Sunday, August 17, 2008

He's No Richard Mulligan

This bit of trivia surprised me.

Michael Phelps shattered Mark Spitz's 36-year-old single Games record of seven gold medals on Saturday night, but wasn't quite strong enough to help NBC dethrone "Empty Nest" as the reigning king of Saturday night television.

Phelps came close. In an era when big media continues to splinter, NBC's ratings press release noted that the 31.1 million average viewers "represents the best Saturday night viewership of a program on the network since Michael Phelps was 4 years old. The 'Golden Girls' spin-off 'Empty Nest,' starring Richard Mulligan, drew 31.4 million viewers on Feb. 24, 1990."

I was working at KEVN at that time and I probably aired that particular show. The series was moderately entertaining, but wasn't anything spectacular. Even Mulligan was pretty modest about it; I remember when the series ended he said, "I just hope we gave people some laughs."

Maybe it says more about Saturday TV. The networks have tended to neglect it on the premise that the younger viewers they all fight over were out on the town. I always thought that was a silly idea, and NBC proved it at that time. Empty Nest was a spin off of The Golden Girls, which was (obviously) meant to attract older viewers, and both were wildly successful.

I know advertisers like the younger viewers because they can build long-term brand loyalty, but older folks spend money too. Most TV shows aren't around long enough to age with their viewers, and the few that do last are probably good enough to pull in viewers of all ages. It will be interesting to see how they handle the aging boomers, who are the last group with extended attachments to the old TV networks, and today's younger viewers, who have grown up with access to many more choices and aren't going to be easy catches.

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