Must See TV

Title card for NBC's 2002 special, 20 Years of Must See TV

"Must See TV" was an advertising slogan that was used by the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) to brand its prime time blocks during the 1990s, and most often applied to the network's Thursday night lineup, which featured some of its most popular sitcoms and drama series of the period, allowing the network to dominate prime time ratings on Thursday nights in the 1980s and 1990s. Ratings for NBC's lineup fell during the mid-to-late 2000s, and today the network ranks behind Fox, ABC and CBS on Thursday nights. In 2015, the network canceled comedy programming on Thursdays and switched entirely to dramas.


In popular culture, the phrase is most strongly associated with the network's entire Thursday night lineup, including both sitcoms and dramas, which dominated the ratings from the 1980s through the late 1990s.

However, contrary to popular belief, "Must See TV" originally applied to sitcoms only (dramas would normally be promoted separately), and for much of the 1990s the phrase was used several nights a week as an attempt at brand extension. At one point in the fall of 1997, the brand was used five nights a week, with four sitcoms a night from Monday to Thursday, and two on Sunday.[1] NBC itself would later adopt the more common interpretation; the 2002 retrospective, 20 Years of Must See TV, focused on NBC's overall dominance on Thursday nights from 1982 onwards, and overlooked extensions such as "Must See TV Tuesday."


Thursday nights are coveted by advertisers due to the large proportion of young, affluent viewers that watch television on that night of the week. Of particular interest, movie advertisers promote their upcoming releases to this target demographic on Thursday night, in hopes of influencing what movies they see on the following Friday, the traditional opening night for most films outside of holiday periods and certain major film releases outside said periods.[2]

The "Must See" slogan was created by Dan Holm, an NBC promotional producer, during a network promo brainstorming session in June 1993 at NBC's West Coast headquarters in Burbank, California. "Must See TV" made its first appearance in NBC promotions in August 1993 and included the day of the week: "Must See TV Thursday." In late summer of 1993, NBC wanted viewers to tune in an hour prior to Seinfeld, and created the "Must See TV" slogan to brand the comedy block. The first "Must See TV" block promo aired during late summer repeats and promoted Mad About You, Wings and SeinfeldFrasier had not yet premiered. The advertisement ended with the sentence "Get home early for Must See TV Thursday." The "Must See TV" slogan continued in every NBC Thursday night comedy promo throughout the fall/winter 1993 television season to promote the 8-10 p.m. comedy block. When Frasier and Wings were moved to Tuesday nights, NBC expanded the second season of the "Must See TV" brand to include the Tuesday night comedy block: "Must See TV Tuesday."

Branding the quality Thursday night lineup began as early as the 1982 fall season, which promoted Fame, Cheers, Taxi and Hill Street Blues as "America's Best Night of Television on Television."

On November 3, 1994, NBC's Thursday night lineup featured the "Blackout Thursday" programming stunt, in which three of the four sitcoms on that night's "Must See TV" schedule incorporated a storyline involving a power outage in New York City.[3] The stunt started with Mad About You episode "Pandora's Box", in which Jamie Buchman (Helen Hunt) accidentally causes the blackout while trying to steal cable; it continued with the Friends episode "The One with the Blackout", featuring a sub-plot in which Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry) is trapped in an ATM vestibule with Victoria's Secret model Jill Goodacre and ended with the Madman of the People episode "Birthday in the Big House" (the Seinfeld episode that followed Friends and preceded Madman, "The Gymnast", did not have a blackout storyline though was promoted as part of the event).


From a promo for "Comedy Night Done Right" in October 2007. The image features [From Left] Earl Hickey (of My Name Is Earl), Michael Scott (of The Office), John Dorian (of Scrubs) and Liz Lemon (of 30 Rock).

By the early 2000s, the "Must See TV" slogan had fallen by the wayside in NBC's promotions; more importantly, NBC had gone from the top-rated network on Thursday nights to second behind CBS, eventually third behind ABC and ultimately a distant fourth behind Fox. NBC failed to develop hit shows to replace long-running staples Friends, Frasier, Seinfeld, and Will & Grace.

After airing a two-hour comedy block on Thursday for 21 straight seasons, NBC broke with tradition in 2004 by replacing the 9 p.m. hour with the hour-long reality competition program The Apprentice, although its Thursday night lineup retained its top 20 position.[4]

Thursday programming has also become increasingly stronger on other networks. CBS was first to break through with its lineup of Survivor, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and later Without a Trace. For the 2010-11 season, CBS moved the highly rated comedy The Big Bang Theory, which had become the highest-rated sitcom in the United States, to the Thursday 8:00 p.m. slot, and Two and a Half Men to the 8:30 p.m. slot, which have earned very strong ratings.

ABC had success on Thursday nights with its hit reality series, Dancing with the Stars, before moving the program to Mondays in 2006 (where it has remained since). In the fall of 2006, sophomore drama Grey's Anatomy was moved to Thursdays to counter CSI; ABC's lineup of Ugly Betty and Grey's Anatomy has proved successful in the 18- to 49-year-old demographic, and the 2011 transfer of Fox's American Idol, regarded as the longest reigning #1 program on U.S. television from 2004 to 2011, into the Thursday timeslot adversely affected NBC's ratings for Thursday primetime programming lineup since that television season.

The "Must See TV" slogan reappeared briefly in early 2006 with the addition of two critically acclaimed and ratings-successful comedies, My Name Is Earl and The Office, in an attempt to re-establish a four-sitcom block after the rise and fall of The Apprentice, which was moved to Monday nights.

In November 2006, NBC rebranded the Thursday format with a different slogan, "Comedy Night Done Right", and added Scrubs and 30 Rock to the lineup, forming an entire lineup of comedy series without laugh tracks or the multiple-camera setup common with past "Must See TV" comedies.[5]

A promo for "Comedy Night Done Right All Night" in 2011

In January 2011, NBC rebranded the night once again, renaming it "Comedy Night Done Right - All Night", adding a third hour of comedies at 10 p.m. (the network had previously run a three-hour comedy lineup once annually on Thursdays during the late 1990s and early 2000s as a programming stunt). The three-hour comedy block was discontinued in the fall of 2011, when the night reverted to two hours of comedies and one drama and, in 2012, two hours of comedy and the news magazine Rock Center.

Change and record ratings lows

Prior to the 2013 fall season, NBC cancelled or ended nine of its eleven comedies, including the long-running 30 Rock and The Office, in an effort to broaden its comedy lineup.[6] In May 2013, NBC picked up three family comedies (The Michael J. Fox Show, Sean Saves the World and Welcome to the Family) and rebranded its Thursday night lineup as "NBC's New Family of Comedies" for the fall season.[7]

The debut of The Michael J. Fox Show was the lowest-rated Thursday fall comedy series premiere in network history.[8] One week later, the debut of Welcome to the Family became the new record-holder, with Sean Saves the World ranking as the second lowest ever.[9]

On October 10, 2013, NBC tied an all-time low on Thursday nights (tied with May 17, 2012), while finishing in seventh place.[10] On November 21, 2013, NBC averaged a 1.0 in the adults 18-49 age bracket, its lowest ever in-season average for regularly scheduled programming on the night.[11] On the same night, The CW defeated the NBC comedy block, a first for the network. All three shows were eventually cancelled (Welcome to the Family was pulled three episodes into its first season, while The Michael J. Fox Show and Sean Saves the World were dropped shortly before the 2014 Winter Olympics; in the case of The Michael J. Fox Show, this was despite NBC giving a 22-episode order for the series prior to its debut) and were replaced by critically acclaimed (though low-rated) Thursday night mainstays Community and Parks and Recreation in January 2014, which were joined by Hollywood Game Night in late February.

End of Must See TV

In May 2014, NBC announced their schedule for the upcoming fall schedule at upfronts, with only a single hour of Thursday comedy in fall for the first time since 2005. Veteran reality show The Biggest Loser would take the 8pm slot, followed by short-lived new comedies Bad Judge and A to Z and the final season of Parenthood. They also announced that breakout drama The Blacklist would take the 9pm slot at mid-season the week following the Super Bowl, hinting at the end of NBC's Thursday comedy tradition.

In December 2014, NBC announced their mid-season schedule, with three dramas scheduled on Thursday to compete with ABC.[12] This is the first time NBC has not aired comedies on Thursday since 1981, drawing to a close the 33 year legacy of Must See TV. The final episodes of Parks and Recreation season seven were moved to Tuesdays, possibly in an attempt to burn off the last 13 episodes.[13]

In May 2015, it was announced that for the first time in more than 5 years NBC Thursday's made its way back in the Top 50 most watched programming with The Blacklist being number 14. This is the best the night has done since The Office was in the Top 50 back in the 2009-10 season. It was announced in May 2016, that for a second year in a row that NBC Thursday entered in the Top 50 most watched programming with The Blacklist at 22 and new drama Shades of Blue at 35.[14]

In May 2016, NBC announced the return of Thursday comedy for the 2016-17 season with returning comedy Superstore and new comedy The Good Place for the first time in two years. This marks the potential return of Must See TV.

NBC Thursday night lineup history

     Lime indicates the #1 most-watched program of the season.[15]
     Yellow indicates the top-10 most-watched programs of the season.
     Cyan indicates the top-20 most watched programs of the season.
     Magenta indicates the top-30 most watched programs of the season.
     Orange indicates the top-40 most watched programs of the season.
     Silver indicates the top-50 most watched programs of the season.
Year(s) / Season 8:00 PM 8:30 PM 9:00 PM 9:30 PM 10:00 PM 10:30 PM
Pre-Must See TV (1979–1982)
1979-1980 Fall Buck Rogers in the 25th Century Quincy M.E. Kate Loves a Mystery
Spring The Rockford Files
1980–1981 Fall Games People Play NBC Thursday Night Movie
Winter Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
1981–1982 Fall Harper Valley Lewis & Clark Diff'rent Strokes Gimme a Break! Hill Street Blues
Winter Fame
"The Best Night of Television on Television" (19821993)
1982–1983 Fall Fame Cheers Taxi Hill Street Blues
Winter Gimme a Break! Cheers
1983–1984 Fall Gimme a Break! Mama's Family We Got It Made Cheers Hill Street Blues
Winter Family Ties Cheers Buffalo Bill
Spring The Duck Factory
1984–1985 Fall The Cosby Show Family Ties Cheers Night Court Hill Street Blues
1985–1986 Fall The Cosby Show Family Ties Cheers Night Court Hill Street Blues
Spring All Is Forgiven / Night Court
1986–1987 Fall The Cosby Show Family Ties Cheers Night Court Hill Street Blues
Winter L.A. Law
Spring Nothing in Common
1987–1988 Fall The Cosby Show A Different World Cheers Night Court L.A. Law
Spring The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd
1988–1989 Fall The Cosby Show A Different World Cheers Dear John L.A. Law
1989–1990 Fall The Cosby Show A Different World Cheers Dear John L.A. Law
Winter Grand
Spring Wings
1990–1991 Fall The Cosby Show A Different World Cheers Grand Law & Order / L.A. Law
Winter Wings L.A. Law
Spring Seinfeld
1991–1992 Fall The Cosby Show A Different World Cheers Wings L.A. Law
1992–1993 Fall A Different World Rhythm & Blues Cheers Wings L.A. Law
Winter Out All Night A Different World
Spring Cheers (R) Wings Seinfeld Crime and Punishment / L.A. Law
Must See TV (19932006)
1993–1994 Fall Mad About You Wings Seinfeld Frasier L.A. Law
Winter Homicide: Life on the Street
Spring L.A. Law
1994–1995 Fall Mad About You Friends Seinfeld Madman of the People ER
Spring Hope & Gloria Friends
1995–1996 Fall Friends The Single Guy Seinfeld Caroline in the City ER
Spring Boston Common
1996–1997 Fall Friends The Single Guy Seinfeld Suddenly Susan ER
Winter Suddenly Susan The Naked Truth
Spring Fired Up
1997–1998 Fall Friends Union Square Seinfeld Veronica's Closet ER
Winter Just Shoot Me
1998–1999 Fall Friends Jesse Frasier Veronica's Closet ER
Spring Will & Grace
1999–2000 Fall Friends Jesse Frasier Stark Raving Mad ER
Spring Daddio Battery Park
2000–2001 Fall Friends Cursed Will & Grace Just Shoot Me ER
2001–2002 Fall Friends Inside Schwartz Will & Grace Just Shoot Me ER
Winter Leap of Faith
Spring Friends
2002–2003 Fall Friends Scrubs Will & Grace Good Morning, Miami ER
2003–2004 Fall Friends Scrubs and Friends Will & Grace Coupling and Scrubs ER
Winter Will & Grace The Apprentice
Spring Friends Will & Grace Scrubs
2004–2005 Fall Joey Will & Grace The Apprentice ER
2005–2006 Fall Joey Will & Grace The Apprentice ER
Winter Will & Grace Four Kings My Name Is Earl The Office
Spring My Name Is Earl
Comedy Night Done Right (20062013)
2006–2007 Fall My Name Is Earl The Office Deal or No Deal ER
Winter[16] Scrubs 30 Rock
Spring[17] Scrubs and 30 Rock Andy Barker, P.I. and Scrubs
2007–2008 Fall[18] My Name Is Earl 30 Rock The Office Scrubs ER
Winter1[19] My Name Is Earl (R) and The Office (R) / Deal or No Deal Celebrity Apprentice Lipstick Jungle
Spring[20] My Name Is Earl 30 Rock and Scrubs The Office Scrubs and 30 Rock ER
2008–2009 Fall My Name Is Earl Kath & Kim The Office SNL Weekend Update Thursday and 30 Rock ER
Winter 30 Rock
Spring Parks and Recreation Southland
2009–2010 Fall SNL Weekend Update Thursday and Community Parks and Recreation The Office Community and 30 Rock The Jay Leno Show
Winter Community 30 Rock
Spring The Marriage Ref
2010–2011 Fall Community 30 Rock The Office Outsourced The Apprentice
Winter Perfect Couples Parks and Recreation 30 Rock Outsourced
Spring The Paul Reiser Show
The Office (R)
2011–2012 Fall Community Parks and Recreation The Office Whitney Prime Suspect
Mid-season 30 Rock Up All Night The Firm
Spring Awake
Follow-up Community 30 Rock
Follow-up Parks and Recreation
2012–2013 Fall SNL Primetime: Election Special and 30 Rock Up All Night The Office Parks and Recreation Rock Center with Brian Williams
Spring Community Parks and Recreation and The Office (R) 1600 Penn / Go On / Parks and Recreation Do No Harm
Follow-up Hannibal
NBC's Family of Comedies (20132014)
2013–2014 Fall Parks and Recreation Welcome to the Family / Parks and Recreation Sean Saves the World The Michael J. Fox Show Parenthood
Mid-season Community Parks and Recreation
Spring Hollywood Game Night
Post-Must See TV (20142016)
2014–2015 Fall The Biggest Loser Bad Judge A to Z Parenthood
Mid-season The Slap / Dateline: The Real Blacklist The Blacklist Allegiance / The Slap
2015–2016 Fall Heroes Reborn The Blacklist The Player
Winter You, Me and the Apocalypse Shades of Blue
Spring Strong Game of Silence
"Super Good" Thursday's (2016present)
2016–2017 Fall Superstore The Good Place Chicago Med The Blacklist

^1 Because of the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike, shows that would regularly air were replaced with repeats and unscripted television.

Other series and specials

Several series aired on Thursdays to take advantage of the huge audience. These series include:

Specials that the network has aired on Thursdays to take advantage of the audience on that night:

Summer programming

Series airing on Thursday night during and after the run of "Must See TV" during the summer months have included Come To Papa, Last Comic Standing, Hit Me, Baby, One More Time, The Law Firm, Windfall and Love Bites.


Note: Friends's peak viewership in its 2004 series finale reached 80 million viewers as tallied by the Nielsen ratings (final 5 minutes).

See also


  1. Schneider, Michael (May 13, 2006). "Peacock pulls back on 'Must See' revival". Variety.
  2. Lamonica, Paul (October 16, 2006). "NBC's Heroic Return". CNN/Money.
  3. "Non-Crossover: "Blackout Thursday"". Retrieved 13 December 2014.
  4. Crawford, Krysten (May 18, 2005). "Thursday TV: prized and in play". CNN/Money.
  5. Gilbert, Matthew (January 28, 2007). "For sitcoms today, quality trumps quantity". The Boston Globe.
  6. Yeoman, Kevin. "NBC Reveals Programming Shift; No More Niche Comedies". Screen Rant. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
  7. Andreeva, Nellie. "NBC's 2013-14 Schedule: 'Revolution' Moves To Wednesday, 'Parenthood' To Thursday, 'Blacklist' Gets Post 'Voice' Slot". Deadline. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
  8. "Ratings: Robin Williams's 'Crazy Ones' Easily Tops 'The Michael J. Fox Show' - TheWrap". TheWrap. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
  9. "NBC's Thursday Night Comedies Fall Flat". AdWeek. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
  10. Andreeva, Nellie. "NBC Ratings — Finishes No. 7 On Night After Tying Record Thursday Low - Deadline". Deadline. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
  11. Andreeva, Nellie. "CW Ratings – Nework Tops NBC In Demo From 8-10 PM For First Time - Deadline". Deadline. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
  12. Barsanti, Sam (December 12, 2014). "NBC Has Officially Killed Its Thursday Night Comedy Block". A.V. Club.
  13. Rife, Katie (December 1, 2014). "NBC moves Parks and Recreation to Tuesday in Final-Season 'Event'". A.V. Club.
  14. "Full 2015–16 TV Season Series Rankings". Deadline Hollywood. May 26, 2015. Retrieved May 26, 2015.
  15. "Die Season ist vorbei: Amerikas heißeste Liste". 2010-07-05. Retrieved 2010-09-02.
  16. "'Scrubs' Returns as NBC Remakes Thursdays". Zap2It. 2006-10-25.
  17. Andreeva, Nellie (March 13, 2007). "NBC switches "30 Rock," "Scrubs"". Yahoo!. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
  18. "NBC Orders Extra 'Office,' 'Earl'". 2007-05-14.
  19. "NBC Slots 'Medium,' Firms Up Schedule". 2007-12-07.
  20. "'30 Rock,' 'Scrubs' Swap Timeslots". 2008-05-22.

External links

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