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Save CBS: Network timeline

We track the pivotal moments of the broadcasting company, from ''MASH'' to ''The Pat Sajack Show''

February 1983
The end of an era: CBS broadcasts the final episode of M*A*S*H (starring Alan Alda) to the largest single audience in TV history. It is last series from CBS’ acclaimed lineup of the ‘70’s to leave the air.

January 1984
The beginning of an error: Airwolf, starring Jan Michael Vincent, Ernest Borgnine, and a helicopter makes its debut.

October 1984
CBS attempts to capitalize on the growing music-video craze with Dreams, featuring John Stamos as a rock musician. It lasts one month.

May 1985
CBS Morning News anchorwoman Phyllis George interviews Gary Dotson, freed after six years’ imprisonment on a rape charge, and Cathleen Webb, who recanted her accusation against him. First she makes them shake hands. They do. Then she has an even brighter idea. ”How about a hug?” A nation stares in disbelief. Dotson and Webb decline.

July 1985
Ominous turning sounds are heard emanating from the grave of Edward R. Murrow

August 1985
After eight months on the job, Phyllis George leaves under pressure.

April 1986
After six straight years as the top-rated network, CBS finishes the 1985-86 season in second place.

May 1986
Under chairman Thomas Wyman, CBS decides to eliminate 700 jobs.

August 1986
In a nationally syndicated column about the cutbacks, 60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney writes, ”CBS, which used to stand for the Columbia Broadcast System, no longer stands for anything. They’re just corporate initials now.”

September 1986
As a new season of Dallas begins, Pam Ewing wakes up, and her husband Bobby, informs viewers that the entire previous season was a bad dream. A nation groans.

September 1986
Beleaguered anchorman Dan Rather unexpectedly ends and evening newscast with the sign-off ”courage”. A nation giggles.

September 1986
A few days later, Rather amends the sign-off to ”coraje” (”courage” in Spanish). A nation Guffaws.

September 1986
Elliott Gould and Dee Wallace Stone play a married couple in the new CBS comedy Together We Stand. Its ratings are poor. In the true comic tradition, the network decides that the series would be funnier if one of the characters was dead. A revamped version called Nothing Is Easy, bombs just as quickly.

January 1987
Polaroid pitchwoman and ex-bride-of-the-Incredible Hulk Mariette Hartley begins a run as host of CBS’ new morning show. Her most memorable question, to Rep. Joesph Kennedy 2d, ”I was wondering about your feelings about guns.” Other guests included Hartley’s dog, Daisy.

April 1987
At the end of the seventh season of Magnum, P.I., Magnum (Tom Selleck) dies. Ratings are high. Suddenly, CBS decides he wasn’t so dead after all. Magnum returns, healthy as ever, the next fall.

September 1987
CBS announces its plan to drop Mariette Hartley and cancels the Morning Program.

September 1987
Stars of tomorrow in the fall lineup include Paul Sorvino, Jerry Orbach, William Conrad, and Anne Jackson.

September 1987
Infuriated when a tennis broadcast runs into his time slot, Dan Rather walks off the set of the CBS Evening News and, for the seven longest minutes in its history, CBS goes black.

January 1988
Rather gets into an on-air shouting match with then Vice President George Bush. ”How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set?” Bush says. ”Would you like that?”

January 1988
During an interview in connection with Martin Luther King Day, NFL Today commentator Jimmy the Greek decides to moonlight as a racial theoretician. ”The black is a better athlete…because he’s been bred to be that way,” he tells a reporter. ”This goes back all the way to the Civil War, when…the slave owner would breed his big black to his big women so that he could have a big black kid.”

January 1988
The network fires Jimmy the Greek.

April 1988
CBS finishes the season in third place for the first time in its history.

September 1988
After changing its time period approximately 225 times in one year, CBS cancels its acclaimed series Frank’s Place.

October 1988
Venerable CBS stars Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke return to the network in new situation comedies. Nobody watches.

January 1989
Aware that it’s in deep ratings trouble, CBS combs the entertainment world in search of the one man who can turn its fortunes around. The result of the network’s efforts, The Pat Sajak Show, makes its debut shortly thereafter. A nation gets up and changes the channel to The Arsenio Hall Show.

September 1989
CBS This Morning anchor Kathleen Sullivan makes a joke about her employer — calling it ”the Cheap Broadcasting System” — into a microphone that, to her surprise, is open. The comment is heard on CBS’ closed-circuit system in New York. Nobody laughs.

September 1989
Saturday Night with Connie Chung begins its run and becomes the first CBS News series to use reenactments. Edward R. Murrow stirs again.

October 1989
The Pat Sajak Show shrinks from 90 minutes to one hour per night.

November 1989
Doomstruck on Donahue. Kathleen Sullivan tells Phil’s audience, ”The ax is right there…I know that, and I’m a grown-up. I can take it.”

December 1989
The on-again, off-again cult series Beauty and the Beast returns, with a special valentine to its fans: Beauty gets murdered. Four weeks later the show is canceled for good.

December 1989
After CBS’ highly promoted slate of new series fails, Kim Le Masters is replaced by Jeff Sagansky, who inherits a slate of replacement shows that include vehicles for Shadoe Stevens and Moon and Dweezil Zappa.

December 1989
For the first time, the CBS Evening News fails to finish the year in first place, falling to ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings.

December 1989
In a prime-time-year-in-review news special, Andy Rooney comments that ”homosexual unions…lead quite often to premature death.”

January 1990
Finally, a piece of luck for CBS: the Super Bowl. Unfortunatley for the network, the game turns out to be the lowest-rated ever in prime time.

February 1990
If you thought the insult was bad, wait until you hear the apology: In an explanation of his views on homosexuality in The Advocate, a gay magazine, Rooney is quoted as saying that blacks have ”watered down their genes.”

February 1990
The Pat Sajak show changes its set and format, concluding each evening with round-table discussions among the guests. After a one-year grace period, Arsenio starts making fun of him.