If you had the luck to have spent your childhood in the 1980s and 1990s, you probably have fond memories of the wonder that was television programming in those decades: with cable television becoming popular in the 80’s, entire generations of children and young adults would spend hours glued in front of the tube while thousands of hours of entertainment were churned out to appeal to the gigantic population that were, for the first time in history, growing up with more than three channels to choose from.
There was Saturday morning programming, which had been around for decades but now competed with several gigantic channels that have all found out how much money could be made by churning out cheap cartoons for the 10-and-under set; weekday afternoon programming, dominated by the Disney Afternoon, a syndicated programming block of original cartoons that ran between 3 to 5 PM; from 5 to 7 on weekdays, syndicated programming would dominate, with reruns of Mr. Belvedere, Diff’rent Strokes, Murphy Brown, Cheers, and many other older sitcoms that were syndicated and aired in what they call the “Early Fringe” time slot. Channels started running movies all weekend (my own memories are of the WPIX Saturday and Sunday afternoon movies, where I swear they once played The Breakfast Club every single Sunday for two months straight–and I watched it every time). Cable channels for niche programming were on the rise, where I could watch old episodes of The Tracy Ullman Show on Lifetime and Eureka’s Castle and Noozles on Nickelodeon. Primetime programming generated what seemed like hundreds of sitcoms in the 1980s and 1990s, and I have memories of being able to stay up late and watch some sitcoms with my mom if she knew I liked the show. It was a plethora of entertainment available at every moment on TV, and those decades were a golden age of television.
But the big show for kids from my generation was TGIF on ABC. With a soft “pre-TGIF” run between 1985 and 1988, and the official TGIF block running between 1988 to 2000, it came on at 8 PM at the end of the week. Your parents ordered pizza, you got to drink soda, and for two hours it was a block of family-friendly programming that ran until 10 PM! (If you were young enough to have a bedtime, it was a real treat to be able to stay up until then and watch TV.)
Not only that, but these were original programs made specifically for the programming block. Many of the titles that ran on TGIF would become (somewhat questionable) classics like Full House, Family Matters, and Step by Step; they all had cheesy and insanely catchy theme songs; and they were squeaky-clean sitcoms the whole family could enjoy. Sure, they were stupid, but they were wonderfully comforting at the same time. No matter how your week went, at 8 PM it was time for two hours hanging out with these goofy families and their wacky neighbors as they got into one shenanigan after another.
TGIF was a gigantic success for ABC: Friday nights are casually referred to as “death slots” for shows thanks to the normally low viewership due to it being the first night of the weekend, but for its 12-year run shows on TGIF were averaging between 10-12 million viewers each week. It makes sense when you think about the concept of the programming block: mothers and fathers with young kids weren’t going out on Friday nights and kids under 14 usually had nowhere to go that night in general. Instead, ABC created programs that the whole family could enjoy together while they kicked back and relaxed after a long week at work or school.
For whatever reason, ABC discontinued the TGIF block in 2000 and tried to replace it with adult sitcoms. As a result, the ratings dropped precipitously and since then Friday nights have gone back to being the graveyard that networks shuffle their low-rated programs to before cancellation. But for twelve years, in the halcyon years of the late 80’s and 1990’s, there were two hours a week that ran programming both kids and adults could enjoy together.
I was born in 1982, and the TGIF programming block is firmly established in my memories: from Perfect Strangers to Mr. Belvedere to Full House, Family Matters, Dinosaurs, Step by Step, Sister, Sister…Friday afternoons into evenings were filled with fantastic television to my young, stupid mind. Between the Disney Afternoon, the various syndicated sitcoms that aired between 5 to 7, and the one-hour “dead time” before TGIF started (which conveniently was dinnertime), I had 6 hours of television that I really enjoyed on Fridays in my childhood.
But, as with all things nostalgic, I’m sure none of it holds up like I remember. Sure, Family Matters was high comedy to an 8-year-old, but it’s probably terribly wonky and unfunny. Although I love the wackiness of Cousin Balki in Perfect Strangers, most likely it’s painfully stupid farce. And while Dinosaurs seemed brilliant to my tiny mind, it’s probably just preachy, moral-filled crap spouted out of the robotic puppet mouths of people in uncomfortable dinosaur suits. So, with this in mind, I’m going to revisit TGIF’s programming, recapping episodes and providing commentary of what was once some of my favorite television shows from my jaded, weary 21st-century mind. Who knows? Maybe I’ll surprise myself and actually enjoy it and my heart will grow three sizes that day. It’s unlikely, but if I was once a young innocent who found joy in the stupider things in life, perhaps my mean adult self can also once more.