The Masked Scheduler is looking back at the scheduling and business decisions that built the Must-See TV lineup on NBC. Previous installments: Part 1, part 2, part 3

It’s May 1993. It’s pilot week. We go into the process knowing that we have three of our four Thursday night comedies: “Wings,” “Seinfeld” and the “Cheers” spinoff “Frasier.” We were searching for our 8 p.m. show. The family hour was still sort of a thing, so our hope was to find something more family-oriented for the leadoff spot on the night.

Our comedy development team had placed their chips on a show starring Henry Winkler. “Monty” was a Rush Limbaugh-like character, and the comedy was both workplace and family. “Monty” had elements of “All in the Family,” including David Schwimmer playing a version of the Rob Reiner role.

There was a lot of anticipation as we gathered to screen the “Monty” pilot, and there was dead silence in the room during the screening. Everyone filed out of the room with the realization that we did not have a leadoff comedy for Thursday night.

I stood in the empty executive conference room where we screened the pilots and also set the schedule. I opened the scheduling board and tried to figure out our options. Although I understood the constraints of what we could put at 8 p.m., there seemed to be only one option — and it was sitting on Saturday night, where it had been sent into exile in January.

I moved “Mad About You” to the Thursday 8 p.m. slot and called Eric Cardinal, a good friend and our head of research, and asked him to come over to the conference room. Eric agreed it was our best option, but we both knew there would be issues with going with an all adult block of comedies.

We called Warren Littlefield and Don Ohlmeyer into the room, and it was agreed that we needed to do this. We discussed it with sales and broadcast standards, so we did our due diligence.

There was one hiccup before we nailed the night down. Don found out that “Married … with Children” might be in play, and we debated whether to make a run for it as our leadoff Thursday comedy. Needless to say, this discussion was not as easy as whether we should move “Mad” over to Thursday. Fortunately, that decision was made for us, as FOX renewed the show before we could make a move.

We announced “Mad About You” as our Thursday night leadoff comedy, and not surprisingly, we got a lot of heat for the move. I was personally singled out by some groups as one step removed from the devil. It all seems sort of funny now, but it was a big thing back then. With “Mad” at 8, we had reinvented the comedy block and we were one step closer to Must-See TV.

For me the Thursday night of “Mad About You,” “Wings,” “Seinfeld” and “Frasier” rivaled “Cosby,” “Family Ties,” “Cheers” and “Night Court” as the two most perfect nights of comedy on NBC. I would tell people that when you have a four-comedy block, one of them becomes the “walk the dog” show. These two nights were not favorites among the canine population.

As for “Monty,” that show about the Rush Limbaugh-ish character? NBC passed on it, but it hit a soft spot with Rupert Murdoch over at FOX, and in January 1994 “Monty” premiered on FBC. It did not go well.

Finally, quietly we were building a comedy-heavy schedule. We went into the 1993-94 season with 14 comedies on the schedule. They weren’t all gems, but they were sales-friendly, repeatable and modular. We also went into the new season commitment free. This would allow us to make the big move in 1994-95.

That’s next.

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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