Dec. 24, 1992: It was a cold dreary day at the NBC offices in Burbank. Oh, who am I kidding, it was probably sunny and in the 80s, but in the scheduling room the mood was anything but bright.
It was the first year without “The Cosby Show” leading off our Thursday comedy block. “A Different World” (another time period commitment, this one to Carsey/Werner) was not giving us the leadoff support we needed to maintain dominance on this important night. We had put a freshman comedy, “Rhythm and Blues” (white DJ at an all-black R&B station, yeah), at 8:30, and it was not holding the diminished “DW” lead-in. “Cheers” was in its final season, and then there was the commitment to “Wings” at 9:30.
While most of the lot was heading home for Christmas and the usual shutdown of the biz between Dec. 25 and the new year, we were having yet another crisis meeting to figure out what to do with our schedule. We did not have a good fall, and with the exception of “Mad About You,” our new shows were floundering. We were also relying on a lot more unscripted than NBC was accustomed to. Desperate times.
It was time to do what I had been waiting to do for a year and a half. I went to the scheduling board and moved “Wings” down to 8:30 and took “Seinfeld” from its Wednesday night slot and moved it behind “Cheers.” I told everyone that we no longer needed to keep “Wings” behind “Cheers,” and John Agoglia, our head of business affairs, nodded. “Seinfeld” needed to move because we needed a place for “Homicide: Life on the Street,” and we were going to hammock it between “Unsolved Mysteries” (which was a top 25 show that season) and “Law & Order.”
I wasn’t done. I told everyone it was time to circle the wagons on Thursday night, and I moved “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” to the 8 p.m. slot. We were still in the era where 8-9 p.m. was considered the “family hour,” and I felt that this would give us our strongest Thursday night. Warren Littlefield fortunately had a better idea. He asked Paramount, the “Cheers” studio, for additional repeats of the show, making the argument that it would help “Wings” in the transition to 8:30. Paramount agreed, and we had our new, commitment-free Thursday of “Cheers” (R), “Wings,” “Cheers” and “Seinfeld.”
We needed to find a slot for “Mad About You,” so we parked it on Saturday night. It had a surprisingly strong run there, and as we’ll see, it played an important role in putting together the 1993-94 schedule.
Internally the “Seinfeld” move was not universally embraced. There were several people, including some in sales, who felt that “Seinfeld” was too small a show to go behind our biggest comedy and that we were putting too much pressure on a show about nothing. “Seinfeld” was holding its own in a time period with “Home Improvement,” “Melrose Place” and “In the Heat of the Night.” This was before social media was a thing, but many of us could feel the momentum being generated by the show.
“Seinfeld” moved to Thursday in early January and exceeded our expectations. That February, Don Ohlmeyer arrived to run the West Coast operation. A week after his arrival we all headed to Croton, outside New York City, for an NBC management meeting. We were all in fear for our jobs and we spent three days getting beat up about both our performance and the future of broadcast television.
At the close of the meeting Jack Welch walked in to address us. To this day, I remember Jack’s short speech:
“You guys are doing a great job. ‘Seinfeld’s’ working on Thursday. You’re a hit away from turning this around.”
And he walked out.
The “Seinfeld” move worked. We were treading water at 8. “Cheers” was entering the home stretch, and we still needed an 8 p.m. show for the fall. That show happened to be sitting over on Saturday night, but we didn’t realize it yet.
To be continued …