The story began at 8 on “Mad About You,” where Jamie (Helen Hunt) triggers the outage by illegally installing cable TV in her bedroom.
At 8:30, the blackout spread to “Friends,” trapping Chandler (Matthew Perry) in an ATM vestibule with supermodel Jill Goodacre, who portrayed herself.
Fellow freshmen sitcom “Madman of the People” picked up the storyline at 9:30, when Dabney Coleman’s character is jailed after being mistaken for a post-blackout looter.
Appropriately, nothing – or at least nothing to do with electricity – happened at 9 on “Seinfeld,” which didn’t participate in NBC’s stunt.
Instead, “Seinfeld” aired “The Gymnast,” the episode in which Jerry dates a Romanian athlete and George’s girlfriend’s mother catches him eating an éclair from a trash bin.
NBC heavily promoted “Blackout Thursday,” even recruiting “Today” weatherman Al Roker to provide “news” updates on the power failure during that evening’s commercial breaks.
The network probably hoped to recreate its success from Nov. 9, 1991, when “The Golden Girls,” “Empty Nest” and “Nurses” scored their highest ratings of the season with a seamless storyline about a hurricane striking Miami, where each show took place.
On Feb. 29, 1992, a similar stunt – this one about a full moon causing Miamians to act strangely – also scored big ratings.
How did the gimmick work in 1994?
Each “Blackout Thursday” sitcom won its time slot and landed in that week’s top 20: “Mad About You” was 11th, “Friends” was 12th and “Madman of the People” was 17th.
But “Seinfeld” – the lone “Blackout” holdout – turned out to be the evening’s most-watched show, ranking second for the week.
From the Pages of TV Guide
Also airing Nov. 3, 1994:
8 PM FOX MARTIN (CC)
Martin’s efforts to impress his future mother-in-law (Judyann Elder) may be in vain when he gets a visit from a boy claiming that he’s Martin’s son. Martin Lawrence. Angie: Kimberly Brooks. Mr. Jim: John Wesley.
8:30 FOX LIVING SINGLE (CC)
Fired by passion – and full of advice from nosy friends – Synclaire and Overton (Kim Coles, John Henton) take their relationship to a new level. Meanwhile, Khadijah (Queen Latifah) learns the power of a chain letter.
9 PM CBS CHICAGO HOPE (CC) – Drama 1:00
Dr. Geiger (Mandy Patinkin) performs a risky heart operation on an overweight mob killer (Ron Karabatsos) who’s a key witness for the FBI; two weary residents plot to get even with Geiger for his dour temperament; and the budding relationship between Dr. Shutt (Adam Arkin) and Dr. Antonovich (Margaret Colin) takes an alarming turn. Dr. Carney: Jon Favreau. Dr. Bradley: Taylor Nichols.
10 PM ABC PRIMETIME LIVE (CC) – Donaldson/Sawyer 1:00
Scheduled: An interview with former President George Bush, his wife Barbara, and sons George Jr. and Jeb (who are gubernatorial candidates in Texas and Florida). Also: a segment considering the extent of cheating on college campuses.