8:00 The Cosby Show
8:30 A Different World
9:00 Cheers
9:30 Dear John...
10:00 L.A. Law
   

1987-1988

 
8:00 The Cosby Show
8:30 A Different World
9:00 Cheers
9:30 Night Court
10:00 Hill Street Blues
   

1986-1987

 
8:00 The Cosby Show
8:30 Family Ties
9:00 Cheers
9:30 Night Court
10:00 Hill Street Blues
   

1985-1986

 
8:00 The Cosby Show
8:30 Family Ties
9:00 Cheers
9:30 Night Court
10:00 Hill Street Blues
   

1984-1985

 
8:00 The Cosby Show
8:30 Family Ties
9:00 Cheers
9:30 Night Court
10:00 Hill Street Blues
   

This was the beginning of the "Must see TV" formuala for planning Thursday nights (4 sitcoms, one drama). Things looked a little different before the 1984 season:

1983-1984

 
8:00 Fame
9:00 Cheers
9:30 Taxi
10:00 Hill Street Blues
   

1982-1983

 
8:00 Fame
9:00 Cheers
9:30 Taxi
10:00 Hill Street Blues
   

1981-1982

 
8:00 Harper Valley P.T.A.
8:30 Lewis and Clark
9:00 Diff'rent Strokes
9:30 Gimme A Break!
10:00 Hill Street Blues
   

1980-1981

 
8:00 Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
9:00 movie of the week

1980 was the year that Brandon Tartkoff took over as the head of entertainment at NBC, and it was his skills in choosing shows and slotting shows (as the director of programming) that helped NBC evolve from the drivel they were showing at the beginning of 1980 into the powerhouse comedies and dramas that have helped define popular culture for the last twenty years.