The 1993-94 season was the pivotal moment in the history of NBC’s successful run as not only the No. 1 network, but also the network with the most appealing audience to advertisers. The centerpiece of that was our Thursday night comedy block. This was a win-win-win for the network:
- Big 18-49 ratings
- An upscale, highly educated, urban audience
- Airing on the most important night for advertisers — Thursday
Of course, there was uncertainty as to how our new Thursday line-up of “Mad About You,” “Wings,” “Seinfeld” and “Frasier” would perform. “Mad” was leading off a night for the first time and going against “The Simpsons” on FOX. “Seinfeld” no longer had “Cheers” as a lead-in and was now the cleanup hitter, and we had no idea that “Frasier” would turn out to be a classic sitcom.
Regardless, we went into the ’93-’94 season confident that we were moving in the right direction, and we decided we needed something to signal that.
Here’s my version of what happened next.
Every afternoon at 2:30, about 10 senior executives would head up to Don Ohlmeyer’s office for what we called the “2:30 Meeting,” and you had to be there right at 2:30. Don had this thing about being prompt. This meeting was a byproduct of the General Electric sensibility filtering into the network. QMI stood for Quick Market Intelligence, and its purpose was to make sure the top executives were all aware of both internal and external events that could impact decision-making. Information would be shared and strategies and responses would be laid out. It actually worked.
In the spring of ’93, after we had set the schedule for the following fall, we were at a 2:30 meeting. I brought up ABC’s TGIF Friday night schedule. I always felt that they did a fantastic job branding that night, where the whole was more than the sum of its parts, and that we should think about our Thursday night in a similar way. Don turned to Vince Manze and John Miller, our marketing heads, and told them to go off and come up with a brand for the night. They came back with Must-See TV, and we went into the ’93-’94 season with a rallying cry for the most important night on our schedule.
Thursday night lived up to the brand. “Mad”/”Wings” built a foundation for “Seinfeld,” which exceeded our expectations in terms of its broad appeal without the “Cheers” lead-in. The quality of the “Frasier” episodes continued to grow over the season, and it won an Emmy in its freshman year.
For a scheduler, this night was perfection, and I did not change a thing all season. One of the secrets to “Seinfeld’s” success was that I had 20-plus episodes that were still virtually unseen by most fans of the show. These were the episodes that aired on Wednesday night during the show’s first two full seasons. I had several third runs, and when “Seinfeld” needed a repeat, these episodes played like first-run episodes to a good portion of the audience.
As successful as we were, there was more to come. That development season Warner Bros. brought us two shows — “Friends” and “ER” — that would solidify Thursday as a night for the ages. In addition, in midseason we premiered “Homicide: Life on the Street” on Wednesday night, and we all believed that it would be the show to replace “LA Law” on Thursdays at 10.
Next, we’ll look at the 1994 pilot season, a threat to my life and a restless night epiphany.