Before NBC tried its hand in three seasons of AMERICAN DREAMS, depicting the 1960s and its civil unrest, the peacock network tried a similar show (without Bandstand and music in general) in eleven years prior, when I’LL FLY AWAY premiered in 1991 – a drama set in the late 1950s and early 1960s, dealing with a black housekeeper, who works for the family of a district attorney, and soon becomes involved in the Civil Rights movement. I’LL FLY AWAY was an immediate hit with critics and the viewers who watched it – the first season garnered two dozen Emmy nominations and two Golden Globes (stars Sam Waterston and Regina Taylor won, while the show itself was nominated for Best Drama and lost to NORTHERN EXPOSURE), a Peabody Award, three Humanitarian Prizes, and two NAACP Awards. But as we know with television, shows that are critical darlings and are thrown at with big and shiny TV awards, I’LL FLY AWAY was never a hit in the ratings.
The two-hour premiere got out of the gate on a Monday with solid numbers, before the show settled in on its natural slot on Tuesdays at 8:00pm, where it quickly became a show that was losing an audience. It was #3 in the time slot, which is why NBC took the show into a 7-week hiatus in the beginning of 1992, before rescheduling it to Fridays. Here, the show was sort of extremely stable. For one and a half months, I’LL FLY AWAY danced around 700,000 viewers and 0.8 ratings points, and even though the numbers were lower than when it aired on Tuesdays, the show looked good enough in the ratings war for a moment, even if the ratings were nothing to be proud about. Still, the two-hour season finale was unable to pick up the numbers from the first few Friday airing, and the show went off the air with uncertainty about a renewal.