Though the spoils of the battleground grow smaller and smaller each season, there are still millions of dollars at stake as the networks go into the fall season girded for their annual battle.
This fight is won with fortresses, constructed block by half-hour block. You take a "Murphy Brown," put a "Designing Women" behind it, move an "Evening Shade" to the top of the night, bolster a "Major Dad" in the middle, finish up with the surprise weapon of "Northern Exposure," and you have a night that can stand dominant, probably for years to come.
CBS' Monday is close to what NBC's Thursday used to be, filled with shows that are both good and popular and that keep the audience around for the entire evening.
Going into this fall, ABC knew it had similar potential with "Roseanne" at the heart of Tuesday. So it moved "Full House" from Friday, put in a touted newcomer, "Home Improvement," kept "Coach" and tried to elevate the finale with "Homefront."
So far this season, the "Full House" move is working and "Home Improvement" is the highest rated of the new shows, barely losing any of its lead-in audience. "Roseanne" was the No. 1 show last week and "Coach" came in No. 7. It's the 10 o'clock caboose that's holding up the parade as "Homefront" drops almost seven ratings points from its lead-in, doing a number "thirtysomething" could have done. ABC seems one block away from a fortress.
Wednesday is a more problematical area. ABC does OK with "Dinosaurs," "Wonder Years" and "Doogie Howser, M.D." at the top of the night, but then the audience flees the more sophisticated fare of "Sibs," "Anything but Love" and "Good & Evil." Indeed, the silly soap "Good & Evil" is now a prime candidate for first cancellation honors.
That's if another Wednesday night show over on CBS isn't sent to the chopping block first. CBS had high hopes that "Royal Family" would rule at 8 o'clock, but it's third in its time period. The show that's in real trouble, though, is the one following it as "Teech" drops to an embarrassingly low rating at 8:30.
Meanwhile, the once-dominant NBC gets through Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday decently, if not spectacularly. Thursday is still strong -- led by "Cheers" -- if no longer awesome. But when NBC was the clear ratings champ, it made it to the top not just with blockbuster hits, but also by avoiding
disasters. And now it's got two on its hands -- Friday and Sunday.
Indeed, the entire first two hours of Friday -- the news block of "Real Life" and "Expose" and the comedies "Dear John" and "Flesh n' Blood" -- have to be considered in serious jeopardy. "Reasonable Doubts" at 10 doesn't get a big audience but improves on its lead-in enough to be considered safe. First off the bench on Fridays for NBC may well be "Matlock."
For Sundays, NBC had high hopes for James Garner's "Man of the People" and Robert Guillaume's "Pacific Station," but they have just about disappeared from view on the Nielsen charts. This is too valuable a night to stick with such losers. They should go soon, maybe over to Friday nights.
As for Fox, neither "Drexell's Class," which comes after "The Simpsons," nor "Roc," which follows "In Living Color," can hang TTC onto its lead-in audience. But both perform respectably, giving Fox the beginnings of two full nights of decently rated programming, the type of fortresses that protects a network's fortunes.