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Nick at Nite's TV Land

By the mid-90s, Nick at Nite was reaching the height of its popularity, and its library of classic television expanded to the point where some of the older shows beloved by all were being pushed aside to make room for fresher content.  In response, executives at Nick at Nite's parent company Viacom decided to launch a 24-hour channel to air the classic programs that had grown stale on Nick at Nite.

When the new network was announced in 1995, I couldn't have been more excited.  If you've been reading my articles this week that honor the 35th Anniversary of Nick at Nite, you'll know I fell in love with classic television at a young age.  When I read there would be a new channel dedicated to 24 hours of classic TV, I was beyond elated.

Speaking of my week-long tribute to Nick at Nite, I'd like to thank you for reading YesterYear Retro this week.  I know my articles were a bit long and packed full of information, but Nick at Nite of the 90s means so much to me, and I wanted to make sure I paid my respects and did it justice.  I had to comb through hundreds of websites and old message boards to find some of the information that I provided this week, so, hopefully, someone else looking for Nick at Nite and TV Land information only has to come here to find it all.

I often consider that when TV Land shifted towards modern and original programming, it was also the beginning of the end for Nick at Nite, so it's quite fitting that TV Land bembe the subject of my final article for Nick at Nite Week on YRM.
TV Land debuted under the name "Nick at Nite's TV Land" at 8pm on April 29, 1996.  The Nick at Nite name was added to provide assurance to viewers that it would indeed be similar content that they were used to on the decade-old Nick at Nite.  The very first program that aired on the new network was "Love, American Style" with the episode titled "Love and Happy Days."  This episode was chosen because it was later used as the pilot episode for the hit sitcom "Happy Days."

The original intent of TV Land was to allow the network to air more timeless content that didn't fit into the half-hour family-friendly sitcom format.  Everything from cop shows, hospital dramas, variety shows, sitcoms, and westerns from the 1950s to the 1990s were on the docket for the new channel.  Among part of the launch library were "Gunsmoke," "The Honeymooners," "Hill Street Blues," "St. Elsewhere," and "Sonny and Cher."

The opening night featured several unique television firsts, pilots, and premier episodes.  If you were watching TV Land on opening day, you'd have seen:

  • The "Happy Days" pilot episode of "Love, American Style."
  • The first episode of "The Addams Family"
  • The never before aired episode of "That Girl"
  • The never before seen black and white pilot for "Hogan's Heroes"
  • "Sonny and Cher" featuring Ronald Reagan and The Jackson 5
  • "The Ed Sullivan Show" starring The Beatles
  • The premier episode of "Hill Street Blues"
  • The first episode of "St. Elsewhere"
  • An episode of Twilight Zone precursor, Rod Serling's "Time Element"
  • The debut episode of "My Mother the Car"
  • A 'landmark episode' of "Petticoat Junction"
  • The first episode of "Green Acres"
  • Episodes of "Gunsmoke" and "Mannix"
  • TV's first female detective in "Honey West"

Video from the first night of TV Land, April 29, 1996

The (then) new President of TV Land, Rich Cronin, said the new cable network filled the void that the extremely popular Nick at Nite couldn't because of Nickelodeon's commitment to children's programming throughout the rest of the day.  Nick at Nite had launched ten years prior and worked so well that it made older television shows seem new again.

Cronin promised in multiple interviews that Nick at Nite would continue to run on Nickelodeon, although said that TV Land wouldn't restrict itself to the half-hour sitcom... or family-friendly programming for that matter.  He singled out "Hill Street Blues" and "St. Elsewhere," saying "no child wants to watch them."

In the early 90s, Nick at Nite ran a one-time program featuring the popular advertisements and commercials of the past.  It was a ratings smash and returned several times throughout the early to mid-90s.  When TV Land was launched in 1996, they kicked off with an unusual advertising strategy.  Affiliates were given three minutes of local commercials per hour to sell instead of the industry-standard two minutes.  Networks executives claimed they wouldn't sell national advertising until it was available in 20 million subscribers households or until October of 1997, whichever came first.  In October of 1997, it indeed began airing national ads. 

In the meantime, however, the network cleverly took the idea of "retromercials" from Nick at Nite and would air them in place of national ads during regular commercial breaks.  After a few years, and especially after the start of regular advertising, the retromercials slowly went the way of the dinosaur.  But, until they went extinct in 2004, you would often see old-time favorites such as the 1985 Wendys "fluffy bun" commercial, the 1982 Shasta "Don't give me that so-so soda" ad, or the 1987 Diet Pepsi commercial featuring Michael J Fox in Apartment 10G.

Some TV Land "RetroMercials" from 1996

The name "TV Land" had been in use in pop culture since at least the late 50s about the television viewing audience.  "The Honeymooners" would repeatedly use the phrase, as well as "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show," would greet those "out there in TV Land."  The term was then used by Nick at Nite in the late 80s as the fictional place where the channel would receive its programming.

In September of 1997, nearly two years after the launch of "Nick at Nite's TV Land," Viacom execs decided to drop the "Nick at Nite" branding from the channel.  Allowing the network to stand on its own, the decision was made so that new viewers wouldn't confuse the new network with the evening-only programming block on Nickelodeon.

By February of 1999, TV Land averaged a 1.0 share in primetime viewing, achieving 10th place among all cable television networks.
TV Land Logo from 2001-2009

For the next decade or so, TV Land continued to air classic programming like "The Andy Griffith Show," "Gunsmoke," "MASH," "Gilligan's Island" and "Sanford and Son."  However, by 2005, much like its sister network, Nick at Nite, TV Land began a shift towards a younger demographic and began airing newer material.  Shows like "Saved By The Bell," "Home Improvement," "Just Shoot Me," and "Star Trek: The Next Generation" were added to the lineup as classic shows like "Green Acres" and "All in the Family" exited. 

TV Land Logo 2009-2012
In 2010, the network forayed into its first original script programming with the sitcom "Hot in Cleveland."  Starring Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, Wendie Malick, and the legendary Betty White, the show premiered in June of 2010 to nearly 5 million viewers, a record audience for TV Land.  The show was so successful that a spin-off, "The Soul Man," debuted 2 years later.  Another scripted show, "Retired at 35," began in 2011.

In 2014, the network made a conscious effort to shift away from classic television programming and focus on a shift towards Generation X viewers (those born 1965-1980.)  As growing allegations of assault grew against Bill Cosby, the network began removing The Cosby Show" from the daily lineup and deleted all references to the former "America's Dad."  In its place, the Steve Harvey run of Family Feud was swapped in.

In March of 2015, a new series "Younger" debuted without the typical TV Land branding and advertising.  Following the series finale of "Hot in Cleveland," the channel adopted a new logo as part of a more significant rebranding effort.  Shows like "ImPastor" and "The Jim Gaffigan Show" were unveiled as they officially announced the rebranding on June 24, 2015, with the shift to edgier, single-camera content.  Multi-camera sitcoms were not long for the TV Land world, and "The Soul Man" and "The Exes" were canceled within two weeks of the rebrand.
Part of the 2015 rebrand

In 2017, Viacom reorganized its media business around six "flagship" brands, including Paramount (formerly Spike), BET, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., and MTV.  TV Land's then Network President, Keith Cox was reassigned to the new Paramount Network, and he took two original series slated for TV Land, "American Woman" and "Heathers" with him.

Two TV Land branded channels were launched on free internet streaming service Pluto TV after it was acquired by Viacom in 2019.  "TV Land Drama" and "TV Land Sitcoms" were instant hits on the network.  Shortly after launch, "TV Land Sitcoms" was rebranded as "Pluto TV Sitcoms."

TV Land's Current Logo
Previously, from 2003 to 2016, TV Land would hold their own award show "The TV Land Awards."  With the shift away from classic programming, the Award Show was deemed unnecessary.  These days, TV Land, much like Nick at Nite, is used as a catch-all by Viacom.  When significant events and awards shows are to be aired on multiple networks, and cross-platform, TV Land programming is preempted in favor of the event.  Currently, in July of 2020, the network airs the following:

Admittedly some are quite a stretch, but, in what I would consider "Classic" programming, :
  • The Golden Girls
  • MASH
  • Everybody Loves Raymond
  • King of Queens
In what I would consider "syndicated content":
  • Two and a Half Men
  • Reba
  • New Adventures of Old Christine
  • The Goldbergs
And in what I would call "original content":
  • "Hot in Cleveland"
  • "The Exes"
  • "ImPastor"
  • "Happily Divorced"
  • "Kirstie"
  • "Lopez"
  • "Nobodies"
  • "Teachers"
  • "Younger"
  • "One Day at a Time" (The only one currently in production)
Much like Nick at Nite, TV Land has lost its way since its creation in 1996.  It has disenfranchised viewers who enjoy classic television, myself included, and forced them to find other avenues of older programming.  For a channel that I once loved so much that I bought T-Shirts and a Board Game just because it had its logo on them, I am disappointed by what they air these days.  Occasionally my wife and I will watch an episode or two of "Everybody Loves Raymond" in the evening, but as far as the original programming goes, I've never seen a second of it. 

I get it, it's not made for me.  It's definitely not my cup of tea, but, just like Nick at Nite, it's just not the same.  I have so many fond memories growing up catching classic television shows on TV Land.  I discovered so many new shows, understood the old advertising jingles my parents would reference, and fell in love with the classics I already enjoyed.  Nothing stays the same forever, and TV Land is now just another network that runs syndicated content. 

Like a lot of things these days, the TV Land of today makes me wish I could go back to yesteryear.