The Nielsen Company began compiling ratings for television beginning in 1950; prior to that year, ratings were compiled by several other sources. C.E. Hooper, which was bought by Nielsen in February 1950, and Variety, were two of the ratings compilers previously. Nielsen ratings are considered one of if not the prime marker of a TV show’s success; shows are generally canceled if their ratings fail with now sign of improving, or if they do not generate sufficiently high ratings in their first season.
The most popular shows of a particular decade can be a valuable tool for the aspiring television writer; understanding what shows have done to draw viewers in can give ideas for new scripts. If you are interested in developing a new television show, consider studying some of these programs from the 1980s.
The TV show Dallas was a pop culture phenomenon, even though it only held the top ratings for two seasons in the 1980s. The prime time soap opera revolved around the Ewings, a wealthy Texas family in the oil and cattle-ranching industries, and became famous for its cliffhangers. The program was one of the longest lasting full-hour primetime dramas in American TV history, with 357 episodes over 14 seasons. The show was so popular in fact that it inspired a continuation in 2012. The new series focuses on the Ewing sons more than on the father, but the emphasis on greed and wealth has pervaded the new series. The original series began in 1978, but once it hit its stride in the 1980 season, it remained popular; the cliffhangers, including the “Who shot J.R.?” mystery, have become catchphrases among the generation that watched the series. The 1980 episode “Who Done It” remains the second highest rated prime-time telecast ever. The show spawned a spinoff called Knots Landing which also ran for 14 seasons, though without the same level of popularity as Dallas.
While Dallas may have started out the decade on the top, the big winner in terms of ratings for the 80s was The Cosby Show. Almost from its beginning in 1984, The Cosby Show achieved top ratings on the Nielsen ranking system; from the second season in 1985 until 1990, the sitcom held onto its position as the most popular show on television. According to TV Guide, the show “almost single-handedly revived the sitcom genre and NBC’s ratings fortunes.” The series was based on comedy routines from Cosby’s standup act, which in turn were based on his family life. The show centers on the Huxtable family, an affluent African-American family living in Brooklyn Heights, New York. The patriarch, Heathcliff “Cliff” Huxtable, is an obstetrician, with his wife, Clair Huxtable, an attorney. The family is rounded out by five children, four daughters and one son: Sondra, Denise, Theodore, Vanessa, and Rudy. In spite of its comedic tone, the show also approached series subjects, such as dyslexia, teen pregnancy, and other issues. The success of the show inspired more programs with predominantly African-American casts, including In Living Color and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The show won several Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Writing, and Outstanding Directing. In addition, the show won three Golden Globe Awards, one for Best TV Series-Comedy, and Best Actor in a TV Series, which went to Bill Cosby twice.
There was one show that, at the end of the 1980s, shook The Cosby Show’s ratings; Roseanne shared the distinction of most popular show for the 1989-1990 season. Roseanne debuted in October 1988; the show starred Roseanne Barr and revolved around the Conners, an Illinois working class family. While the show did not hit the number one spot after the 1989-1990 season, it remained in the top four for six of its nine seasons, and in the top twenty for eight seasons. The series’ humor was often crude by television standards and featured provocative subjects such as poverty, alcoholism, drug abuse, birth control, teen pregnancy, masturbation, obesity, race, social class, infidelity and gay rights. The show was also a significant portrayal of feminist ideals, portraying a female-dominated household, a female lead whose likability did not rely on her appearance and relationships between female characters that were cooperative rather than competitive.
Anyone can make a reality TV show concept presentation package with New Show Studios. You do not need special credentials, background or a college degree to pursue an idea. As long as you have a clear idea of what your basic idea is and you are able to verbalize this, New Show Studios is happy to help. They can take your reality show idea, develop and package it into a demonstration video and send it off to producers and executives in the entertainment industry.
Remember that even with the best presentation materials new entertainment development is high risk and there is very little likelihood that your idea will be successfully licensed or result in profit to you.