ABC Restores TGIF, Betting That Nostalgia Will Woo Families Back to Fridays

One of the most successful programming brands returns, but will it still resonate?

ABC shot promos with current TGIF stars (like Fresh Off the Boat’s Randall Park and Constance Wu, left) and classic ones (like Family Matters’ Reginald VelJohnson, far right). ABC
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TV’s nostalgia craze is now extending beyond reboots and revivals like Magnum P.I. and Will & Grace. This Friday, one of television’s most famous programming blocks returns: ABC’s TGIF, which initially stood for Thank Goodness It’s Funny. From 1989-2000, the ABC brand entertained kids and their families on Friday nights with hit sitcoms like Full House, Family Matters and Perfect Strangers.

For children in the ’90s, “this was their whole social life on Friday night. Either they watched with their family or they would have sleepovers with friends,” said Rebecca Daugherty, evp of marketing for ABC. After Daugherty went heavy on nostalgia during her campaign for Roseanne’s return last spring, “we learned that people are hungry for that. So we feel like, what better time to bring that comfort food back on Friday?” The network is counting on those now-grown TGIF fans to return for its new Friday block: family sitcoms Fresh Off the Boat and Speechless, both of which are relocating to the night, followed by game show Child Support.

TGIF might lack the same resonance as it did 20 years ago—ABC says its research does show there is still affinity for the brand, which invoked positive feelings among those people the network surveyed—but buyers think the nostalgia factor could help ABC reclaim Friday nights for families.

“Anytime you can brand a night, there’s value in that. And there’s equity in that.”
Maureen Bosetti, chief investment officer, Initiative

“Obviously it means less than it did [back then] because now you don’t need to tune in at a particular time to watch any type of programming you want,” said Neil Vendetti, president of investment at Zenith. “But there is some value to a known, family-friendly destination on a night where families might be looking to sit down in front of the TV and spend a little time together.”

This isn’t the first time ABC has tried to resurrect TGIF. The brand returned in 2005 for a Friday sitcom lineup that included George Lopez and Hope & Faith, but it failed to move the ratings needle, and ABC put it back into mothballs after just two seasons.

However, after the continued success of TGIT—ABC’s branding for its Shonda Rhimes-produced Thursday night dramas, which began in 2014—ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey thought it was time to bring TGIF back again. “I like the idea of Fridays being a destination for families, so having two comedies into Child Support made a lot of sense for me,” said Dungey. “We’ve been really leaning into the branding and are very excited about it.”

To stoke interest in the brand’s return, ABC shot promos featuring current and classic TGIF stars, including Perfect Strangers’ Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn-Baker, and Family Matters’ Reginald VelJohnson. The spots also feature an updated version of the classic TGIF theme song. And former TGIF stars will appear in Friday’s premieres of both Fresh Off the Boat (Family Matters’ Jaleel White) and Speechless (Boy Meets World’s Ben Savage). The network will encourage live viewing by having its current TGIF actors host premiere night in the same style as the classic TGIF interstitials.

The marketing campaign’s message, said Daugherty: “Come back to this beloved night of television that your family loved.” (ABC will keep its family-friendly TGIF marketing “very separate” from its adult-themed TGIT campaign, Dungey said.)

Buyers said TGIF’s return could pay off for categories that target families on Friday night, including movie studios, quick-service restaurants and retail. “There’s a lot that we’re trying to drive [families] to for the weekend. If we can get traction in that time slot for families, I think there’s value there,” said Maureen Bosetti, chief investment officer, Initiative. “Anytime you can brand a night, there’s value in that. And there’s equity in that.”

So the TGIF brand should be good for advertisers, but some producers behind the new programming block, like Speechless creator Scott Silveri, are less certain about whether the brand’s return will boost their audience. “I don’t know what Friday means in 2018. I don’t know what any night means in 2018. The fact is, I make this show, and I didn’t even watch it [when it aired] on Wednesday nights! So we’ll find out,” said Silveri. “All we can do is make the shows as good as we can, and keep inviting people back.”

This story first appeared in the October 1, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.