Thursday night comedy returns to NBC tonight: Why it can still matter
This used to be the main event for comedy on TV: Thursday nights on NBC.
The names showcased on this night are iconic. Jerry Seinfeld. Friends. Kelsey Grammer. Cheers. Bill Cosby. And on.
Even tonight, some of the most brilliant comics working on TV will hit the spotlight once again, from Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman and Rob Lowe (NOT a misprint) on Parks and Recreation to Rainn Wilson on The Office and the cast of Saturday Night Live.
So what happened? Why are these shows now mostly a haven for comedy nerds and critics, with numbers so narrow even NBC's typical argument that they do well with young men or rich viewers doesn't hold weight?
Start with The Office. Hobbled by the loss of its leading man/schlub in chief Steve Carrell, the show never really found a new heart. Ed Helms' hapless a capella music lover Andy Bernard has always felt a bit like a watered down, less likable version of Carrell's Michael Scott, and James Spader's twitchy CEO Robert California was too strange, even for a show featuring Wilson's beet farmer/martial arts expert/paper saleman Dwight Schrute.
Too many of NBC's Thursday comedies have become closed loops; still entertaining for longtime viewers, but of limited appeal to folks parachuting in for a first-time visit.
Tonight's comedy debuts may help with that a bit. The Office, in particular, is funny as it has been in a long time, starting a victory lap of a final season aimed at saying goodbye to the network's biggest Thursday comedy in top form
Wilson's Schrute turns on a new employee who shares his drab, nerdy appearance but is actually much more normal (he winds up dangling from a high wire suspended over the company parking lot; how he gets there involves the typical mix of embarrassment and oddity that Wilson has turned into an art form over the series' run).
We see a cameo from departing co-star Mindy Kaling -- headed to her own buzzed-about sitcom on Fox -- who thinks a move to Miami University (in Ohio) means she's headed to the Sunshine State. And there's trouble brewing with John Krasinski's Jim Halpert, who feels boxed in by his married-with-new-baby life, taking a chance that wife Pam (Jenna Fischer) may not understand.
Coupled with an election-centered Saturday Night Live and a spunky Parks and Rec, its a game effort to try turning the lights back on Thursday nights.