As we discussed on this week's podcast, Dallas was the highest-rated show of the TV season that began 40 years ago. It was by far the most popular regular program of the year. But what was the least?
Unfortunately, it's difficult to get detailed ratings information from past seasons. Most Internet resources copy the same top 30 list that Wikipedia runs, and even that is not necessarily rock solid. I'd sure like to see the rest of the list. As for getting comprehensive weekly rankings, fuggedaboutit.
However, we do have some kind souls gathering information and sharing it with the rest of us. Ratings Ryan is a blog that collects ratings articles from vintage newspapers and posts the scans for viewing. This site has some of the Nielsen-inspired news stories from the first half of the season. Unfortunately, there is nothing for the Spring half yet.
Of course we can assume that short-lived series that were canceled after the season were low rated. Examples include Freebie and the Bean (9 episodes), Aloha Paradise (8), Walking Tall (7) Breaking Away (7 aired), Secrets of Midland Heights (6 aired), CBS spring replacement series sitcoms Checking In (4) and Park Place (4). All of these flopped, though some had tougher timeslot opponents than others.
However, there's one title that keeps popping up in the old articles that bother to mention the bottom 5 shows of a given week. Several times, lumped in with random one-offs like The Smothers Brothers Special, you find NBC Magazine with David Brinkley. The public affairs/news show aired each Friday night at 10:00, opposing ABC's Friday night movie and...Dallas.
Well, it's not hard to see why the series tanked, and it was obviously just something to throw at the competition without sacrificing a promising entertainment program (insert joke about 1980 NBC).
The show languished in the ratings for several reasons, but it did last several seasons! Here is an interesting NY Times piece about the show, one in which the 60-year-old Brinkley sounds kind of stuffy about what he's putting on the air. He doesn't want to put rock stars on and sniffs that they belong on 20/20. He criticizes "chasing crooked preachers" like on 60 Minutes, and says investigative pieces are OK if the subject "matters." Well, LA-dee-DAH!
On the one hand, it's really unfair to say that this public affairs program, which lasted several seasons and did its duty by eating up time against an iconic show at its peak, is the least popular show of the 1980-1981 TV season. On the other...it DID get terrible ratings, and that's the pick for now.
Here are a few glimpses at this low-rated NBC time filler:
Hey, isn't that Benny Goodman? Isn't he...a musician? I guess rock stars are for 20/20, but those swing stars matter!