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The infamous Friday Night Death Slot is the result of years of poor (some would say deliberately poor) marketing and overly high expectations followed by observations thereof by audiences... that, and the fact that a lot of people like to get out and do stuff on Friday nights, especially since most movies open on a Friday now.
Basically, the idea is this: people - most especially certain demographics, such as the 18-34s who are highly coveted by networks and advertisers - don't watch as much TV on Fridays, mostly because they like to go out to bars, see movies, etc., and just basically blow off a little steam after work/class. Scheduling a show on a Friday - especially early in the evening, such as 8 PM Eastern - is practically the kiss of death.
It should be noted that this is mostly a US phenomenon - in the UK and Norway, and probably other European countries, the very best shows are often reserved for Friday nights (this is particularly true of Channel 4 comedy in the UK - the likes of Peep Show and The IT Crowd are always aired on Fridays) whereas its Saturday night where shows are sent to die (though Saturday evening programming in the U.S. is very fallow, too, in fact more so than Fridays).
Another dimensions of this explains not only why Friday is so neglected, but also why Thursday is the biggest night on TV. Advertisers realize that most American consumers do the majority of their weekly shopping on the weekends, and often do it on Friday. This means that advertisers are desperate to get their product on the airwaves on Thursday, before people go shopping the day after, and don't put as much effort into advertising on Friday (if someone goes shopping after work Friday afternoon, advertising on Friday night is too little, too late.)
Especially if the show is neither family friendly (folks with kids ostensibly stay home on the weekend more often), nor a show that already has much of an audience. And really, really especially if it's on Fox. Or produced by Tim Minear. Or on Fox.
The good news for shows on Friday is that due to lower expectations, shows can get away with ratings that would get them cancelled on any other weekday. The bad news for shows on Friday is that even with those lower expectations, shows often don't reach them, causing Friday shows to have a high turnover rate.
Fridays are thus often reserved for mid-level half-hour sitcoms (see: The WB's lineup of Fridays past as well as ABC's old TGIF lineup in the 90s, though this has declined), reruns, movie airings, shows that the network has absolutely no faith in, or love for (see: Screwed by the Network), and, in modern times, a lot of Reality Shows. Also, compounding this is the fact that Fridays are more likely to have regular shows preempted for things like sporting events on the lower-tier networks and independent affiliates. Sometimes a network will fill time by airing a No Hoper Repeat of a popular show from a different night.
It also has to do with the concept of vertical integration, where television networks who used to not care about whatever movies were playing at theaters during the weekend now must advertise those films on Thursday nights because they're now owned by large media companies with film studios. All six major American networks have studio relationships;
- ABC - Owned by Disney
- CBS - Controlled by National Amusements, which also controls Paramount Pictures, and now has their own studio in CBS Films. Since CBS spun off Viacom in 2006, however, they don't hew to the FNDS concept as closely as the other three networks
- The CW - Gets it both ways; two owners, two different studios. CBS owns 50%, while Warner Brothers has the other half
- Fox - Network owner News Corporation also owns 20th CenturyFox and sister network My Network TV
- NBC - The youngest network with a studio relationship after the 2004 purchase by the network of Universal Pictures
Thus, the networks are mainly forced by their parent companies to not put their best stuff on Fridays, so that a strong show doesn't cause any form of distraction to their box office numbers for the films.
Generally when a show survives in a Friday slot, it's greeted with surprise; when a show is moved to one, the move is greeted with nervousness on the part of fans, who are smart enough to have noticed the number of shows that met a quick and quiet end after being aired that same night. When a show starts in a Friday slot, and it's not a "sneak preview" or "special time" for it, it's almost automatically assumed to be doomed. Even Adult Swim avoided airing shows on Friday for its first few years, and only starts its airings at 10 PM (and now 9 PM), at the tail end of Prime Time.
The Dump Months are the cinematic version of this trope.
Some networks and shows manage to find a surprising amount of success on Fridays, ranging from CBS's Ghost Whisperer to NBC's successful move of Las Vegas from Monday nights. GW is somewhat family-friendly and Vegas had a large, dependable fanbase, a mostly comedic style, and a lot of celebrity guest appearances along with the preexisting tendency to re-air it on Fridays anyway, so these aren't all that surprising, but fans of the shows certainly breathed a sigh of relief when they survived to be renewed. In addition, CBS in its history had numerous series that got great ratings for Friday, the lineup of The Incredible Hulk, The Dukes of Hazzard and Dallas in the late 1970s and early 1980s are the major example. (Meanwhile, Saturday nights, which is an even more iffy time for TV programming at present, were practically CBS's bread and butter in the '70s, thanks to a lineup that included shows like All in The Family, Mash, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and The Carol Burnett Show.) ABC's TGIF block in The Nineties, with such shows as Family Matters, Boy Meets World, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, was perhaps the most spectacular subversion of this, as it not only turned the entirety of Friday night into a moneymaker for the network, but also one of its few success stories in what was otherwise a bad decade for the network.
More common and less surprising is the fact that Friday lineups do much better on cable. Such as Adult Swim's Friday lineup, USA Network's airing of Monk and Psych on Fridays, or more impressively, Sci Fi Channel's Sci Fi Friday lineup, which they claim is one of their "biggest" nights as far as ratings go; both the Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis TV series met with great success in this lineup, as did the imported new Doctor Who series, the 2000's version of Battlestar Galactica, and even the surprisingly successful re-airing of Firefly in 2005, which managed to be their second-highest rated series during November Sweeps of that year, despite its easy availability on DVD. (That is, it was their biggest night, before they separated SG-1 and Galactica, canceled the former, moved the latter to Sundays, pretty much gave Doctor Who away to BBC America, and generally built up more animosity towards the channel than existed towards them when they canceled Farscape. And then back again, since Eureka is their most-watched show.)
However, these are frequently treated as exceptions to the rule. The list below shows why.
- The ABC Game Show The Names the Same held a 7:30 Monday slot since it was Uncanceled in October 1954. It moved on June 28, 1955 (after its third host change in less than a year) to Tuesdays at 10:00, then on September 16 shifted to Fridays at 10:00. The series was canned on October 7, after just four episodes at that slot.
- Though a number of factors combined to kill it in just 14 episodes (only 11 of which were ever actually aired, in the wrong order), part of the reason Firefly got canceled by Fox was because it was in the 8 PM (Eastern) Friday slot, failing to attract the more adult audience at which it was aimed and being constantly preempted by sports broadcasts to boot. Its success in the 7 PM Friday slot on cable years later is usually considered ironic. Creator Joss Whedon now reportedly refuses to work with the network ever again precisely because of how badly they burned him with Firefly. Of course, producer Tim Minear didn't even allegedly vow such a thing, but in light of other shows of his that have aired on the network including the next listing, probably should have.
- Eliza Dushku, however, had a contract with Fox, and so she brought Joss Whedon back to Fox for Dollhouse, which aired 2009-2010 on Fridays. Despite poor ratings, Fox renewed this for a second season (still on Friday), although it was canceled fairly early in its second run due to the already low ratings declining further.
- Even more ironically, Sci Fi contributed to the original cancellation of Firefly by airing Farscape in the same time slot, thus splitting the sci-fi loving audience. The split also negatively affected Farscape; it ended up being the show's last season (save for the Peacekeeper Wars miniseries.)
- A decade before the Browncoat got screwed, there was Alien Nation. Same network, same story, and roughly the same outcome...though their movies were of the Made For TV variety.
- Wonderfalls. Three of its first (and only) four weeks on Fox, it was slotted in the 8PM Friday slot. It wasn't as family-friendly as its competitor, Joan of Arcadia, was and died fast. Though it did well on cable as well, when GLBT-friendly Logo aired it.
- Boston Public was moved to the Friday Night Death Slot for its fourth season, and was quickly canceled mid-season, leaving two unaired episodes left to debut in reruns on cable
- Joan of Arcadia, despite surviving longer than Wonderfalls, also got the boot not long after, failing to be renewed for a third season even though it was relatively popular and critically-acclaimed. Aired at 8 PM Fridays on CBS.
- Lest we think that Fox and CBS do most of the canceling here, let us not forget NBC's Police Procedural Raines, a surprisingly good, somewhat subversive, more than a little weird series about a homicide detective who may or may not be seeing the ghosts of his latest assignments. The show was bumped from a prime Thursday night slot to Fridays at 9:00 Eastern after just two episodes. It quickly dropped from the #23 highest-ranked show to #63 and only five more episodes were aired before it was quietly cancelled. Despite being put next to Las Vegas in the lineup. Of course, it was also a midseason replacement, which never really bodes well for a series' longevity.
- Also canceled by NBC from an 8 PM Friday slot, despite initially high ratings due to (undue) controversy about it: The Book Of Daniel, a series about an Episcopalian priest whose family is having troubles and who apparently has hallucinations (we think) of speaking to a laid-back Jesus. Oh, and an addiction to painkillers. Yeah, that went over real well with the church-going audience. Some of the network's local affiliates (most notably WSMV in Nashville, Tennessee) refused to even air the series and only about four of its eight episodes were aired on TV at all, and three others were dumped onto NBC.com to languish in obscurity before everyone forgot it even existed.
- Well, that series was doomed from the start, thanks to the aforementioned controversy. Apparently, you can only cover religion on television if you do a 7th Heaven-style drama.
- In a foreign subversion, Venezuelan channel RCTV managed to got some programs who survived this dreaded slot. The last of those was a war-of-the-sexes Game Show titled "Aprieta y Gana", who lasted four years and would lasted five if it weren't canceled depite being still popular.
- Another one by Fox. Dark Angel made Jessica Alba a minor star and had good ratings. Then Fox moved it to Fridays.
- Despite critical raves and an audience whose demographics would have today guaranteed its survival, ABC threw Max Headroom into the Death Slot in an effort to get rid of it by any means necessary. The whole situation surrounding the show is still regarded as a scandal by SF fans today.
- Two Guys, a Girl And A Pizza Place got this slot.
- However, unlike a lot of these examples, it wasn't moved to the spot because the network wanted to get rid of it. It was moved because it had proven to be quite popular in its Wednesday night slot and ABC thought the show's popularity would move with it and break the curse of the Friday night death slot. It didn't.
- Star Trek: Enterprise caught a double whammy: moved to the Death Slot during its and its network's final season. It was very well-known among a subset of Trek fans that the only reason it had gained a fourth season in the first place was to get enough episodes for syndication. Then, the show started to drastically improve in quality, bringing some fans some hope that there might be a Season 5. Those hopes were dashed when the Death Slot took away any improved ratings it might have garnered from the improved quality.
- The Original Series also suffered the Death Slot in its final season on NBC.
- Inverted in the case of Life, which has actually been moved from Friday nights to a Wednesday lead-in for Law and Order.
- Averted in the case of the Australian version of The Late Show (think Saturday Night Live WITH NO BUDGET) - it was put on at 9.00 on a Saturday, where most of its intended audience would have gone out. However, it became very popular with parents who had to stay home to look after their children, and so lasted three years.
- Averted with Friday Night Lights, which from the beginning had fans saying that given the title, airing on Fridays seemed completely natural for it rather than its original Wednesday slot. Starting in the second season it did run on Fridays, which was met with widespread approval (plus a wonderful Narm-y tagline: "Friday Night Lights, finally on Fridays! This Friday on NBC.") Despite low ratings for its entire run, the show is currently guaranteed for five seasons.
- Still could be a strange choice for time slot; a series about High School football is being aired in a timeslot when those most interested in the subject matter can't watch it because they're at their own team's game. Just timing the release of new episodes so they don't fall during HS football season solves this problem, though. Unless you're watching on Direc TV and get the episodes early...
- Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: 2007-8 season: on Monday nights. 2008-9 season: moved to Friday nights. 2009-10 season: Terminated.
- The US version of the Game Show Duel was originally a series of specials that ran on weekdays during prime time (similar to the initial run of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire??) with a finale on a Sunday night. Its second season ran on Friday nights at 8:00 PM. The ratings numbers halved, and ABC canceled it.
- WWE Friday Night Smackdown was a very successful subversion to this trope, to such a point where episodes had bumpers bragging about how viewed their show is, and an advertising campaign talking about how they're "changing Friday nights". Unfortunately, they're not bragging quite as much these days, as a move to the moribund My Network TV has left Smackdown lucky to pull in a 1.8 rating, thus accomplishing what the Friday Night Death Slot could not. The show was then moved to Sy Fy.
- Mike Judge's political correctness satire The Goode Family received this dubious honor.
- In the late 90s, a very well-acted, well-produced modern update of The Six Million Dollar Man debuted on CBS. The show was titled Now And Again, and featured an intricate and tightly-woven running premise, stellar acting by Eric Close and Dennis Haysbert, Kim Chan as one of the most surreal sociopaths in TV history, and frequent cameos by the likes of John Goodman and Mick Foley. It was an intelligent, thought-provoking show, which downplayed the premise's gimmick in favor of more real, dramatic interactions between the major characters. ...but its timeslot was 10pm on Friday, and it faded away with little fanfare after one season (at least a third of which never actually aired on CBS, and would only surface years later in syndication on Sci Fi.)
- Ironically, The Six Million Dollar Man itself debuted in a 9pm Friday timeslot, and was a hit.
- The TV version of Beauty and the Beast was an aversion for the first two seasons, then we got Executive Meddling and Linda Hamilton getting written out.
- Moonlight is an especially weird case, as it was getting a good 8 million viewers on its Friday slot when CBS cancelled it. And it was cancelled just before a certain novel by Stephenie Meyer triggered the massive vampire fad. CBS must still be kicking themselves.
- The Adventures of Brisco County Jr creator Carlton Cuse (Executive Producer of Lost) specifically blames this for the show's demise.
- Brisco County was a weird example... the pilot movie was so popular, the network actually ordered additional episodes. Cuse blames the flawed ratings system for incorrectly counting the show's fans, and unfortunately since it aired in the era before DVD releases gave a better gauge of popularity, it couldn't be revived.
- Oddly enough Cuse averted the Friday night curse with Nash Bridges. It was a hit at Friday nights and lasted for five seasons.
- In one of the biggest subversions of this trope (and therefore a pretty biting case of irony), the little show that debuted in the 9pm timeslot after Brisco went on to enjoy some moderate success.
- During the three seasons it aired on Friday night, the pre-X-Files timeslot became an elephants' graveyard of failed speculative fiction shows. The aforementioned Brisco County, VR 5, Strange Luck, MANTIS, and Sliders all floundered (only Sliders made it to a second season), baffling FOX execs and no doubt informing their future decisions on Friday night sci-fi shows.
- After SNICK was re-vamped into "SNICK House", Ka Blam! got removed from its saturday night timeslot to friday at eight.
- Though seeing as how it was a kids show, and Friday was one of the few nights where kids often got a chance to stay up late, a kids show airing on Fridays is probably the best you could do for it.
- Family Net put airings of The Color Honeymooners as the lead-in to their Friday-night line-up (airing at 5 PM Eastern/4 PM Central, as Family Net considers that time slot as the start of prime time for them) starting in March 2010. Family Net dropped it in August in favor of Landmarks and The Greats, two really obscure docmentary shows that were about to be taken out of the channel altogether. This duo was replaced in September with additional showings of The New Flipper. That show, in turn, was dropped in October for Chuck Norris' World Combat League.
- Strangely enough, Family Net is keeping the WCL on that time slot in November, making the show safe for now.
- Well, the last airing of the WCL on Family Net is November 3, after which Family Net will air Christmas specials on the time slot!
- Family Net will be cancelling the Friday-specific roster in October, cancelling the Parables movies, relegating Faithprints to an early-Saturday morning time slot, anf keeping Live At Oak Tree in the Saturday-night time slot!
- Strangely enough, Family Net is keeping the WCL on that time slot in November, making the show safe for now.
- While not really Friday Nickelodeon has sometimes put a few cartoons on Sunday morning. When many children are asleep or at church.
- Sunday morning was also where Mattel bought Nick time as if it was an Infomercial to air full-length Barbie movies to entice kids to beg their parents to buy the film on DVD two days later.
- ICarly provides an example of using Friday, when it aired most of the second half of Season 3 in that slot. Its popularity made it an aversion with high ratings. There was one minor failure though. You remember how at the top they explain how the movie studios don't want any competition for Friday? Nick forgot that a certain movie named Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows came out that day. They still got 5 million though.
- Fringe (Fox) was bumped to Friday nights in its third season, after Christmas 2010 to make way for American Idol. To the surprise of some people, it was still renewed for a full season afterwards.
- Despite very low ratings in the fourth season, it still was renewed for a 13-episode fifth and final season, to the surprise of almost everyone.
- Smallville managed to survive being here in season 9. Season 10, however, started with the tagline that this is the final season.
- Of course, with contracts expiring and such a lengthy run, everyone was counting on Season 10 being the last before Season 9 even ended.
- Inverted with Blue Bloods. Premiered at CBS on Fridays at 10 PM, and did surprisingly well for its time slot. It later was moved to Wednesday... where the ratings went up only slightly, and the ratings that were acceptable on Friday were subpar for Wednesday. It was soon sent back to Friday, but did get renewed.
- Thus far subverted with Supernatural in its sixth season, as its ratings are one of The CW's strongest, resulting in it being renewed for a seventh.
- Chuck, a fan-favorite which has constantly wavered back and forth on the edge of cancellation each year since the '07-'08 Writer's Strike, is receiving this treatment for its final season in the 2011-12 season, along with a 13-episode order.
- Big Time Rush started off on Friday nights after it premiered. Thankfully, most of the episodes that aired there had a new ICarly as a lead-in. But when it didn't, ratings got ugly, especially when Disney would air something new at the same time. A few episodes of Victorious suffered horribly from this as well. Since 2011, both shows have only had one episode to air on a Friday (and most likely only because that Friday was Earth Day, too), whereas iCarly has had none (though iParty with Victorious was originally scheduled to air on a Friday in June, but was moved to the following Saturday instead).
- Cartoon Network averted the whole "Friday Night Death Slot" issue for many years, since "Cartoon Cartoon Fridays" was, during the heyday of their first wave of original programming (when Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, Cow and Chicken, et al were really taking off), pretty much their premier night of programming for the week. Toonami featured on Saturday nights in its later years, and before they really started to neuter that block, it was another very strong night of programming on a night avoided by most networks.
- The success of "Cartoon Cartoon Fridays" and Toonami was partially because of when they aired. Kids don't have school the next day, and in many cases, parents take their kids out to eat dinner at pizza restaurants and the like. And guess which channel many pizza chains show on their big screen televisions to keep the kiddies entertained?
- And in 2011, CN started airing action-oriented programs like Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Generator Rex, and Thundercats2011 on Friday night, receiving high ratings.
- On the other hand, Gundam Seed played this trope straight when it got shoved to a super-late/early morning Friday/Saturday slot following poor ratings on Toonami. In exchange, however, the death slot version had fewer edits, with the final two episodes being nearly uncut.
- Degrassi has averted this. In season 10 in the U.S., it came on on Fridays at 10 pm.
- In 2011, former American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi premiered a new reality/competition series for aspiring songwriters on Monday nights, called Platinum Hit. Midway through the series, amid low ratings and with little advance warning, Bravo threw in the towel -- and moved the series to 8pm Fridays, where it quietly finished its run.
- As of Season 2 in September, Nikita will be in this slot on The CW. It seems to have done well for itself regardless of poor ratings last season, having had a larger episode order and huge fanbase. However, some fans view it as a death sentence.
- Inverted with Transformers Prime. The show started its run in the death slot, but was taken out of it and moved to Saturdays. It seems to be thriving now.
- The second season of The Mole not only got the Friday Night Death Slot, it aired only two weeks after 9/11, a time when most people were decidedly not in the mood to watch a cutthroat reality show. Three episodes of bad ratings later, the show was put on hiatus by ABC, and didn't re-air until the following summer where it competed in its time slot against the first season of American Idol. Only due to good word of mouth and a loyal fan base was the show not completely crushed.
- Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, after eight seasons was moved to Fridays, and was canceled at its next season finale.
- ANT Farm has aired every new episode on a Friday including the pilot. As a result still became popular and pulled in good enough ratings to be renewed. However, all first-run television series targeted at preteens and young teenagers (whether they have a Periphery Demographic like iCarly or not), will generally receive better ratings on Friday or Saturday nights due to the lowered ratings standards for cable television and the fact that such shows target a younger audience than broadcast network shows, that would most likely be too young to date/go spend time with friends outside the home by themselves. Therefore the type of ratings that a tween series like this gets in a first-run airing would often get a series cancelled/put it in danger of cancellation on network television than it would on cable.
- After being renewed for a fourth season of only 13 episodes, Community has been moved to 8:30 on Fridays in what is presumed to be its final season. Along with the studio-mandated ouster of series creator/showrunner Dan Harmon and several other prominent staff quitting, this has led many fans and critics to preemptively declare the show Ruined FOREVER.