Remote Patrol: NBC Thursday night comedies
For years, NBC has been toggling its Thursday-night comedy lineup, attempting to rekindle the Must-See TV status that dominated primetime in the '80s and '90s, when The Cosby Show and Cheers then Seinfeld and Friends anchored an ever-changing slate of popular sitcoms.
The Peacock's stock has dropped precipitously since then; in the ratings race among major networks, NBC famously languishes in fourth place. But if there's one bright spot on the schedule, it's the Thursday sitcom block now headlined by The Office.
The Must-See TV of NBC's glory days will never happen again - the internet and DVR made sure of that. With precious few exceptions like American Idol, today's TV viewer isn't bound by schedules.
Even in primetime's good old days, it's hard to imagine NBC's current Thursday lineup would have commanded so much attention.
Despite promising premieres last week, today's crop of sitcoms seems too brainy and postmodern to appeal to the masses. The rebranded "Comedy Night Done Right" has become a locus for fans of critically acclaimed series - a hub for TV connoisseurs, not average viewers.
That said, new entries Parks and Recreation and Community are miles better than much of the slop that filled the 8:30 and 9:30 time slots during the heyday of Seinfeld and Friends. Remember The Single Guy, Fired Up or Union Square?
Like The Office did in its second season, Parks seems to have found its footing since its uneven six-episode run last spring. Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope character is much less a carbon copy of Steve Carell's Michael Scott, and the gay penguin plot that drove last week's premiere was an absurd yet believable sendup of today's political climate.
Community is out of the gate strong as well. Joel McHale (The Soup) makes a fine comedic anti-hero, and though without him there's no show, the actors around him pulled their weight in the pilot.
Although its puzzling presence in a year without a major election means we have to wait another month for 30 Rock, SNL Weekend Update Thursday seems like a reliable steed for the next few weeks. Who wouldn't want an extra dose of SNL's finest feature?
And The Office, the only true hit among the bunch, started in fine form, with an ensemble episode that unleashed lots of good plotlines for the show's sixth (!) season.
Too bad it was all followed by The Jay Leno Show, a lifeless, going-through-the-motions affair on par with Weekend at Bernie's.
Some of TV's best dramas used to follow Must-See TV, offering a satisfying change of pace. But Leno is on at 10 every weeknight now, and on Thursdays, after two hours of TV's best laffers, Leno's stale jokes seem lamer than ever.
NBC Thursday night lineup
8 p.m. "SNL Weekend Update Thursday"
8:30 p.m. "Parks and Recreation"
9 p.m. "The Office"
9:30 p.m. "Community"
10 p.m. "The Jay Leno Show"