Between 1982 and 2006, NBC’s Thursday night line-up was called “Must See TV”. For almost 25 years the night produced some of the most watched television shows in history, not to mention racking up numerous Emmy nominations and wins. For the most part they were all sitcoms, but for the 10 PM slot, a drama always capped off the night. The Thursday night line-up garnered dozens of Emmy Awards and was a ratings goldmine.
By 2007, NBC abandoned the motto for “Comedy Night Done Right,” and this fall, the line-up is once-again strong with Community, Parks and Recreation, The Office and a couple of newcomers in Whitney and Prime Suspect. We take look back at the most memorable shows from the pre-Office history of ““Must See TV”.
10. A Different World
In the realm of television spin-offs, A Different World is often overlooked. Originally it was a way to get Lisa Bonet out of Bill Cosby’s hair, but that lasted for one season. The show continued for five seasons after Bonet’s departure and was consistently in the top-10 most viewed shows of the season. It never was nominated for an Emmy, but tackled social issues more directly than The Cosby Show.
9. The Dramas (Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, ER)
Lumping these dramas together does each show injustice. For the duration of “Must See TV” each of these shows anchored the line-up. Originally, Hill Street Blues was not included under the umbrella of “Must See TV”, simply because it wasn’t a sitcom. After winning the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series four years in a row, NBC started marketing it differently. They did the same for L.A. Law (which won four Emmy’s as well). By the time ER rolled around, a drama was expected to close the night. Though the hospital drama never won the Emmy, it opened the door for medical dramas that flood our televisions today.
J.D. and the gang gave a completely absurd (and yet often the most realistic) look into the world of hospitals. Each episode didn’t center around some outlandish disease that everyone thought was lupus, only to find out it was something else in the last five minutes of the show. Instead Scrubs was character driven. It was consistently overlooked by the Emmy Awards, but viewership dwindled throughout the seasons. Still, the witty writing and off-beat characters deserved more. When NBC canceled the show, ABC was confident enough to pick it up for two more seasons.
7. Will & Grace
Will & Grace’s stat sheet speaks for itself: eight years on, 16 Emmy Awards and 83 nominations. It’s the most successful show to have gay principal characters. At first no one gave the sitcom a chance, but viewers fell in love with the complicated relationship between a gay man and a straight woman, as well as their absurd friends. Like many NBC shows, it wasn’t afraid to explore show-specific social issues, but also delve into what was happening in the world.
Frasier is arguably the best spin-off in television history. Kelsey Grammer played the character for 20 years, and made Dr. Crane the longest-running live-action character on TV. The show won more Outstanding Comedy Series awards than any other show with five, while Grammer won four Lead Actor awards. In total, the series won a record-tying 37 Emmy Awards during its run. Though it was about a psychiatrist, the heart of Frasier was Dr. Crane’s relationships with his father and brother. It also produced on of the longest “will they, won’t they” relationships with Niles and Daphne. Of course, they will.
5 – Family Ties
Who expected a show about a family’s political differences to be a hit? That’s exactly what Family Ties was. The sitcom took place during the early years of Regan’s administration and often dealt with Alex P. Keaton and his conservative views butting heads with his former hippy parents. It mirrored a move away from the free-spirited 1970s, to a more Reganomics-loving Me Generation. The show also launched Michael J. Fox into stardom and earned him three Lead Actor nominations.
Every show on the list relied on an ensemble cast to pull viewers into the world of the show. No show did that better than Friends. For 10 years we laughed, we cried, and we felt for Monica, Chandler, Rachel, Ross, Phoebe and Joey. The show spawned a hairstyle (The Rachel) the best pick-up line ever (How you doin’?), a coffeehouse craze and numerous other cultural phenomenon that could be a list within itself. On a critical front, it was nominated for 63 Emmy Awards and was the Best Comedy Series in 2002. Friends is also one of the few shows to debut in the top 10 and never leave it through the series’ entire run.
3. The Cosby Show
Though it only won two Emmy Awards, Bill Cosby’s magnum opus never left the top five in ratings until its final season. It was the most-watched show for the last half of the 1980s. A landmark for so many reasons, it paved the way for stand-up comics venturing into sitcoms. The Cosby Show is the third-longest running program with a predominantly black cast (behind The Jeffersons and Family Matters). Cosby fought against stereotypes of the ‘80s and showed the world an educated black family. The show broke the race barrier and rarely even needed to mention race.
It’s more than a bar where everybody knows your name. It was a lifestyle. Cheers rarely left the confines of the bar, but was able to weave slapstick comedy, romance and drama into the 11 seasons it was on the air. It started as the worst-rated series (74 out of 74) but climbed its way to the top 10 during the third season. Two casting changes couldn’t even slow it down. The ensemble cast all won awards in acting, as well as the show winning four Outstanding Comedy Series awards. Unlike many sitcoms that touch on serious social issues, the show never felt like an after-school special. Everything was done with sophisticated humor.
It’s really unfair to peg the other shows from “Must See TV” against Seinfeld. This show had unforgettable characters and storylines. George, Elaine and Kramer may not be perfect human beings, everyone can relate to the characteristics that make them cringe. Who doesn’t have a little bit of crazy in them? Or cheapness? Or wild fantasies? Seinfeld may not have been the best actor in the world, and the show may have let us down from time to time, but overall this is the one show that not only influenced pop culture, but helped create it. Just think about this: “yada, yada, yada,” “shrinkage,” “master of your domain” and “re-gifter”—the show about nothing even influenced our language. With 10 Emmy wins and 68 nominations, Seinfeld might just be the best show in NBC’s history.