Thursdays on NBC in 1984 were the start of "Must See TV". After attempting lower quality (but still entertaining) fare like GIMME A BREAK, MAMA'S FAMILY and WE GOT IT MADE, the proud peacock network wiped the slate clean with a little something called THE COSBY SHOW.Bill Cosby already had two previous NBC series (I SPY in 1965 and THE BILL COSBY SHOW in 1969), so expectations were not that high despite Bill's prediction that he would "save NBC". Turned out he was right - the show became the biggest hit of the decade (ranking #1 for 5 straight seasons) and led NBC to unexpected ratings glory. The trailblazing show also can also be noted for ushering in two waves of programming trends that continue today: sitcoms about African-American families (though Norman Lear's 70's shows created the genre) and shows built around stand-up comics. The Huxtables appealled to a wide audience and set the standard for which all new family sitcoms are measured. I was a loyal viewer for the first few years, until around the time the lackluster spin-off A DIFFERENT WORLD appeared in 1987.8:30 belonged FAMILY TIES, which premiered in 1982 as a modest hit, but became a ratings powerhouse in the post-COSBY slot. TIES spent the next three seasons in the top ten, until NBC shuttled the Keatons off to Sunday for its final two years. The show made a star out of Michael J. Fox and launched a cute spinoff called DAY BY DAY. It's "liberal vs. conservative" theme was a throwback to ALL IN THE FAMILY, though this time was set in an educated upper middle class household. It was a well written and performed show that I enjoyed tremendously.CHEERS followed at 9PM. This series also began in 1982 and was on the verge of cancellation from the very beginning. This season, thanks in part to COSBY, is when the show really took off. It finally crcaked the Top Ten in 1985-86, where it stayed until the bar closed its doors in 1993. Ted Danson starred as ex-baseball player Sam Malone who ran a Boston sports bar named Cheers. Regular customers were likable accountant Norm (George Wendt) and know-it-all postal worker Cliff (John Ratzenberger). The bar staff was Sam, Coach and waitresses prissy Diane (Shelley Long) and sassy Carla (Rhea Perlman). Cast changes began when newcomer Woody Harrelson replaced the late Nicholas Colasanto ("Coach") in 1985. Kelsey Grammer's Frasier Crane join the gang in 1984 and Shelly Long left the show in 1987 to be replaced by Kirstie Alley as tough Rebecca. The show spun-off Carla's ex Nick in THE TORTELLIS (1987) and FRASIER (1993-2004). The show is a classic and a textbook example of how to do a great ensemble comedy in the tradition of MARY TYLER MOORE. Elements of CHEERS can be found in other successful NBC shows that followed, such as SEINFELD, FRIENDS and THE OFFICE.
At 9:30, NIGHT COURT filled the highly coveted post-CHEERS slot. This BARNEY MILLER-esque schtickcom had an ever-revolving cast during its nine long seasons. While highly watchable, it's not considered a classic by any means. The show made the Top Ten for two seasons (1986-88) before NBC decided to move it around the schedule. During it's run, the show aired in 14 different time slots.Topping off the night at 10PM was HILL STREET BLUES, the jewel in NBC's crown. Like CHEERS, the series premiered to low ratings and struggled for its first few years but by 1984 it was in the Top 30. The serialized police comedy-drama from MTM featured a bevy of fine actors and compelling plotlines, winning many awards over the years and inspiring many shows that followed, including L.A. LAW, NYPD BLUE, THE PRACTICE, BOSTON LEGAL and the current NBC show SOUTHLAND. A short-lived spinoff named BEVERLY HILLS BUNTZ aired from 1987-88. Tomorrow: Fridays.