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First of New Fall Shows Surfaces Monday -- And So Does TV's Kickoff Curse
August 22, 2008  | By David Bianculli
NBC will try to capitalize on post-Olympics momentum by unveiling its first new fall series Monday, the day after the Olympics end. But by being the first freshman show to burst out of the starting blocks, NBC's America's Toughest Jobs is heading straight into the jaws of a fairly lethal series-killer -- TV's Kickoff Curse.

The Kickoff Curse, I'm somewhat proud to say, is one of my own long-standing statistical discoveries. Basically, it's a predictor of failure, warning that the first new prime-time series to be broadcast each season is likely to die before embarking on a second season.


The idea of giving early starts to shows before the official launch of a TV season began in 1975, with aggressive CBS Chairman William S. Paley. He was so insistent on giving every opportunity to promote his pet project that year, an American equivalent of Upstairs, Downstairs called Beacon Hill, that he launched it a month early -- and launched a comedy series, Big Eddie, even earlier. Even though Beacon Hill starred Edward Herrmann and future Sopranos matriarch Nancy Marchand, both shows died quickly, and the Kickoff Curse was born.


The very next year, in 1976, CBS tried again, and this time succeeded: Its sitcom Alice, a spinoff of the movie Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, lasted for nine seasons. But it would be 13 years before another series would survive the Kickoff Curse. That show, ABC's Primetime Live, is still alive, though no longer Live.)

prison-break.jpgSince then, the curse has claimed all but four early-bird new series: the 1991 sitcom Roc (three seasons), the 2000 sitcom Girlfriends (which began on and outlived UPN, and was recently canceled by the CW), the 2001 sitcom One on One (five seasons on UPN), and, most recently, the Fox drama Prison Break, which premiered in 2005 and begins its fourth season Sept. 1.

Other than that, it's been all flops -- whether the shows have been terrific, like 1994's My So-Called Life, introducing Claire Danes, or terrible, like 1983's We Got It Made, introducing Teri Copley. (Exactly.) In 33 years, only six shows have managed to escape the Kickoff Curse. That's a predictor of failure of 82 percent, with over three decades of test samples.

my-so-called-life.jpgSo if America's Toughest Jobs doesn't return for a second season in 2009, remember: You heard it here first. That series is, in a word, cursed.

For the record, here's a total rundown of the shows falling victim to, or defying, the Kickoff Curse. Shows in bold italics, preceded by asterisks, are the only ones to have survived more than a season.


2008 America's Toughest Jobs, NBC (??)
2007 Nashville, Fox
2006 Vanished, Fox
**2005 Prison Break, Fox (2005- )
2004 North Shore, Fox
2003 Whoopi, NBC
2002 Family Affair, WB
**2001 One on One, UPN (2001-06)
**2000 Girlfriends, UPN/CW (2000-08)

1999 Grown Ups, UPN
1998 Holding the Baby, FOX
1997 Good News, UPN
1996 L.A. Firefighters, FOX
1995 The Crew, FOX
1994 My So-Called Life, ABC
1993 Front Page, FOX
1992 Covington Cross, ABC
**1991 Roc, FOX (1991-94)
1990 Hull High, NBC
**1989 Primetime Live, ABC (1989- )
1988 Baby Boom, NBC
1987 Private Eye, NBC
1986 The Wizard, CBS
1985 Hometown, CBS
1984 Call to Glory, ABC
1983 We Got It Made, NBC
1982 Powers of Matthew Star, NBC
1981 Best of the West, ABC
1980 Ladies' Man, CBS
1979 240-Robert, ABC
1978 Dick Clark's Live Wednesday, NBC
1977 The Betty White Show, CBS
**1976 Alice, CBS (1976-85)
1975 Big Eddie, CBS



Laura said:

According to your list, the first new show of a season has about an 18% chance of survival. It would be interesting to know what fraction of all new shows (not just the first ones) make it to the second season.

Comment posted on August 22, 2008 11:32 AM

David Rivera said:

I'd be curious to see what the survival rate is of any new show in general. If 82% fail generally then the Kickoff Curse may not mean much. Still, it was still fun to read the names of these short-lived shows. I'm surprised at how many of them I remember.

Comment posted on August 22, 2008 1:43 PM

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