But at long last, I’ve found a fan petition that I’m not only willing to support but that I think doesn’t actually go far enough in its demands. High school junior Frankie Ruggeri is absolutely correct that the National Football League should move the Super Bowl to Saturday night. And every other televised mass cultural experience, from the Academy Awards to prestige HBO shows, should make the switch along with it.
2020 offers a particularly punishing schedule for American television watchers. The Super Bowl kicks off at 6:30 on Sunday, Feb. 2, and a week later, the Oscars begin at 8 in the evening on Sunday, Feb. 9. That means two late nights and two underslept Monday mornings for Super Bowl and Oscar viewers — and in between them, the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3, President Trump’s State of the Union address on Feb. 4 and a Democratic primary debate on Feb. 7.
If Americans were facing two Sunday nights that kept them up per year, that would be one thing. And to be fair, there’s long been Sunday night television programming, including the ABC, NBC and CBS Sunday-night movie programs. But Sunday-night programming has come to occupy an increasing amount of urgent cultural real estate throughout the year.
For the NFL, the move to Sunday nights started in 1987, when the independent U.S. Football League collapsed, leaving the sports cable network ESPN with a gap in its schedule. The NFL, which had not previously routinely played Sunday night games, swiped the real estate, starting with the second half of the 1987 season. The Oscars have long broadcast on Sunday nights, but other awards shows have joined them in what’s now become an NFL-like season with the Oscars as the Super Bowl. After bouncing around on the television schedule for decades, the Golden Globes settled on Sundays mostly for good in 1996, with three exceptions including one cancelled show.
In scripted television, the shift away from the NBC “Must See TV” Thursday night programming block that dominated the 1980s and early 1990s came when HBO used shows such as “Sex and the City,” “The Sopranos” and “Six Feet Under” to plant a flag on Sundays. The gambit was so successful that network rivals such as ABC tried to muscle in on that real estate when HBO hit lulls in its programming cycle.
The result is that if you can’t — or won’t — stay up late on Sunday nights, you risk missing critical sports and cultural breaking news, and you’ll be locked out of discussions about major plot twists on hotly discussed shows. If you do stay up, not just to see the final minutes of that NFL game or to find out what happened before the cut to black, but also to watch the postgame commentary or read the first round of recaps to roll in, you’ll be exhausted.
Lest reports of re-urbanization and more accommodating work schedules lead you to believe that this Sunday night pileup is no big deal for culture lovers, consider the numbers: The average American commute grew to 27 minutes in 2018, and a 2017 analysis of data from the American Community Survey found that more than half of American workers arrive at their jobs by 8:14 in the morning. Last year, one study calculated that as many as 10.7 million people would skip a Monday workday after the “Game of Thrones” finale aired.
As an act of mercy, and as a subsidy to other American businesses, the Super Bowl, the Oscars and the premiere night of scripted television should bump up a night to Saturday. Gossiping about TV over the water cooler on Monday mornings can turn into trading fan theories over Sunday brunch. We can host our Super Bowl and Oscar parties on Saturday evening, sleep off the hangovers and then extend the festivities into a weekend-long postmortem. With the prospect of a better night’s sleep ahead of us, we might be better-equipped to fight off the Sunday Sads. And if huge sports and cultural events are supposed to bring us together at a moment when we’ve never seemed more divided, making it easier for more people — whether folks with early workdays or school kids with bedtimes — to join in as viewers might even be a small public service.