Look out, "M*A*S*H" - here comes "Night Court."
The popular NBC sitcom, still enjoying a healthy run on the Peacock Network, is jumping into the syndication market this fall, and KTVX is going to throw it up against Utah's syndication giant. Beginning Oct. 3, "Night Court" will go head-to-head with KSL's "M*A*S*H" each weekday night at 10:35.KTVX will also play the show weekday afternoons at 4:30, which means there's a chance "Night Court" and "M*A*S*H" will go against each other twice a day. KSL has yet to announce what it will do with its 5 p.m. daily showing of "M*A*S*H" once "The Cosby Show" joins its late afternoon line-up in October. But it's likely that one of the two comedies will play at 4:30 against "Night Court."
Either way it'll be funny doctors vs. nutty lawyers. Utah's airwaves may never be the same again.
"The time is right to challenge `M*A*S*H,"' said KTVX programmer Gordon Acker Thursday morning. "In fact, we think `M*A*S*H's' declining ratings indicate that it has been ripe for a couple of years. We just didn't have the right property to put up against it until now."
Acker may be slightly overstating the erosion of "M*A*S*H's" popularity in Utah. True, the show's afternoon numbers were down in July's sweeps ratings, but they were still holding up well in the late-night. In both cases, however, "M*A*S*H" is capturing 35-40 percent of the available audience - phenomenal numbers for a program that has been playing in syndication since 1978 and is fast approaching its 20th run through the series on KSL.
Still, Acker's assessment of "Night Court's" chances against the local post-news ratings king may well be right on target. A few years ago Ch. 4 made solid inroads with late-night reruns of "WKRP." That show's problem was that it had fewer than 100 episodes to syndicate, so it burned itself out pretty quickly. But it was on long enough to prove that viewers who want something light to relax with after the news will flip away from "M*A*S*H" if you offer another quality alternative.
So it seems likely that another quality adult-oriented ensemble comedy like "Night Court" will do just as well or better. There will be more episodes of "Night Court" to run than there are of "WKRP." And now that viewers have seen each "M*A*S*H" episode two or three more times in the last few years, they may be a little more inclined to look for something else to watch when one comes on that they don't especially want to see again.
There is less evidence to consider in the case of "M*A*S*H" vs. the late afternoon competition. The show has mostly been up against NBC and ABC news programs in the time period, and in July it clobbered KUTV's showing of "Entertainment Tonight." Perhaps a strong comedy alternative like "Night Court" will prove to be good counter-programming.
Still, there is some concern with KTVX's decision to play a show that is known for its decidedly raunchy approach to humor in a time period when many children have control of the family television set.
"`Night Court' does have adult humor," Acker admitted. "But `Donahue' is also playing in the time period, and look at the kind of real-life stuff he gets away with. `Night Court's' humor is more subtle than that. Most children won't get it."
But will enough viewers get - and like getting - "Night Court" enough to make it Utah's new syndicated sitcom giant? Probably not. The show is too racy to have the kind of broad-based staying power "M*A*S*H" has displayed. But that isn't the point, according to Acker.
"We're not predicting that we'll knock it off," he said. "But we are predicting that we'll put a dent in `M*A*S*H.' A sizable dent."