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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

F TROOP in the Nielsen Ratings PART THREE: Dispelling More Myths

F TROOP in the Nielsen Ratings PART ONE at this link

F TROOP in the Nielsen Ratings PART TWO at this link

So to recap the first two parts of my analysis of the Nielsen Ratings for F TROOP, here's the overall findings for each season:

1965-66: 20.4 rating, 31.3 share, 36th out of 108 shows

1966-67: 19.2 rating, 31.3 share, 39th out of 113 shows

Each season had a higher ranking, rating and share than THAT GIRL ever achieved in five years on ABC (to name one example from the show's peers) so the perception that F TROOP was a lowly rated failure in its network run is dismissed--at ease!  One myth of many I'll be poking holes in as I provide some missing context in parts three and four.  

I know I'm taking a considerable amount of time with this.  Hey, if Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn can take three of the six volumes of the THESE ARE THE VOYAGES book series to defend STAR TREK against decades of dissing its ratings, then surely I can take four blog posts (ok, make it five) to defend F TROOP against similar misconceptions.  

The third post in this series will now take a closer look at the 1965-66 season, which as I mentioned in the previous posts, Ratings Ryan was kind enough to make available here.

Going into 1965-66, ABC had experienced five consecutive years of failure at 9 P.M. Eastern on Tuesday nights.  Beginning with 1960-61, the network had tried westerns (STAGECOACH WEST), police drama (THE NEW BREED), Desilu Productions (THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH), sitcoms (THE TYCOON) and even relocated established hits (HAWAIIAN EYE) to no avail attempting to compete with CBS and NBC.  CBS' RED SKELTON in particular--a Tuesday juggernaut throughout the 1960's with a "kill list" to rival BONANZA's on Sundays at 9.  Even finding success a half-hour earlier at 8:30 Eastern with McHALE'S NAVY beginning in 1963 had not resulted in ABC continuing that success from a strong lead-in.  

F TROOP changed ABC's fortunes for the better in the 9 P.M. timeslot on Tuesday nights in 1965-66, and provided the network with its only season of sustained success there between 1960 and the 1969-70 debut of THE ABC MOVIE OF THE WEEK.  I'll just stick with the immediate "before and after" to illustrate:

1964-65  TYCOON 19.5 rating/28.2 share (49th)

1965-66  F TROOP 20.4 rating/31.3 share (36th)

1966-67 PRUITTS OF SOUTHHAMPTON 14.0 rating/24.1 share (77th - first half) THE INVADERS 19.1 rating/28.6 share - 2nd half, 40th season) COMBINED 16.6 rating/26.4 share.

TYCOON starred Walter Brennan, fresh off a six-year run in THE REAL McCOYS, and enjoyed a 22.3 lead-in from McHALE'S NAVY (29th in 1964-65).  TYCOON nonetheless became ABC's fifth 8 PM failure in a row on Tuesdays, losing 13 percent of McHALE'S audience.  The next season, F TROOP was given a weaker NAVY (19.8/30.1 share, 44th place) preceding it, but not only improved on its well established lead-in but also outrated another long-running favorite that immediately followed:

8:30 P.M. McHALE'S NAVY 19.8/30.1 (44th) 10.67M households

9 PM F TROOP 20.4/31.3 (36th) 11.0M households

9:30 PM PEYTON PLACE (II) 19.5/31.1 (46th) 10.5M households

It would appear that F TROOP was actually getting quite a few viewers to switch channels; to further bolster this appearance, SKELTON's season average is shown as 27.6, but its rating during the second half hour at 9-9:30 P.M. for the 27 weeks it went head to head with the TROOP was nearly a point below its overall rating--26.7.  When McHALE'S NAVY and F TROOP were preempted for the only time all season on February 1st, SKELTON soared to a season high 33.3 rating.

F TROOP shoring up the longstanding weak link in the middle of the Tuesday lineup helped ABC to its only night of victory during 1965-66 despite ratings dropoffs from the otherwise intact 1964-65 schedule the rest of the night.  Before BATMAN came along in January, F TROOP was ABC's highest rated new show and still ended the season 7th out of the 39 offerings from the Alphabet network (see part one for more on how even F TROOP's ranking has been misrepresented in the decades since).  Still, you'll rarely hear historians mention that--only that the show never made the top 25 and lasted only two seasons.   

One of the more recent chroniclers to cover the era is Thom Shubilla, author of Primetime 1966-67: The Full Spectrum of Television's First All-Color Season.  Not to disparage; I'm glad his book exists despite a number of inaccuracies (i.e. JULIA did not replace OCCASIONAL WIFE, THE JERRY LEWIS SHOW did).  I can tell, though, that he's no fan of F TROOP.  Shubilla cites the show as "waning" and a supposed non-factor in the demise of competition JERICHO during the season he writes about (more on that next post).  The author also has a number of head-scratching claims about the 1965-66 season.  Shubilla's assertion (page 206) that "F TROOP lost out in the ratings to both RED SKELTON and NBC TUESDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES during 1965-66 (page 206)" is provably false no matter how you examine the numbers.

No one is disputing the first contention, since SKELTON was the # 4 show on all of television during 1965-66.  The statement that NBC's Tuesday movie defeated F TROOP is really dubious since the August 1967 TELEVISION (a source Shubilla cites elsewhere in his book) had NBC TUESDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES at 60th place at season's end (it was 57th at midseason to F TROOP's 27th per the March 1966 issue). 

During the 9 PM - 9:30 PM half hour, NBC's movie averaged 16.2 on the 29 Tuesdays in which it competed with F TROOP.  This was below its average overall rating of 18.1 from 9-11 P.M. E.T. for thirty movies, as NBC gained viewers in later hours (competing with the extremely low rated CBS REPORTS from 10-11 E.T. helped there).  NBC TUESDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES was bested by F TROOP by an average of 4.2 ratings points in the head to head half hour of 9-9:30 P.M., then gained an average of 1.9 the rest of the night against other shows.   F TROOP averaged 11 million households from 9 to 9:30 to the NBC MOVIE's 8.73 million over the season's 30 weeks. 

F TROOP's only losses to the NBC movie were to Home From the Hill on 3/1/66 and to G.I. Blues on both 11/9/65 and 4/12/66.  It appears that Shubilla confused the 1965-66 listing in TELEVISION with the 1966-67 listing, which had the NBC Tuesday Movie in 35th place that season.  But it wasn't opposite F TROOP that year--it was opposite the bomb PRUITTS OF SOUTHAMPTON, and the lack of effective opposition from ABC at 9 P.M. was a contributing factor to NBC's rise of 25 spots in the ratings.  For that matter, SKELTON also benefitted from F TROOP's move, rising from a 27.6 rating to a 28.2 and from 4th place to 2nd behind BONANZA in 1966-67. 

Shubilla further cites F TROOP as the season's 40th most watched show "though the ratings started out high".  I can't blame him for missing that one, as it took some real digging and calculating for me to determine that 36th place was the correct ranking, but even the show's second half rating and share outpointed every other ABC show that was put up against SKELTON during the Sixties.  Including THE INVADERS, a second season entry that followed the Diller debacle in 1967 but managed a renewal with a 28 share (and was subsequently canceled halfway through 1967-68).  

F TROOP sustained those "early high ratings" better than most despite having an immovable object in front of it during its freshman season.  While there were quite a few 1965 premieres ahead of F TROOP, here's some of the new programs ranked behind it: LOST IN SPACE, THE BIG VALLEY, I SPY, THE DEAN MARTIN SHOW and RUN FOR YOUR LIFE.  BIG VALLEY (53rd midseason, 57th on the year end list) had to compete with GREEN ACRES (11th) and DICK VAN DYKE (16th) on CBS, but none of the others were facing unwinnable battles.  And BIG VALLEY at least got to air in color against ACRES (VAN DYKE remained in black and white) whereas F TROOP aired in black and white versus color competition from the other two networks--SKELTON was always in color and most of NBC's movies were as well.  

Speaking of the color/black and white disparity which was in its final season during F TROOP's first: two shows that F TROOP gets compared to concluded their runs during 1965-66 under the same circumstances: CBS' THE MUNSTERS and ABC's THE ADDAMS FAMILY.  Both get more respect than the TROOP in general because both made the top 25 during 1964-65 while F TROOP never did.  All three managed only two seasons on the network (ended up between 64 and 70 total episodes) but enjoyed lasting success in syndication despite the relatively low number of segments available.

During 1965-66, though, all three sitcoms faced the same situation: airing in black and white against dynamic, Nielsen top-10 competition in color.

I stress that the following is not a diss of either MUNSTERS or ADDAMS FAMILY (I like both), but rather just to bolster two points I've consistently made in this series:  

1) F TROOP performed better than other shows facing similar obstacles, and 

2) Second half performance was consistently a key factor in whether a show was renewed or not--second half surges typically brought you back, second half swoons usually got you a pink slip.  

After ranking as ABC's seventh highest rated show in 1964-65, winning its time slot at 8:30 P.M. on Friday and finishing that season in 23rd place overall (23.9 rating), THE ADDAMS FAMILY remained in black and white for season two but faced new color competition from CBS' HOGAN'S HEROES (24.9 rating, 9th for the season) in 1965-66.  While it took a hit, it still looked like a decent bet for renewal at mid-season:  267.1 rating in 15 airings (17.8 average) and 479.6 share (32.0 average).  A strong enough second place despite a drop to 49th, especially the share, to look like a renewal for the third place network.  But the second half demonstrated further decline, totaling a rating of 256.3 in 15 shows (17.1) and 422.3 share (28.0 average).  It came out to a 17.4 rating, 30.0 total share for the full season.  Despite the respectable overall share, the steady decline throughout the season and eventual fall to (reportedly) 62nd place from 23rd resulted in a cancellation.

THE MUNSTERS suffered a change of fortune that was one of the decade's most abrupt.  13th place in 1964-65 (24.7 rating), and while it dropped into 31st place during the first half, 15 airings through 1/6/66 totaled 320 in ratings (21.3) and 566.6 in share (37.8).  A solid hit still, easily cruising towards renewal.  Then, beginning on 1/13/66, SHINDIG! was out and new color sensation BATMAN (27.0, 5th for the season) was in on ABC.  THE MUNSTERS' final 14 airings totaled 211 in ratings (15.1) and 338.5 in share (24.2).  By the final two week Nielsen report those numbers were down to a 12.1 rating/21.2 share.  While the full season totals were 18.3/31.2 (not 30.7 as I've seen elsewhere, just a number of errors I've found when running these numbers myself) which might result in renewal in a vacuum, the poor third to BATMAN and DANIEL BOONE over the second half sent the MUNSTERS packing just three short months after a third season looked like a lead pipe cinch.  Darn, darn, darn, darn!

In contrast, F TROOP maintained a rating over 20 all season long despite facing the highest ranked and long-established competition, and ratings fell 6.2 points in the time slot in Fall 1966 after F TROOP was moved.   THE ADDAMS FAMILY and THE MUNSTERS are perceived as hits due to high first season rankings and ratings which fell off sharply within a year, while F TROOP gets penalized for its consistency and perceived as a failure for never finishing in the top 25.  Just saying. 

One other comment: TELEVISION had MUNSTERS ending the season in 61st, ADDAMS in 62nd, but again I can't help but notice the likelihood of really lazy tabulation at the time yet again.  I find it hard to believe that not one show finished with an overall rating between 18.3 (MUNSTERS) and 17.4 (ADDAMS)--mainly because I found one above without even trying to!  The aforementioned NBC TUESDAY MOVIE (allegedly in 60th place, remember) averaged a 18.1 rating in 1965-66, so THE MUNSTERS should at least be in 60th instead of 61st.   The MUNSTERS share was wrong for the full season, off a full half point (F TROOP's as you'll recall was reported as 3/10ths of a point lower than actual as well).  I wish I had the time to run ALL the numbers for the season and see what I come up with, given all the errors I am finding in the so-called official Nielsen list.  Maybe another time.

For now, though, I'll be moving back to 1966-67 in the conclusion of this quadrilogy (tetralogy? quartet?).  Stay tuned!


John said...

Love this series!

Hal said...

Thank you John! So glad to see you back in action this week, and I hope all is well.

John said...

Absolutely! The reason for being out of action was a good thing. All is well.

Walter S. said...

Hal, I'm really enjoying your setting the record straight regarding F TROOP and the Nielsen ratings. I appreciate the hard work that you're doing and keep on doing it.

Regarding THE MUNSTERS, which is a show that I liked when it was originally aired, and I still like it. Local tv stations would sometimes time shift a show, which means air it at a different scheduled time. In my neck of the woods the CBS affiliate WREC Channel 3 broadcasting from Memphis, Tennessee would time shift THE MUNSTERS from Thursday evening at 6:30(Central Time) to Saturday at 6:00(Central Time). This suited me, because viewing THE MUNSTERS didn't hinder me from watching DANIEL BOONE at 6:30(CT) Thursday evening. What did Channel 3 air in THE MUNSTERS' Thursday time slot? MARSHAL DILLON, which was syndicated reruns of the 1955-61 30-minute episodes of GUNSMOKE.

F TROOP aired in its regular time slot in my neck of the woods both seasons it originally aired on the ABC network. The last prime time network showing was on Thursday August 31, 1967, with a rerun of "The Majority of Wilton" episode. F TROOP didn't miss a beat in my neck of the woods, because it began its successful second life in rerun syndication on the Memphis, Tennessee ABC affiliate WHBQ Channel 13 on Saturday evening September 9, 1967, at 6:00(CT).

Look forward to Part 4.

Hal said...

Thanks Walter, part 4 is coming up today.

You make a great point on network affiliate clearance, something that affected the ratings of many shows then. Some ABC shows had up to 10 percent of the affiliates opting for alternative programming, while CBS and NBC tended to have closer to 95-plus percent clearance.

Indeed, The Majority of Wilton was F TROOP's final farewell on ABC. That's amazing that it was right back on the air 9 days later!