The "Friday night death slot" or "Friday evening death slot" is a perceived graveyard slot in American television. It implies that a television program in the United States scheduled on Friday evenings (typically, between 8:00 and 11:00 p.m. ET) is destined for cancellation.
The term possibly began as a reflection of certain shows' dominance of Friday night in the 1980s and 1990s, which condemned to death any television show scheduled opposite those programs. Today, it reflects the belief that young, single Americans rarely watch television on Friday or Saturday nights, thereby removing from the household the most lucrative demographic for advertisers.
Friday night death slot
TGIF was a successful block for ABC, which ran from 1989 to 2000 (although the network had been running a sitcom block on Fridays beginning in 1987); it focused primarily on family-friendly sitcoms. The network had also had success with a block featuring The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch in the same time slots during the early 1970s. Following the slow collapse of TGIF in the late 1990s, Friday night has fallen into a lower priority for the network. The following are examples of ABC network shows that started on Friday nights and lasted a few episodes, or were moved to Friday nights, lost the battle for television ratings, and were eventually canceled:
Perhaps the network which has received the most attention and has become the most well known for the "Friday Night Death Slot" has been Fox.
The following are all examples of Fox shows that either started on Friday nights and lasted only a few episodes, or were moved to Friday nights, suffered from dismal ratings, and were eventually canceled.
In January 2011, the sci-fi drama Fringe, then in its third season, was moved into this slot from Thursdays. According to Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly, nearly half of Fringe's viewership time shifts the show to watch at their convenience, and that "if it does anywhere near what it did on Thursdays, we can glue that show to the schedule because it can be a big win for us". The Fox network created a promotional advertisement for Fringe that lampooned its reputation of the Friday night death slot prior to Fringe's move. Despite encountering lower ratings after its move, Fringe was renewed for a fourth season, and later for a shortened final fifth season to allow the creators to complete the story arc they had set out at the start of the program as well as to reach 100 episodes, allowing the show to be resold in syndication. Critics praised Fox for taking the risk and profit lost on the show to satisfy the creators' desires and fans' requests to complete the show's primary story. The series finale aired on January 18, 2013.
After 20 years of unsuccessfully trying to find programming to fill the Friday night death slot, Fox gave up, leaving a one-hour empty hole on that night in the 9:00 p.m. (Eastern Time) hour for the 2013–14 schedule. Encores of Fox programming from the previous week originally aired in that timeslot. However, in November 2012, in the hopes of revitalizing Fox's Friday ratings, the sitcom Raising Hope moved from Tuesdays to Fridays for its fourth season, airing in the 9 p.m. half-hour; the freshman sitcom, Enlisted premiered in the 9:30 p.m. slot before both series swapped timeslots in late January. This "encore slot" was made a permanent part of the schedule for the 2014-15 season. Fox did not include such a slot in 2015-16, but the show chosen to fill the 9:00 p.m. time slot was the low-budget panel game World's Funniest Fails.
One of the earliest and most famous examples of the "Friday Night Death Slot" phenomenon started with the original Star Trek on NBC.
The second season of Star Trek aired on Fridays from 8:30–9:30 p.m. (Eastern Time). Though NBC discussed plans to move it to a 7:30–8:30 p.m. slot on Mondays for mid-season, that never occurred. After fans deluged NBC with a mail-in protest, producer Gene Roddenberry stated that he was promised the same 8:30–9:30 time slot for Season 3, but airing on Monday instead of Friday. However, that would have meant Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In had to start a half-hour later (moving from 9:00 to 9:30). Laugh-In producer George Schlatter saw no reason why his show, which was a ratings smash at the time, had to yield its slot to the poorly rated Star Trek, and he made no secret of his displeasure. Star Trek instead remained on Fridays, moving to the even less desirable 10:00 p.m. timeslot. Lamented Roddenberry, "If the network wants to kill us, it couldn't make a better move."
The following are examples of NBC shows that started on Friday nights and lasted for a few episodes, or were moved to Friday nights, lost the battle for television ratings, and were eventually canceled:
CBS was the most successful network on Friday nights in the 1980s due to their hit shows Dallas and Falcon Crest, but both shows were struggling by the end of the decade and were cancelled in the early 1990s. In an effort to revive Friday night television in the 1990s, and to compete with ABC's successful TGIF block of family comedies airing opposite it, CBS first attempted to compete with ABC launching a comedy night in the fall of 1992 with The Golden Palace (a spin-off/continuation of NBC's The Golden Girls), Major Dad and Designing Women, along with a new sitcom from Bob Newhart, Bob. The Golden Girls had been a top-10 hit on Saturday nights for NBC (though it had fallen to 30th in its final season), while Major Dad and Designing Women had also been top-10 hits on Monday nights, and Newhart's previous sitcom, Newhart, had spent most of its run in the top 30. Nevertheless, this effort failed, and only Bob was renewed for the 1993–1994 season, only to end in December 1993. A later effort to counterprogram TGIF, the CBS Block Party (which included former TGIF series Family Matters and Step by Step, both of which were hits for several years while on ABC before both shows were canceled in 1997), met a similar fate in the fall of 1997.
In 2013, CBS moved Vegas to Friday nights to make room for Golden Boy, another police drama. Both shows were eventually cancelled during their first year.
In general, however, CBS has found ways, particularly in the years following the cancellation of the Block Party, to be at least somewhat more successful in the Friday night time slots than its broadcast competitors.
The following are all examples of CBS shows that either started on Friday nights and lasted a few episodes, or moved to Friday nights, lost the battle for television ratings, and were eventually cancelled:
WWE Friday Night SmackDown!, originally named SmackDown!, was first broadcast on UPN on Thursdays to compete with WCW Thunder (eventually forcing Thunder to Wednesdays because of high ratings for SmackDown!, before a majority of the assets belonging to WCW were ultimately purchased by Vince McMahon in 2001). UPN moved the show to Friday nights in the United States on September 9, 2005, because of low ratings in its original Thursday night slot, and the show retained its Friday night time slot after moving to The CW in September 2006. Upon its move to the "death slot," UPN/The CW Friday nights saw a substantial increase in ratings over UPN's movies and most of The WB's sitcoms. SmackDown! had also initially garnered even better ratings in the death slot than the ratings on its former Thursday night airings (after WCW was bought by WWE in 2001). Despite this, The CW chose not to renew SmackDown's contract in 2008 due to the change of the demographic of the network's viewers (shifting more towards women 12–34 years of age), and the show moved to MyNetworkTV that fall, eventually leaving network television altogether with a move to SyFy in 2010. Smackdown then permanently moved to the USA Network in 2016, thus sharing the same network as WWE's flagship show, Raw.
UPN also moved Star Trek: Enterprise to Friday nights at the start of its fourth and final season in 2004. The show was pre-empted many times that season and suffered very low ratings with many fans choosing to watch the weekend replays instead.
Despite its reputation, Friday night prime time has also seen numerous successful series run for multiple years. The aforementioned Dallas rated in the Top 10 of the Nielsen ratings for seven consecutive seasons and was the top-rated series for three of those seasons. It had also aired the all-time most watched non-series finale single U.S. television episode (in the 1980 resolution episode of the internationally prominent Who Shot J.R. cliffhanger). In the 1970s, NBC's Sanford and Son managed to crack the Top 10 throughout its run except in its final season, despite airing its entire run on Friday nights.
ABC branded the evening TGIF and, for many years, scheduled a number of long-running sitcoms that evening, such as Perfect Strangers, Full House, Family Matters, and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. Last Man Standing which was successful, was not affected in the death slot. Law and Order: Special Victims Unit developed a large and loyal audience on NBC on Friday nights when it was moved there from Mondays in the middle of the first season in January 2000. SVU remained on Fridays through the second, third and fourth seasons before moving to Tuesdays in season five in September 2003. Now airing on Wednesdays, SVU is in its 18th season as of September 2016.
More recently, the CBS fantasy series Ghost Whisperer enjoyed a successful five-season run on Friday nights, as did the light crime thriller Numb3rs, which ran for six. Currently airing shows Hawaii Five-0 and Blue Bloods are also faring well, though they admittedly appeal to older audiences who are more likely to stay home on Friday nights (CBS in and of itself typically targets a slightly older key demographic than its competitors). In May 2014, the long-running reality TV series The Amazing Race moved from Sunday to Friday nights.
The CW show Supernatural was moved to Friday for its 6th and 7th seasons, allegedly to test its true drawing power compared to the stations more glitzy drama shows. Many fans, knowing about the 'death slot', feared that this meant it was on its way to be cancelled but actually increased in viewership. This led to the network moving them back up into mid-week scheduling, eventually back to its original WB slot, Tuesdays. In 2015, midseason, the show was moved to Wednesday evenings where it had also aired. For a majority of the show's run, the program was scheduled on Thursdays, Mondays being the only weekday it was not aired on and it has maintained its audience in all time slots.
A general exception to the "Death Slot" is in regards to children's television. Disney Channel and Cartoon Network have long experienced success on Friday nights with their respective children's program blocks. Cartoon Network's success on this night began in 1999 with the launch of Cartoon Cartoon Fridays (later known as simply Fridays), a two-hour block of original animated series during primetime that included hit series such as Dexter's Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, Cow & Chicken, Johnny Bravo, Samurai Jack, Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, and Camp Lazlo. After the block was discontinued in 2007, Cartoon Network shifted its programming towards more action-oriented series such as Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Ben 10 in the Friday primetime slot. Disney Channel did not begin airing original programming on Friday evenings until 2001; premieres of its made-for-cable films moved to that night from Saturdays that year. This was followed by its original series in 2007 (which had aired during the two hours preceding the designated "Death Slot" period); since then, Disney Channel has been successful with its original programming on that night (which have included popular series such as Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place, Jessie, Girl Meets World and The Suite Life on Deck – the latter of which was the number one series among children between the ages of 6 and 12 years in 2008). Its original movies have also generally performed well on Friday nights; in particular, the August 17, 2007 premiere of High School Musical 2 was the channel's highest-rated made-for-cable film to date, and holds the Nielsen record for the highest-rated made-for-cable movie premiere and the highest-rated non-sports program in the history of basic cable, it was watched by 17.2 million viewers.