Video: The Big Boys' Blues

Challenged by cable, VCRs and an audience eager to zap, the networks face the most troubled fall in their history

Like all good TV dramas, this one starts with an exciting precredit sequence. The time is early 1979, and the network wars have reached a frenzied peak. Sitcoms like Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley are riding high in the Nielsens. Blockbuster mini-series are vying to reproduce the huge audiences that tuned in for Roots. Star programmer Fred Silverman, the Man with the Golden Gut, is ready to try everything from Gary Coleman to Supertrain in his quest to lift NBC out of the prime-time ratings cellar.

So fade in to Sunday, Feb. 11, 1979, the evening of the most widely...

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