Look at the numbers of this show from 1991, and be astounded that shows like this were cancelled with numbers like these. WALTER & EMILY was close to getting a 20 percent share throughout its short-lived season, yet NBC was unhappy with the sitcom’s performance, and shitcanned it at the end of the season, albeit the network having given it a good-enough chance to find a bigger audience in late 1991/early 1992. Apparently Cloris Leachman and Brian Keith weren’t audience grabbers in the beginning of the final decade of the 20th century.
At this point in time, the show is pretty much forgotten and being fed dust somewhere in the ABC Studios archives (it was produced by then-Touchstone). Maybe people will try to remember the show during imminent Cloris Leachman eulogies (not wanting to sound like an asshole here, but she is an old woman, and at one point she is going to die), but there is pretty much no chance this 3-month piece of television history will ever see the light of day again – except of course someone on this planet finds old episodes on their VHS tapes. Because since Matthew Lawrence was involved in the project as well (and I know his face, even though I’m generally not interested in what the guy stars in), I might want to take a peek into WALTER & EMILY.
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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.
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A little fun fact: NO ORDINARY FAMILY is not the only ABC show with Michael Chiklis that premiered on September 28. Back in 1991, after a kerfuffle between CBS and producer Stephen Cannell, THE COMMISH premiered on ABC and gave Chiklis the chance to show his humor in the early 1990s, by portraying an aging and overweight police commissioner, solving crime and chasing criminals in a small New York upstate – you know, what all TV police commissioners should do, when they are getting old and fat. The show was originally set for CBS, but thanks to some early casting differences and opinions between CBS and Cannell, the latter quickly shopped the show to ABC, where it became a solid Nielsen performer.
Granted, the show was never a success, but I don’t believe ABC was expecting a hit on Saturday nights at 10:00pm. During the first half of the season though, THE COMMISH regularly landed in the midfield of the weekly Nielsen charts, albeit it won the fight against CBS in that hour, giving Cannell somewhat of a satisfaction. Things changed in 1992 though and suddenly the numbers were rising. Not by much, but by enough to have ABC think about ordering a second season very quickly. Show usually don’t tend to perform better in the second half of the first season, except you’re HOUSE, M.D. (thanks to AMERICAN IDOL) or GLEE (thanks to AMERICAN IDOL). THE COMMISH outperformed for ABC though and deserved a run that would see the show survive for another three and a fourth of a season.
Click me to the ratings