The major networks have basically abandoned Saturdays. The WB and UPN don't even program the night, and NBC's entire schedule consists of special clip shows and repeats. In fact, there is so little going on that in the fall previews by both TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly, the featured show doesn't even exist in prime-time. Instead, TV Guide spotlighted Saturday Night Live and EW examined Mad TV. But other than ABC spreading family films and theatrical movie broadcasts across three hours, and CBS throwing the best reality show on all of television into one of the worst time slots imaginable, there's not much interesting going on Saturdays.
And why should there be? Who stays home Saturday nights, right?
Well, here's something to consider. What do the following shows have in common? The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, The Bob Newhart Show, M*A*S*H, The Carol Burnett Show, The Jeffersons, Starsky and Hutch, The Love Boat, CHiPs, Hart to Hart, Fantasy Island, WKRP in Cincinnati, T.J. Hooker, Diff'rent Strokes, Silver Spoons, Gimme a Break!, The Golden Girls, 227, Hunter, Empty Nest, Who's the Boss?, Growing Pains, Sisters, and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
I'm sure the context of my question gives away the answer: all of those shows have aired, and succeeded -- many even thrived -- on Saturdays. In fact, from 1971-1975, All in the Family was the top rated show on all of television while airing at 8 PM on Saturday night. And the only reason that ended in 1975 is because All in the Family was moved to Tuesdays to make room for The Jeffersons, and brand new show launched on Saturday at 8 PM because that was CBS's strongest night of the week. During the 1973 season, CBS's Saturday lineup kicked-off with All in the Family (still the #1 show), continued with M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Bob Newhart Show before winding up with The Carol Burnett Show. That's a lineup including five of the best shows in television history, let alone that season.
It wasn't just the 70s, though. In the 80s, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island were a one-two ratings punch, and NBC had major hits with Diff'rent Strokes and Gimme a Break! Later the same decade, The Facts of Life and The Golden Girls became major Saturday night hits. But by the mid-to-late '90s, the last remnants of popular original programming – Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Touched By an Angel, Walker, Texas Ranger – were family shows that by a couple years ago were gone. And now? Virtually nothing.
It all came crashing down sometime in the mid-90s. Slowly but surely, audiences had been dwindling on Saturdays, and networks became more nervous about putting shows, especially new programming, on the night, and now they've basically decided to give us a night off.