Back in the early 1980s, the creative minds at NBC were busy putting together a formula for capturing Thursday night audiences, an initiative that eventually led to "Must See TV" and two decades of dominance by the network. While that network may have fallen on relatively hard times from a ratings perspective since the halcyon days of "Seinfeld" and "ER," the template that was brewed up three decades ago continues to provide scaffolding for prime-time success in the 21st century. In particular, if you can latch onto a hugely popular sitcom, build three other solid comedies around it, and then finish off with a gripping hour of drama, you have the makings of an alluring evening that just might cause viewers to put you on their weekly schedule. With the continued raging success of "Modern Family," ABC is working this old formula masterfully, and recent ratings numbers suggest that the network is becoming the place to be on Wednesday nights.
According to the television and radio industry website, RBR.com, "Modern Family" has swept Wednesday nights in terms of total viewers and the coveted 18- to 49-year-old age group so far during the 2012 fall season. Three weeks in, the popular sitcom has seen weekly increases across the board and trounces its closest competition in the key demographic groups by more than 50 percent. Importantly, "Modern Family" appears to be imparting a significant coattail effect to the rest of ABC's Wednesday night lineup, as well.
While "The Middle" has been going strong in the lead-off slot for awhile, first-year entry "The Neighbors" has quickly picked up steam and is beating its direct competition. While "The Neighbors" got an initial boost from having its debut episode follow "Modern Family" a few weeks back, the rookie is holding its own as the lead-in to "Family" these days. Second-year sitcom "Suburgatory" now sits snugly in the 9:30 time slot, right after "Modern Family," and manages to hold onto a large number of the lead-in viewers. Capping off the night is "Nashville," which hasn't quite managed to take down CBS's "CSI" yet, but typically finishes a strong second at 10 PM.
Add it all up, and ABC lodged firmly in second place on Wednesday nights, with most of its young shows still trying to hit their strides. When all five series are fully tuned up, the network may just have a modern powerhouse on their hands. And they can chalk it all up to NBC's dusty planning rooms from the 1980s, and to "Modern Family," of course.