Saturday, October 9, 2004

Whatever Happened to Saturday Night?

I am beginning to wonder if the two oldest television networks (CBS and NBC) are ever going to show anything new on Saturday night prime time again. Tonight, on CBS, there was a repeat of this week's Survivor, a rerun of Without a Trace, and 48 Hours. On NBC, there was a repeat of this week's The Apprentice, a rerun of the pilot for Medical Investigations, and a rerun of Law and Order: SVU. UPN and the WB don't air anything on Saturday night. It seems that only two networks air new programming on Saturday night. ABC has The Wonderful World of Disney scheduled for Saturday nights and Fox still shows Cops and America's Most Wanted.

I first noticed this trend towards reruns on Saturday night a few seasons ago. NBC had been showing movies under the classic heading NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, then, for whatever reason, they started showing reruns of Law and Order and its spinoffs. It seems that this season CBS has followed NBC's lead. In some ways, I find this disappointiing, given the history of great televison on Saturday night.

In the Fifties, CBS aired such shows as Perry Mason, Have Gun Will Travel, and Gunsmoke on Saturday night. NBC aired Your Show of Shows. In the Sixties, CBS showed The Defenders and The Jackie Gleason Show. On NBC the night was home to NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies. The Golden Age for Saturday night television was perhaps the Seventies (ironic, considering how bad television could be in that decade). CBS aired such classic series as All in the Family, M*A*S*H, The Bob Newhart Show, and The Carol Burnett Show on Saturday night. Indeed, I have fond memories of watching that line up as a child. NBC still showed Saturday Night at the Movies. Now, where these classic shows once aired, there are reruns.

In some ways I can understand why CBS and NBC would choose to air reruns on Saturday night. Despite the number of classic shows that have aired on Saturday night, I have never thought that it probably gave the networks very high ratings. After all, it is the height of the weekend. I would imagine a large number of Americans elect to go to the movies, to bars, to restaurants, or engage in other activities on Saturday night rather than watching television. In fact, I would imagine this was the case even when televison viewing was at its height in the Fifties and Sixties. I can see why networks would choose to air something as cheap as reruns rather than spend money on new programming on Saturday night.

Still, the fact is that many of those classic shows that aired on Saturday night got very good ratings. In the Fifites, both Have Gun Will Travel and Gunsmoke were among the highest rated shows on television. In the Seventies, All in the Family was the number one show on television for several seasons. Its fellow shows on CBS that night did quite well, too. There may actually be fewer television viewers available on Saturday night than other nights, but those viewers who are available are willing to tune into quality programming. Instead of reruns, then, perhaps CBS and NBC need to look for the next All in the Family, Carol Burnett Show, or M*A*S*H.

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