Thursday, November 30, 2006

Comedy. Ha-ha.

Today's column looks at the four NBC Thursday comedies (and I'll have more to say about them tonight -- Scrubs and Office in particular):
If the sitcom is dead, then how did NBC cobble together a Thursday night schedule with four funny comedies in a row?

Maybe I'm asking the wrong question. Maybe I should be wondering how long NBC will be able to keep this shiny new four comedy line-up -- "My Name Is Earl" at 8, "The Office" at 8:30, "Scrubs" at 9 and "30 Rock" at 9:30 -- together.

After a promising move to Thursdays last January, "Earl" and "Office" have both taken a hit from ABC's new "Ugly Betty." "30 Rock" was a nonentity on Wednesdays earlier this season, and a 40-minute episode two Thursdays ago completely tanked. Previous NBC regimes have jerked "Scrubs" around the schedule so many times that its audience is small enough that the writers now seem to be taking viewer requests on what jokes to use.

But more on that in a minute. The larger issue is that while all four of these comedies have very funny people working in front of and behind the camera, the days of the mass-appeal comedy hit died with "Everybody Loves Raymond" (if not "Friends" or "Seinfeld" before that). "Scrubs" has spent its entire life span as a cult success at best, "Earl" and "Office" seem destined to share that fate, and "30 Rock" is going to be lucky to make it to 2007. As much as I admire NBC entertainment boss Kevin Reilly for resurrecting the two-hour Thursday sitcom bloc that made NBC the dominant power in the '80s and '90s, this feels like a tilting at windmills gesture.

To read the whole thing, click here.


Anonymous said...

My apologies for hijacking this as-yet empty post. Maybe I'll be back on-topic once I watch the shows.

I caught up with my time-shifting and had a belated observation about HIMYM. (Alan, when blogging about hot-button shows like HIMYM, S60 & Heros, guaranteed to draw much comment, it might be better to make three little bloglets than one with a long set of unrelated but intertwined threads.)

Did anyone notice the odd handling of the brother's partner in the show-ending "year later" scene? We first see Swarley's brother at a table in the background of other characters talking. He's tending his baby. Sitting next to him is a White guy with thick black hair, face carefully obscured by the placement of an extra in the middle ground.

Later, Barney approaches the table to bond with the kid. As he walks up, we glimpse this mystery guy, back to camera, getting up, apparently making a ritual "gotta-go-to-the-bathroom" excuse, and exiting to the left.

The scene resolves with Barney, brother & baby, with no mention of partner, not even a "he'll be right back." It's possible there was no time and/or money to write lines & hire a real actor. It's possible that Barney's brother won't be a continuing character,so backstory is wasted & distracting.

But the way they handled it seemed oddly furtive, as if there was something about the brother's partner we weren't supposed to know. This seemed doubly odd as the brother's new-found monogamy and comitment to this partner, including adoption, was the narrative point of the entire episode.

If anyone still has it Tivoed, check out the last five minutes.


Anonymous said...


No thread on Friday Night Lights this week? Or have you just been too busy with columns for your real job?

On a side note, I think NBC may be the first network to have 4 comedies without laughtracks at all much less on the same night. I'm glad to be excited about Thursday for NBC again.

Anonymous said...

This week's The Office was written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. I'm surprised you left that out of your review, especially since you claim it was an off episode.

Matt said...

I think there's a pronounced difference between British Office and US Office. Because US Office has already produced (I think) twice as many episodes as the UK version, certain things have to change--namely, Michael/David can't be quite so oblivious and incompetent. It doesn't surprise me that Gervais/Merchant might have a little difficulty with that.

Eric said...

Anonymous, I think they just wanted to keep the partner vague so that when (if) they bring Barney's brother back for another episode, they have a lot of leeway in (stunt) casting his partner.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The DVD featured rough cuts of each episode without credits, so I had no idea Gervais and Merchant wrote it. Not a shock, though, as it felt more like the British show. It's not remotely a bad episode, but the post-merger shows have been just a shade squirmier than I like my American "Office."

Alan Sepinwall said...

And, vis a vis Friday Night Lights, I watched the episode a couple of weeks ago when I thought I might review it, and it wasn't fresh enough in my memory to say something cogent on.

I realize I'm running behind on commentaries on a bunch of shows (Dexter, Doctor Who, Grey's, Gilmore Girls), but I'm working solo these days, so sometimes I have to pick and choose what I feel passionate enough about to blog on.

dark tyler said...

Dunno about Gilmore (I'm behind on that one, too) but Grey's last episode was almost as powerful as the Super Bowl episode, and this one didn't even have a bomb :P
Best Grey's this season. Everything has been kinda building up to this.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see the death track finally fade off into obscurity once and for all.

I am truly excited for tonights lineup, along with the return of Scrubs I am a giddy goat.

Anonymous said...

Count me as another one excited for the new Thursday NBC lineup. I adore 'Earl' and 'Office', and from the little I've seen of 'Scrubs' I like it. I only saw one eppy of '30 Rock' and liked it as well. So, I predict I'll be addicted to Thursday night TV in short order with this new lineup.

Anonymous said...

When Barney first confronted James about being monogamous, wasnt there a very clear picture of 'the partner' (I want to say Tony?) on Jame's hiptop phone?

Anonymous said...

Did anyone notice the odd handling of the brother's partner in the show-ending "year later" scene?

No, I was too focused on Ted still being with Robin to notice that.