At a time when the death knell is tolling for many of TV’s lower-rated series, NBC has taken an unusual approach to its schedule: The network is canceling hits. In a spasm of corporate ”granny dumping,” NBC has declined to renew three top 50 shows with senior appeal: Matlock, In the Heat of the Night, and the overhauled Golden Girls (now Golden Palace). Although all three series will return next fall (Matlock on ABC and Heat and Palace on CBS), their graying audience was no longer attractive to NBC, which trails CBS and ABC among viewers under 50. ”We’re looking harder at the demographic picture than ever before,” says an NBC spokes-woman, ”and these shows were aging in more ways than one.” In fact, the shows are hardly hits among baby boomers, and on the average, their ratings have declined 18 percent this last season.
NBC may save money by replacing the older shows, which had become relatively expensive to produce, wess costly newcomers. But some say that the bottom-line attitude will backfire. ”This is what happens when [business types] meddle with a network’s creative side,” says one studio’s top TV production executive. ”They’re taking themselves out of the game.” At the very least, NBC will face a steep challenge this fall: With the additional departures of Cosby and Night Court, the network will have to replace five successes before it can start fixing its flops.