Retro Scans: TV Guide 1996 Fall TV Preview

Fall may not have officially started yet, but with Labor Day and the unofficial end to summer firmly in our rearview mirror, many of us are thinking of cooler weather and our favorite fall activities.

For the longest time, Fall, and specifically September, often meant a new slate of TV shows and an exciting amount of new programming.  

Growing up in the 90s, I can remember the excitement of the new crop of television programs and the immense amount of advertising these broadcasting companies put into them.  

For me, diving into a fresh Fall television lineup was akin to waiting to see who the New York Rangers would trade on Deadline Day or the excitement of the wheeling and dealing during Silly Season in NASCAR.  

As I poured over the TV listings, it was always exciting to ask myself questions like which of the new series would flop and get canceled.  Who would survive until the end of the season?  Will they get renewed?  Which new show will be the next big thing and launch the actors into megastardom?   

Today... not so much.  There is much less risk with new series and often networks will run the course with a sure thing or cancel it before production.  

That's not just for television, too.  Sports free agent markets have changed so much in recent years thanks to large contracts, corporate input, and salary caps.  Things don't just seem as much fun as they once were.

I can write paragraphs about how streaming services have diversified the viewing landscape.  I could also go on about the lack of "seasons" on television anymore, but that's an entirely different discussion for another time.

As we knew it back then, the fall schedule consisted of new television series paired with returning favorites packaged into a giant media frenzy and advertising campaign launched at the end of August.  The shows would begin their season in September and run through December, taking a hiatus during the holiday weeks when viewership declines.   A "midseason" premier would occur in January and historically run through mid to late May.

Recently, several networks have staggered the new and returning shows without necessarily following the standard fall and spring schedules.  In 2008, NBC was the first to make it official, claiming they'd follow the "52-week television season" with fewer episodes than the current standard.  

For comparison, back in the 1950s, I Love Lucy aired 35 episodes from September through May.  In the 90s, Seinfeld ran 24 episodes from September through May.  But in 2022, Better Call Saul ran only 7 episodes during April and May, followed by a two-month break, before finishing the season (and series) with only 6 more episodes. 

This reduced number of episodes leads to changes in presentation and storytelling, of course.  One would argue that the shows are much more like "mini-films" these days, and you'd be right to some extent.  Rising production costs, increased actor salaries, and reduced advertising budgets created by declining audiences have led to the need to shorten television seasons.  

The audience's desire to binge-watch a series on a streaming platform also reduces the number of episodes per season.  When I Love Lucy aired 35 episodes in a single season, they did so by producing them one week at a time.  When a series is placed on streaming platforms to be watched all at once, all episodes must be filmed all at once, requiring a more extended production schedule.  Many streaming platforms are now following Disney Plus' lead and are getting away from the Netflix style of "dropping an entire season at once" and returning to the standard weekly episodic model.  

You can also consider audience attention span and viewing fatigue as contributing factors.  Today's viewers need a constant "new-ness"; otherwise, a show will wear out quickly.  Today's audience has a more discerning palate, it seems.  

Speaking of advertising budgets, did you know the original reason that the Fall Premier season is a big deal is that it was created to help automobile manufacturers promote the new car lineup for the coming year?   

The more you know... (cue the shooting star). 

In the 90s, an old Seinfeld rerun could earn 20 million viewers.  Today, a "hit" streaming show on Netflix or Amazon may be considered a "massive success" with only a few hundred thousand views, as long as it gets social media buzz to drum up online ad sales.  

With limited time this week, and after working on my "Retro Museum" at home, I came across a copy of an old TV Guide from 1996 I had aquired many years ago that highlighted the new Fall Season.  

Some of the shows featured in the following pages I remember fondly.  Some I had long forgotten, and some I don't remember whatsoever.  I scanned some excerpts, along with a handful of fun advertisements that piqued my interest.  

Look through the scans below and enjoy your own stroll down memory lane.  Do you remember any of these shows?  Did you watch any of them faithfully, only to be disappointed when they were canceled?  

Let me know in the comments section, or drop me a line!  

You can find the "Drop Me a Line" box on the right side of your screen if you are using a laptop or desktop computer.  You can find it on a tablet or phone below the posts towards the bottom of the page.  

Or, you can always just click on the little envelope in the top right corner and send me an email!  

Let's crack this puppy open!  You can click on each image and make it larger for better viewing.

Right inside the cover is a tri-fold ad for NBC's new "Must See" lineup.  3rd Rock from the Sun was a show my family watched pretty regularly during its first season or two.  Without fail, my parents would comment every week about other shows John Lithgow and Jane Curtin had starred in from before my time.  Eventually 3rd Rock ran out of ideas and got pretty silly, so we decided we had other things to watch.  

Aside from Suddenly Susan, which ran for 4 seasons, none of the other advertised shows made it past a second season.  Jeff Foxworthy had two complete seasons, while Something So Right was canceled after the first season but was picked up by ABC for a second.  Men Behaving Badly, an Americanized version of a popular British series, aired one full season but was canceled less than halfway into Season Two.  Mr. Rhodes was canned at the end of its first season.

I included the following two-page ad for the 1997 Ford Escort (MSRP of only $12,695!) to show how car body styles can really date something.  Just one look at that car and my mind immediately thinks of the mid-90s!  Styles, colors, and shapes of cars will often age a show or movie, and my wife and I will frequently comment about them when seeing types from "our era."  

My first car was an old rust bucket, but when I was going off to college, my parents found me a more reliable 1998 Ford Contour, the big brother to the Escort.  My Contour was gold, though, which is not really a color you see often on cars today.  My brother had a 1996 Contour in silver.

Another ad I included was for the colorful Flamingo Casino in Las Vegas.  My wife and I were frequent visitors to Las Vegas during the early 2000s, and we often miss the "family-friendly" days of Sin City.  I know that's sacrilege to real gamblers, but for tourists like us who like the kitschiness and bright colors of the "pyramids and pirates era" of Las Vegas, this ad is a shot of pure nostalgia.  Besides, if you've ever seen some of my tattoos, you'll know I love bright pink cartoon flamingos like the one in this ad.

Dark Skies is the series that TV Guide promoted as the best new series on Saturdays.  It was billed as "X-Files meets The Invaders," but unfortunately, it wasn't long for this world (very punny Jeff) and was canceled after one season.

Sundays have always been a big night for television.  Most folks are home early in the evening, spending some family time around the television before the work or school week ahead, so networks put on some of their best fare on Sunday nights.  

TV Guide's featured new show, Big Deal, lasted its 6 week run and was not renewed for any more episodes.  NBC put 3rd Rock from the Sun up against established and successful series:  Lois & Clark, Touched by an Angel, and The Simpsons and wound up doing well, since the show last nearly 6 years.

Bill Cosby's new show, Cosby, starred himself and Phylicia Rashad as retired airport employees from Queens.  I remember my Grandparents liked to watch this show, and I'd watch it with Gramps during reruns in the afternoon.  Believe it or not, the series lasted four seasons and a total of 96 episodes.

Party Girl was a series on FOX based on the 1995 film with the same name.  The series lasted four episodes, with two more having never aired.  This TV series started Christine Taylor, who I'll always remember from Nickelodeon's Hey Dude.

Acne lotions, pads, and creams were all the rage with teens of the 90s.  Now teenagers are all about Proactiv, but I can remember seeing countless Noxzema Plus and Oxy Pad ads back then.  We had several of those little square Oxy Pad bottles floating around the upstairs bathroom that my brother and I shared.   

Spin City was a top-rated show that needs no introduction.  Debuting in 1996, the series lasted 6 seasons.  Unfortunately, in 2000, Michael J. Fox left the show when the symptoms of Parkinson's disease became too much for his filming schedule.  He was replaced by (pre-Tiger Blood era) Charlie Sheen.  The show's filming was moved from New York (where Fox was located) to Los Angeles (where Sheen lived), and the bulk of the cast was written off the show and replaced.  The show only lasted two more seasons after Fox left.

TV Guide's pick for Wednesdays is Pearl, a CBS sitcom I do not recall whatsoever.  Starring Rhea Perlman and Malcolm McDowell, it only lasted one season with 22 episodes.  The next page of the TV Guide features Townies, an ABC sitcom starring Molly Ringwald (16 Candles, Breakfast Club), Jenna Elfman (Dharma and Greg), and Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls.)  While the premise sounds promising, especially from the creators of Roseanne, it only lasted ten episodes before being pulled from the schedule. 

At first glance, the photo of Men Behaving Badly's Ron Eldard looked like Denis Leary.  Perhaps if it really was Leary, the show would have lasted longer than a season and a half.

Definitely a show popular with my generation, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, was inserted into the refreshed TGIF lineup in 1996.  It followed Family Matters and became the lead-in for the new Clueless sitcom.  Clueless was followed by the already successful Boy Meets WorldSabrina lasted 7 seasons with over 160 episodes.

There's hardly a show better than Everybody Loves Raymond that portrays the 1990s suburban family, especially the stereotypical Long Island Italian families that my wife remembers.  

Debuting here in 1996, the show was an instant hit with my family.  We all still watch the reruns when they are on.  Much like when people say, "This is like that episode of Seinfeld," my family often will use, "This is like that time in Raymond..."  Just make your family lives in the right zone!

Everybody Loves Raymond followed another sitcom I liked titled Dave's World, which starred Harry Anderson as journalist Dave Barry.  

Raymond remained on television for nine seasons and 210 episodes. 

I hear Crystal Light is hard to come by these days.  Supply shortages and inflation and all.

As a nearly teenage boy in 1996, I wasn't really into Clueless, but I know it was very popular among the girls at school.  The series was canceled by ABC after one season, but the show found new life on UPN for two more years before being canceled permanently.  

I also wanted to include the ad for "Biz" laundry detergent.  Biz was heavily advertised everywhere back in the 90s and just disappeared one day.  The former Proctor and Gamble brand was sold off in 2000, but I was surprised to find that it is still made today.  It's never advertised anywhere that I see, but you can get it right on Amazon.

My family just loved 7th Heaven.  I don't really remember my parents watching it, but I would often head over to my Grandparent's house and sit and watch with them every week.  The news that surfaced later regarding Stephen Collins is not good, but I still enjoy watching old reruns of the show while daydreaming about a "simpler, more peaceful" time.  

The Steve Harvey Show also debuted in the fall of 1996, running for six years.  

No big names jumped out at me in the "Prime Time Cable Series" section.  What did jump out at me, however, was that the cable channels hadn't gone through the rebranding yet that saw everyone switch to just initials.  "Home and Garden Television" became "HGTV," The "Independent Film Channel" became "IFC," and "The Learning Channel" became "TLC."  I'd bet some younger readers didn't even know those letters meant anything!

Judge Judy was a staple in my house on many afternoons.  My brother and I would watch after school just to watch her yell and scream at people.  Her show ran for an unbelievable TWENTY-FIVE seasons with 6,280 episodes!  I also left the Pine-Sol ad because I love the smell of Pine-Sol, and I always enjoyed the ads from this era with the "Pine-Sol Lady."  

This is the section I would have been most interested in as a kid!  Just look at some of these show titles that were classic 90s cartoons:  Arthur, Gargoyles, G.I. Joe Extreme, Jumanji, Mighty Ducks, Richie Rich, and the weirdly spooky-but-fun kids game show Secrets of the Cryptkeeper's Haunted House.

Under the cable section, you'll notice iconic children's show Blue's Clues debuted this fall, as well as Nickelodeon classics Hey, Arnold!, Kablam!, and Kenan & Kel.  Taz-Mania was a favorite of mine, as well.

Just a sampling of a Sunday in September.  What would you watch?  Do you remember what you watched on September 15, 1996, based on this tv guide excerpt?  If I had to guess, I'd say my family was watching Nick-At-Nite on Nickelodeon, featuring Happy Days, The Munsters, and The Odd Couple.  

As much as I was a giant TGIF fan and watcher back in the day, I honestly can't remember the "Urkel in Paris" one-hour special advertised here.  Urkel had reached peak annoyance by 1996, so it's likely that I had stopped watching by then.  Family Matters ended two years later, in 1998, having been on the air since 1989.


I hope you enjoyed a look back at this little time capsule of 1996 television.  We'll have to do it again someday!

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