Saturday, December 30, 2006

The 1992-1993 CBS Monday Night Schedule

In the history of television I can think of very few perfect nights when it comes to American network broadcasting, nights when every single show on a given night and on a particular network was good. In my opinion one of the few times this occurred was during the 1992-1993 season, when CBS had a perfect Monday night lineup.

In some respects it does not surprise me that CBS would have a perfect Monday night lineup that season. While they aired some bad shows on Monday night throughout the Eighties and early Nineties (does anyone out there remember My Sister Sam or Major Dad?), for the most part CBS had been on a roll when it came to that night for some time. Throughout the Eighties Monday night on CBS had been home to M*A*S*H, Newhart, and Designing Women. Indeed, the making of CBS's perfect Monday night lineup during the 1992-1993 season can be traced back to the 1988-1989 season, when Murphy Brown debuted. During the 1992-1993 season, Murphy Brown was the oldest TV show on CBS's Monday night lineup. It was also still very much in its prime.

CBS's Monday night lineup during the 1992-1993 season opened with Evening Shade. The series had debuted during the 1990 season on Friday night, but eventually moved to Monday night where it spent the rest of its run. On the surface Evening Shade had everything going for it. It was created by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. who had also created Designing Women. Its cast featured several big names. Set in Evening Shade, Arkansas, it featured movie star Burt Reynolds as a former pro football player who had returned home to coach high school football. His wife was played by Taxi veteran Marilu Henner. The cast was filled out by movie stars Hal Holbrook, Ossie Davis (whose character narrated the series), and Charles Durning, as well as character actor Michael Jeter. Not only did the show have a great cast, but Evening Shade also boasted some of the best scripts of any sitcom on at the time. Quite frankly, it was one of the funniest shows of its time.

Unfortunately, despite its big name cast and stellar scripts, Evening Shade did not meet with a good deal of success. Its rating, although hardly bottom of the barrel, did not make it one of television's biggest hits. The series ended its run after only four years and has only been seen in reruns sporadically ever since. I find this sad, as it is a show that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.

Following Evening Shade on Monday night during the 1992-1993 season was another creation of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. The series featured John Ritter and Markie Post as a married couple who also happen to be a senator's aide and a political reporter respectively. The cast was rounded out by Billy Bob Thornton (before he became famous) and Ed Asner. The series was a combination of romantic comedy (the relationship between Ritter and Post's characters being central to its premise) and a satire on current, political affairs. Like Evening Shade, it featured some of the best writing on television at the time. Sadly, it was never a huge hit. The series lasted only three years before going off the air. It hasn't been seen very much in reruns since then, although it is now available on DVD.

As mentioned earlier, Murphy Brown was the oldest of the shows on CBS's 1992-1993 Monday night lineup. Created by Diane English and debuting in the fall of 1988, the series focused on the title character played by Candace Bergen. Murphy was an outspoken anchor and investigative reporter for the fictional news magazine FYI. Set in Washington D.C., the show was well known for taking potshots at both the American political scene and American television. In 1992 the series was both at the height of its success and the height of its notoriety. During the 1991-1992 season, Murphy, unmarried at the time, discovered that she was pregnant. During the 1992 [residential campaign, then vice president Dan Quayle attacked the series in a speech given that May as "...mocking the importance of fathers..." If Quayle's intention was to persuade Americans not to watch the series, he failed miserably. Even more viewers tuned into the series. I might also add, the series seemed to get even better after it had been singled out by the Vice President--it produced some of its funniest episodes during this season. At any rate, Murphy Brown ran another six years (for a total of ten years on the air) and went onto a healthy afterlife in reruns and on DVD.

Following Murphy Brown was a new sitcom, Love and War. Created by Diane English, the series focused on a restaurant owner (played by Susan Dey) who has an off again, on again relationship with a self centred sports writer (played by Jay Thomas). Arguably, its first season was also its worst season--I've always thought Susan Dey had all the charisma of a block of a wood. That having been said, Jay Thomas and the patrons of the restaurant (including the hilarious Joel Murray as Ray) were fantastic. The series improved greatly when Dey left and the talented Annie Potts joined the cast with the 1993-1994 season, but even in its first season it was a good show. Unfortunately, it only lasted three years.

CBS's Monday night during the 1992-1993 season was closed by Northern Exposure. The show debuted as a summer replacement series in July of 1990, garnering such a following that it made its way onto CBS's 1990-1991 fall schedule. It was one of the few summer replacement shows in the history of television to have actually been picked up for the fall. At any rate, it had a distinguished lineage. Its creators, Joshua Brand and John Falsey, had been producers on St. Elsewhere. The series centred around New York lawyer Joel Fleischman, who finds himself in the small town of Cicely, Alaska as a means to pay for his medical education. Fleischman is not only a fish out of water in this new environment (Cicely not only being a small town, but a very eccentric one at that), but finds himself romantically drawn to pilot Maggie O'Connell (played by Janine Turner), who is in many ways his polar opposite. While Fleischman would appear to be the central character on the show, Northern Exposure was largely an ensemble series, with one of the best ensembles on television. There was Ed (Darren E. Burrows), the young, aspiring Native American filmmaker, Marilyn (Elaine Miles), Fleischman's unusually quiet receptionist, Chris Stevens (John Corbett), the philosophical radio personality and ex-con, Holling Vincouer (John Collum), the owner of the local eatery (The Brick), and too many others to name. Northern Exposure was essentially an intellectual show with elements of both comedy and drama. It often explored existential themes and even employed fantasy and dream sequences, and there were even episodes which flashed back to Cicely's past. Its influences ranged from psychologist Carl Jung to Native American culture to mythologist Joseph Campbell to the TV series Twin Peaks to the works of Kafka and Dostoevsky. Not only did the show receive fairly good ratings for much of its run, but it also received many awards, including Emmys and Golden Globes. The show ran for five years before going onto a successful afterlife in rerun and on DVD.

Sadly, this lineup would not last. With the 1993-1994 season, the inferior Dave's World would take the place of Hearts Afire on Monday night. By the 1994-1995 season Evening Shade would be off the air. Indeed, while I obviously consider all of these shows good, it is worth noting that only Murphy Brown had a long run. Northern Exposure had the second longest run, at around five and a half seasons. Sadly, the rest ran at most three to four years. Worse yet, only Murphy Brown and Northern Exposure would see any success in syndication. The rest simply disappeared from the television landscape. Unfortunately, the quality of a show does not always guarantee its longevity. And at least three out of the five series are on DVD: Hearts Afire, Murphy Brown, and Northern Exposure. Perhaps eventually Love and War and Evening Shade will find their way on DVD as well.

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