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The "Friday night 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 Americans rarely watch television on Friday or Saturday nights, thereby removing from the household the most lucrative demographic for advertisers.
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. 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:
|Years aired||Series||Seasons lasted before cancellation|
|1999–2000||Odd Man Out||First and only season.|
|1999–2001||The Norm Show||Third and final season (2001). Although initially subject to stellar ratings, the second season saw ratings fluctuate due to timeslot changes.|
|1998–2000||The Hughleys||Second season, last one to air on ABC. The series moved to UPN in September 2000.|
|2000–2001||Making the Band||First season, only one broadcast on ABC. The series moved to MTV in 2001, which aired the show for 11 more seasons.|
|2002–2005||8 Simple Rules||Third and final season (2004). The series moved to this slot when ratings declined following the death of star John Ritter early in the previous season.|
|2006–2010||Ugly Betty||Fourth and final season (2009). The series moved to this timeslot due to disappointing ratings during season three in its previous Thursday timeslot. It moved to Wednesday nights partway through the season.|
|2003–2012||Extreme Makeover: Home Edition||The series ran on Sundays for eight seasons, but after declining ratings during the seventh and eighth seasons, it was moved to Friday nights for the ninth and final season.|
|2012–2013||Malibu Country||First and only season. Though its lead-in, Last Man Standing, was renewed for its third season, Malibu Country was canceled.|
|2011–2013||Happy Endings||Third and final season. The final 10 episodes of the series moved to this timeslot in March 2013, due to disappointing ratings on Tuesdays when it was paired with Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23, having previously lost Modern Family as its season two lead-in.|
|2012–2014||The Neighbors||Second and final season. Though its lead-in, Last Man Standing, was renewed for its fourth season, The Neighbors was canceled.|
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.
|Years aired||Series||Seasons lasted before cancellation|
|1993–1994||The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.||First and only season.|
|2000||FreakyLinks||Cancelled midway through its first and only season|
|2000–2002||Dark Angel||Second and final season|
|2000–2004||Boston Public||Fourth and final season|
|2000–2006||Malcolm in the Middle||Seventh and final season|
|2001–2006||The Bernie Mac Show||Fifth and final season|
|2002–2003||Firefly||Canceled during its first and only season, leaving three of its fourteen episodes unaired.|
|2002–2003||Fastlane||Moved to Friday midway through its first and only season|
|2003||Wanda at Large||Second and final season|
|2003||Luis||Cancelled during its first and only season, airing only 5 of its 10 episodes in the U.S.|
|2003||Miss Match||Cancelled during its first and only season, airing only 11 of its 18 episodes in the U.S.|
|2005–2009||Prison Break||Moved to Friday midway through its fourth and final season|
|2006||Vanished||Moved to Friday midway through its first and only season|
|2006||Justice||Moved to Friday midway through its first and only season|
|2006–2007||Standoff||Moved to Friday midway through its first and only season|
|2007||The Wedding Bells|
|2008||The Return of Jezebel James|
|2008||Canterbury's Law||Moved to Friday midway through its first and only season|
|2007–2009||Don't Forget the Lyrics||Third season, last one to air on Fox. Moved to MyNetworkTV and syndication outlets with a new format in 2010.|
|2009||Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles||Moved to Friday midway through its second and final season.|
|2009||'Til Death||Received a fourth season order primarily to gain enough episodes for syndication, and was moved to Fridays for the early part of the season.|
|2010||The Good Guys||Moved to Friday midway through its first and only season|
|2010–2014||Raising Hope||Fourth and final season|
|2012||The Finder||Moved to Friday midway through its first and only season.|
|2012–2013||Touch||Second and final season|
|2014||Rake||Moved to Friday midway through its first and only season.|
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 finding 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.
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."
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 cop drama. Both shows were eventually canceled during their first year. For the 2014 season, CBS moved the long-running The Amazing Race from Sunday to Friday nights.
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.
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.
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.
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", a two-hour block of original animated series during primetime that included hit series such as The Powerpuff Girls, Cow & Chicken and Johnny Bravo. After the block was discontinued in the late 2000s, 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 ages of 6- and 12-years-old 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.
Despite its reputation, Friday night prime time has also seen numerous successful series run for multiple years. ABC, for example, 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.
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 lead to the network moving them back up into mid week scheduling, eventually back to its original WB slot, Tuesdays (the show has also been on Wednesdays and, for a majority of the shows run, Thursdays, Mondays being the only weekday it was not aired on and has succeeded in all slots)
Cartoon Network ran the "Cartoon Cartoon Fridays" block, where most of their new shows and episodes premiered, for five years, avoiding the "Death Slot" entirely from 1999 to 2004.