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ABC Friday night lineup – Clacking the dream

When did Friday night stop being a television destination? Did the 2000s usher in a generation of youngsters who no longer stayed in to watch their favorite shows on the first night of the weekend? Everyone seems to forget that there’s Saturday night too, plenty of time to go out and get loaded. And for college kids, there’s Thursday night as well (and that’s assuming they prefer not to go to their morning classes with a hangover, which is certainly not always the case). So why the change?

Well, whatever the reason, there’s clearly been a major downgrade in quality programming on Friday nights. Lucky for ABC, they enjoyed a good two decades as a powerhouse on Fridays; the offerings here are shockingly impressive, and make for some tough choosing. Let’s get started.

8:00-8:30 I’ll be honest: I know Benson more from Jerry Seinfeld’s failed turn as Frankie than for Robert Guillaume’s work. But while that may mean that I wouldn’t choose to slot it here, it doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate how groundbreakingly excellent the series was. Now Webster, on the other hand, I do remember, and I loved Emmanuel Lewis. Not enough to give it a second life, but I do have fond memories. Full House put in a few years here, a series that I could always re-watch in syndication throughout my childhood. Another show like that? Family Matters, also a one-time resident of this hour. But in 1997 something bad happened that would alter the landscape for good. First there was Sabrina, the Teenage Witch (how did this spin out of Archie comics?), followed by progressively lower-quality fare like Two of a Kind (those darn Olsen twins again), The Hughleys (was this really the same D.L. Hughley who later starred as Simon Stiles on Studio 60?), Two Guys and a Girl (sans pizza), The Mole: The Next Betrayal (just call it season two!), America’s Funniest Home Videos (post Olsen dad Bob Saget’s era), George Lopez (sorry, but I don’t get him), 8 Simple Rules (never saw it, but actually wish I had), and Men in Trees (you’ll never convince me that this was good). Not to mention reality garbage like Supernanny, Dancing with the Stars, Extreme Makeover, and Wife Swap. Even so, definitely some tough contenders here. Me? I’m going with 1988-1989’s offering: Perfect Strangers. Not only were Balki Bartokomous (Bronson Pinchot) and Larry Appleton (Mark Linn-Baker) awesome then … I still think about them now. Ah, Mypos!

8:30-9:00 Another mix of strong shows I don’t know but respect, classics I enjoyed, and unfathomable garbage that overtook the night as Fridays became disposable TV. Bosom Buddies is often hailed as a standard-bearer, but how many people say it from first-hand experience? The New Odd Couple was a mistake, a rare instance that this story didn’t work. Webster lived here for a while, as did Full House and Family Matters. Then there was Step by Step, a show I never watched when it aired, but one I’ve seen countless times while overseas. I guess when your choices are that or BBC news, you’re kind of screwed. Sabrina, the Teenage Witch stuck its nose in here, breaking up an otherwise six year consecutive stretch for Boy Meets World at 8:30. Now that was a show. But then 2000 hit, and the thumb started pointing downward. From The Trouble With Normal, to Married to the Kellys, to Complete Savages, this timeslot failed to generate much heat in the last decade. And I Married Dora in 1987 fits in neatly with that junk. So where does that leave us? How about with another rabbit out of my hat? Mr. Belvedere spent two seasons at this hour, and I loved the relationship between Mr. Belvedere (Christopher Hewett) and Wesley (Brice Beckham). In fact, it reminds me of that between Mr. Feeny (William Daniels) and Cory (Ben Savage) on Boy Meets World, by far my favorite here. But for scheduling reasons, it will have to wait. For now, it’s Mr. Belvedere.

9:00-9:30 The hour saw a lot of shows that we’ve already discussed — Mr. Belvedere, Perfect Strangers, Step By Step, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, 8 Simple Rules, Men in Trees, and Supernanny. Then there’ve been such giants (i.e. I’ve never heard of them) as Darkroom (anthology horror hosted by James Coburn), The Greatest American Hero (in the style of early superhero nonsense), Lottery! (tracking down actual lottery winners?), Hawaiian Heat (Chicago cops in Hawaii), Sidekicks (a kid tags along with a cop), Max Headroom (Quantum Leap meets Early Edition?), Dinosaurs (like Cavemen, only with dinosaurs), You Wish (I smell a genie), Norm (Norm from Cheers would have been better than Norm MacDonald), Thieves (John Stamos as a double-crossing thief), That Was Then, Hope & Faith (Kelly Ripa’s star vehicle?), In Justice, and Duel. Yowza! A couple procedurals came here to die (Six Degrees, Women’s Murder Club), while one show (Ugly Betty) found new life here. But only one series stands out for me: Diff’rent Strokes. They rule the world even now.

9:30-10:00 I’ll tell you from the start that this is no contest, but we’ll go through the motions nonetheless. A little bit of Benson preceded Sledge Hammer! (oddly not a game show), and continued on to Just the Ten of Us (Coach Lubbock from Growing Pains and his eight zany kids), Going Places (early 30 Rock?), Baby Talk (Look Who’s Talking gets TV writers and Tony Danza), Camp Wilder (I prefer Van), Teen Angel (you can die from six month-old meat?), Brother’s Keeper (too many comparable shows stuffed into one to list), Odd Man Out (a teen boy living with five female family members), Madigan Men (so that’s what Gabriel Byrne sees a shrink for), Life with Bonnie (Bonnie Hunt plays quasi-celebs well, no?), Less Than Perfect (aren’t secretaries in the entertainment industry called assistants?), and Hot Properties (more Lipstick Jungle or Cashmere Mafia?). The truth is that the only show in there that I have any recollection of is Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper (sorry!). So what’s it going to be? Boy Meets World. I absolutely loved this show … if they’d wanted to do it (and none of the actors are working now, right?), I would have followed Cory, Shawn (Rider Strong), and Topanga (Danielle Fishel) all the way to their nursing home.

10:00-11:00 Even if I hadn’t had my fill already, the 10PM hour has never offered anything of note. Over the years, there’s been  Strike Force, The Quest, Matt Houston, Spenser: For Hire, Starman, 20/20, and Men in Trees. I don’t know what any of these shows are, but I don’t care. That’s all she wrote. I’ll take a Free Play, and enjoy my smiles. Besides, it’ll take a while to recuperate from all the laughter.

Who says the 1980s never gave us anything good? I’d put this comedy lineup up against any contemporary comedy block. What does your perfect Friday night on ABC look like?


Photo Credit: ABC

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10 Responses to “ABC Friday night lineup – Clacking the dream”

January 12, 2010 at 5:48 PM

Did I miss Dallas in there? That was on Friday nights (Sat, then Sunday before that right?) but Dallas was a must see.

January 12, 2010 at 6:04 PM

Dallas was on CBS, although it definitely predates me. But we’ll get there. :)

January 12, 2010 at 10:40 PM

Oh yeah CBS it’s coming back to me now.

According to

Dallas originally aired on Saturday nights when it debuted as a regular series. Within a month, the show was moved to Sunday nights, where it would stay until halfway through the season, when it took a Friday-night slot. Dallas remained on Fridays until the show ended in 1991, alternating between 10 p.m. and 9 p.m. airings.

January 12, 2010 at 9:30 PM

Right, “Dallas” was CBS. Started on Sundays as a mini-series, but I always remember the rest of the run on Friday. I don’t recall the show ever on Saturday…and yeah, I’m old enough to have seen it all first-run. Yikes!

January 12, 2010 at 9:35 PM

I will never consider “Diff’rent Strokes” an ABC show. I had to look up that it was even on ABC! But you left out one of my favorite Friday night shows from 1987 – 1988 – “The Charmings.” It was a totally silly show, but it gave me some laughs. And don’t knock “Dinosaurs”! It’s definitely NOT “Cavemen” with dinosaurs. More like “The Flintstones” meets “The Simpsons.” It was a very clever show and has a devoted following to this day.

January 14, 2010 at 12:39 PM

I think there were one or two shows I glossed over, but I see that The Charmings aired on Thursday nights at some point in 1987 – I will make a concerted effort to put in my two cents about it then. :)

And I’ve watched Dinosaurs too … shhh! ;)

January 14, 2010 at 12:46 PM

I’d love to see The Charmings again, just to see if it is as funny as I remember…or much, much cheesier than I can ever imagine.

January 14, 2010 at 1:09 PM

I’d bet cheesy, just because this stroll down memory lane has been making me realize that a lot, but you never know. Prince Charming and Snow White in the 20th Century, huh?

January 15, 2010 at 6:57 PM

I don’t even remember watching ABC back in those days, but apparently I did. The Greatest American Hero was a wonderfully fun show, but then I seemed to like anything Stephen J. Cannell put out. Max Headroom was also weird in a good way, but I have to give it to Sledge Hammer!.

Reading these columns, it amazes me how sheltered you seem to have been, television-wise, from some fairly popular shows. I never watched Spenser: For Hire either, but even I knew back then how well-regarded a drama it was.

January 16, 2010 at 6:43 PM

I don’t think you mean sheltered, I think you mean young. :)