The Masked Scheduler is looking back at the scheduling and business decisions that built the Must-See TV lineup on NBC. You can go here to read previous installments.

Back in the mid-1990s, when scheduling moves really mattered to the bottom line of a broadcast network, two of my guiding principles were:

  • There are three moves to the scheduling game — your move, the other guy’s move and your response to that move. There is not a fourth.
  • Let the other guy do the dirty work for you. Don’t overthink a scheduling move; let your competition do that.

When we moved “Frasier” and “Wings” to Tuesday to establish a second night of Must-See TV for the 1994-95 season, we knew we would be going onto ABC’s successful turf and that we were putting a show that we had a lot of faith in against one of their heavy hitters in “Roseanne.” We had done our homework, and based on feedback from the upfront, we knew there would be a financial upside from this move.

As an aside, we were making another “bold” move on Thursday at 10 p.m. by putting our new medical drama “ER” against CBS’ “Chicago Hope.” “CH” was also a freshman medical drama, but it was created David E. Kelley, and CBS had announced the pickup and time period far in advance. CBS acted like it was their time period and we were the encroachers. More on this down the road.

When I got the call from Don Ohlmeyer that Ted Harbert at ABC was “threatening” to make the move of “Home Improvement” from Wednesday to Tuesday to take on “Frasier,” he told me, “The fun’s over. Let’s put ‘Frasier’ back on Thursday.” My response to Don was that ABC seemed more worried about this move than we were, and that this will result in diminished ratings for both of their big tentpole shows. I also told Don that if they moved “Home Improvement,” ABC would make the Tuesday face-off the story of the new season, which means a boatload of free publicity.

As always, Don (in accordance with the GE culture) was willing to give me all the rope I needed to hang myself and asked me to work with Eric Cardinal, our West Coast research head, to do more competitive analysis of the move. We found that “Home Improvement” would win a head-to-head contest with “Frasier,” but that our comedy would more than hold its own in the time period. When you factor in the gross ratings improvement for us on Tuesday/Thursday and the increase in sales, this looked like a big win for us in spite of the ABC move. In addition, we calculated that ABC would take a gross ratings hit on their two big comedy nights if they made the move.

When we didn’t react to Harbert’s initial threat, Ted kept calling over the summer, telling Ohlmeyer they had hired consultants to look into this and that they all agreed that ABC should make the move. I kept reassuring Don we were doing the right thing, and in success we had set ourselves up for long-term profitability. ABC waited until late in the summer to announce the flip, figuring that we would react. We did nothing.

Paramount, which owned both “Frasier” and “Wings,” was apoplectic, and put pressure on us to unscramble the egg. I ran into Kelsey Grammer at some affiliate function after ABC made the change. I introduced myself and told him that he should see this as a sign of the faith that we had in the series. I also explained that, if the move works, it significantly increased the value of “Frasier” in syndication. It was no longer the show that followed “Seinfeld” but the show that opened up another Must-See TV night for NBC. I told him if Paramount couldn’t figure that out, I would personally write the syndication presentation for them. What an a–hole I was back then.

Sure enough, this Tuesday confrontation became the talk of the fall. We had bet the ranch on this move. We also believed that on Thursday at 10, we had the stronger medical drama in “ER.” The 1994-95 season was going to be really interesting.

To be continued …

Posted by:The Masked Scheduler

The Masked Scheduler is a former broadcast network executive. Hailing from parts unknown, he now comments on the TV business for TV by the Numbers.

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