Ask Jackson: July 2020

Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! About a month ago, I said I was interested in doing a Q&A, inviting readers here to submit questions for me to answer in a future post. Well, here’s our first go-round with such an entry. Thanks to everyone who submitted!

 

Nat asks… Since you’ve shared your favorite TV seasons of the 1950s – 1990s for sitcoms, what do you think is the best of the 2000s?

As usual, I think the best season of the decade has to be the one that best represents it. Since the 2000s is an odd mix of aging multi-cams and their less-than-satisfying successors, along with single-cam innovators and their hit-and-miss mainstream descendants, the season where they mix the most organically (or inorganically) is my pick. That would be 2005-’06, which has past-their-prime titans like Will & Grace and The King Of Queens, with the next generation, Two And A Half Men and How I Met Your Mother, and no-longer-new revolutionaries such as Curb Your Enthusiasm and Arrested Development, alongside the networks’ most rewarding play towards this new emerging style: The Office, from which the best of NBC’s late ’00s/early ’10s comedies sprung. So, 2005-2006 is the season that best tells the story of the decade.

 

Joey has a similar question… What do you think is the best multi-camera show to premiere in the 21st century?

Mom has some of the best character work and joke-writing of the 2010s, motivating serious issues like drug addiction and alcoholism through well-defined leads with well-defined relationships. It’s not as good as it once was (there are Christy problems), but I think at its peak, it was more consistent and more commendably written than most of the era’s other multi-cams, including Lorre’s earlier hits (Two And A Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, both of which I think were much more derivative and unoriginal — a horny Odd Couple with a kid and a quirky Friends but with nerds). Incidentally, I’d say two other standout multi-cams of the 21st century have been The Carmichael Show and One Day At A Time (both from the ’10s also).

 

esoteric1234 wonders…Any sitcoms you regret doing on sitcom tuesday?

Not officially, but I definitely admit to thinking coverage of both Dream On and The John Larroquette Show would be more exciting and revealing, informing our looks at other series — and that didn’t really happen. I think our study of the sitcom genre did not need them.

 

MDay991 wants to know… What sitcom do you think declined the most in quality over the years?

Of the sitcoms I’ve studied and covered for this blog, I think the series that had the greatest qualitative descent over the course of its run is All In The Family (and that’s not even counting the further decline of Archie Bunker’s Place). It went from being the best sitcom on television in 1971 to one of the most mediocre by 1979: a sin perhaps worse than plain rottenness.

 

Toby Griffith has a request… Love your post with Nielsen ratings and rankings from the 1960s and early 1970s. Do you have information from the rest of the 70’s, like say 1974-1979? There are some shows in there I’d love to see where they ended up!

Yes, I do. Please remember that the commonly cited Top 30 ratings data that we have claims to measure the stats of 1974-’75, 1975-’76, 1976-’77, 1977-’78, and 1978-’79 from “September 197X to April 197Y” for each season. Accordingly, there may be some discrepancies with these clippings, depending on the timeframe parameters cited and used.

Here’s Variety’s take on 1974-’75, from the “premiere” to April 20th.

Here’s Variety’s take on 1975-’76, from the “premiere” to April 18th.

Here’s Variety’s take on 1976-’77, from the “premiere” to April 17th.

Here’s Variety’s take on 1977-’78, from the “premiere” to April 23rd.

                       

Here’s Variety’s take on 1978-’79, from the “premiere” to April 22nd, plus a correction.

     

 

Have a question for me? Submit your queries at the “Ask Jackson (Q&A)” link in the menu bar above. If I get enough responses, this could become a regular feature. 

Ask Jackson (Q&A)

 

 

Come back next week for another Wildcard! And stay tuned for more Andy Griffith!

24 thoughts on “Ask Jackson: July 2020

  1. Nooooo — John Larroquette Show was astounding! Until NBC mucked with it, to make it more “accessible.” Umm, a show about an alcoholic, a hooker, and other fringe folk ain’t never gon’ be “accessible.” If only there’d been a cable place to put it, to let smart actor Larroquette and creator Don Reo do their thing. That 1993 pilot is still a historic piece of work, and several other first-season eps are also classic. I still mourn this one.

    • Hi, sumogrrl! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      If you’ve checked out our coverage of THE JOHN LARROQUETTE SHOW, you know that I feel similarly about the pilot and some of the entries from the first season. However, I have a slightly different characterization of the show’s trajectory than you do, and now, with hindsight, I simply don’t think covering the series was essential to our study of “the sitcom’s” evolution — it wasn’t a bridge to anything or especially influential, even subliminally — and more importantly, I don’t think it, taken as a whole or even just as an enterprise with an elevated first year, is among the genre’s best. I had hoped it would be better, and I had hoped it would reveal more.

      That said, I don’t officially categorize it (or DREAM ON) as a regret. The more shows I discuss, the more shows I *can* discuss.

    • Hi, Track! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Absolutely — I think it’s come up before here in the comments. The series had the unique ability — for its era — to discuss weighty subjects without sacrificing the genre’s inherent need for regular laughs. What’s more, it seemed to embrace and relish in its multi-cam theatricality (in the grand tradition of Norman Lear’s efforts), which made it special and — again, for its era — a non-conformist.

    • Hi, Nat! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      If/when I ever move into the 2000s, THE OFFICE will be one of Sitcom Tuesday’s “must-includes!”

  2. Somewhat surprising to see how MTM and to a greater extent, Carol Burnett, Maude and Bob Newhart , fell in the ratings in their last seasons. I guess every show has its life! Great to see the full reports instead of only the top 30.

    • Hi, John! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, mainstream tastes changed during the ’70s — the modern realism prized in sitcoms during the early part of the decade gave way to a desire for more nostalgia, fantasy, and silliness in the latter half. Although, for Saturday night in particular, losing ALL IN THE FAMILY was the beginning of its decline in relevance, as this weakened all the night’s shows for CBS.

  3. Jackson. Thanks. I too love the ratings listings. It’s interesting to see how for every Andy Griffith Show and MASH that went out on top that with timeslot changes, changes in taste, similar to the last season of Bewitched; Maude, the Carol Burnett Show, ect. Had always wished they would have had finished with an entire season 5 of Rhoda however seeing the 92nd place finish. Also puts syndication in importance as a lot of the lower rated season where seen by many for the first time that way

    • Hi, Bob! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I too would have liked a full final season of RHODA, simply in the hopes that the series could find some dramatic symmetry in marrying off Brenda after the whole Rhoda/Joe debacle, on which the entire existence of the spin-off was initially predicated. But it simply didn’t deserve more time (based both on its low viewership and its diminished quality), and my impression is that nine (or eleven) more episodes would not have been an improvement, anyway.

  4. Seeing the decline of the variety show through these lists is interesting. I’m pretty astounded that The Brady Bunch Hour outranked Sonny & Cher in 1976-77.

    • Hi, Charlie! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Remember that THE BRADY BUNCH HOUR was not designed to be a weekly series, but a monthly special, and even though it did air consecutively for a few weeks, its two primary time slots (Sunday at 7 and Monday at 8) were purposely better than SONNY & CHER’s (Sunday at 8 and Friday at 9, the last of which was truly abysmal and likely designed to kill it).

      Also, 1976-’77 was the first year that ABC won the ratings race among the networks — more people were watching its programming than any other. So, if you were going to be a failure on any network, you’d rather be on ABC like the Bradys than CBS like Sonny & Cher. But, of course, we know that from hindsight.

      • Hi !
        Your articles are very interesting !

        I am particularly interested in the lists published by Variety

        These are the years for which I know that there was a ranking published by Variety :

        67-68
        68-69
        71-72
        72-73
        73-74
        74-75
        75-76
        77-78
        78-79
        79-80
        80-81

        Do you know if Variety in particular has published lists that cover the top rated tv programs of the 50’s; 80’s ; and the 90’s ?

        Thanks

        • Hi, Max! Thanks for reading and commenting.

          No, Variety did not regularly publish annual end of season Nielsen rankings in those decades, although lists throughout the ’80s and ’90s were often included in newspapers across the country.

          • Thank you for your reply ; I still have some questions :

            1) The figures given in the Nielsen reports published by Variety are different from the Nielsen figures published in the reference book “The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946 – Present” and also in other newspapers …. Why ?
            Did Variety and others newspapers make their own estimates from Nielsen data ?

            2) Can you publish all the Variety lists that you have?
            It would be interesting to compare them with the top 30 Nielsen that correspond to them

            Thanks a lot and keep going !
            Your website is fantastic !

            • 1) This is explained above — differing time frame parameters account for the discrepancies.

              2) You can find Nielsen data from 1964-1974 in this entry here, and from 1974-1979 in the article above. I will not be posting anything else like this in the immediate future, unless there’s something specific you’re seeking.

            • Ok ! Well !

              I understand better !!

              So which Nielsen figures are the most reliable?
              What are the definitive ones ?
              Those given by Variety or those published in “the complete guide to prime time network and cable tv shows” ?

              As I told you, I would have liked you to publish the Nielsen lists released by Variety after 1979 if you have some … It seems to me that there are still some from 1979 to 1980 and 1980 to 1981 and maybe beyond … But I never got to see them

              Thanks a lot

            • Variety’s lists are no more or less “reliable” than anything published by Brooks & Marsh — they may employ slightly different timeframes, but they’re both accurate for what they purport to measure. However, Brooks & Marsh’s data is more accessible and has therefore been more widely reported and accepted. So, it’s assumed now that when you cite Top 30 Ratings data, you are using their same parameters. Beyond the Top 30, you should always mention the source for any ranking and explain how it was averaged.

              Here’s the list from 1979-1980, as published on June 4th in Variety. This accounts for “Premiere” to April 20th.

              https://jacksonupperco.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/WV-06-04-1980-A.jpg

              https://jacksonupperco.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/WV-06-04-1980-B.jpg

              And here’s 1980-1981, as published on June 10th in Variety. This accounts for “Premiere” to April 19th.

              https://jacksonupperco.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/WV-06-10-1981-A.jpg

              https://jacksonupperco.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/WV-06-10-1981-B.jpg

            • Amazing !!!

              I had never seen these lists !

              Thank you very much !

              I will be able to browse them carefully and add the to my collection !!

              I am not going to waste your time but I just wanted to ask you one very last question to have the confirmation that after this date Variety did not publish any more lists of this type or there are still some for the following seasons ??

              The period covered by Variety would therefore be 1964-1981 ?

              Thanks again !

            • I cannot say with certainty that Variety never published another annual Nielsen ranking, but it did not do so regularly after 1981. And it did not publish lists regularly in the 1960s either — the only consistent period where you could expect such data was from 1972 to 1981.

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