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Tonight is the season premiere of Scrubs on NBC (can it really be season 7 already?), meaning that NBC's Thursday Night Comedy Lineup is now intact:
7:00 - My Name is Earl
7:30 - 30 Rock
8:00 - The Office
8:30 - Scrubs
Now, I'm no fan of My Name is Earl, but the other three are all pretty great television. So to have them all back-to-back is a great gift, and one that nearly lives up to my most prominent TV-related desire. I'm speaking, of course, about a block of comedy as great as the 1973-1974 CBS Saturday Night lineup.
7:00 - All in the Family
7:30 - M*A*S*H
8:00 - The Mary Tyler Moore Show
8:30 - The Bob Newhart Show
Wow. Four masterpieces in a row. Not two great shows and two good ones, like NBC's 1984-87 Thursday lineup of The Cosby Show/Family Ties/Cheers/Night Court. Not one terrific show holding up an over-promoted night of crap, like that same network's Seinfeld-centric Thursday through the mid-90s. Four shows that are as near to perfection as the situation comedy has ever come. In two hours. On the same TV channel.
As a child, I used to dream that something like that would happen in my lifetime. We aren't quite there yet, but we're close. The shows in each lineup even share many similarities. They don't compare perfectly, of course, but here's how I see it:
30 Rock = The Mary Tyler Moore Show. This is the obvious one. I'm hardly the first person to notice that they're both sitcoms about single career-minded 30-something women working in television and having misadventures in dating (Mary/Liz). Both women have a gruff boss who acts as a mentor (Lou/Jack), a bald and married confidant working behind the scenes (Murray/Pete), and an egotistical on-camera personality to deal with (Ted/Tracy). It's not much of a stretch.
Scrubs = M*A*S*H. Again, this is fairly obvious. Both are shows about a wisecracking doctor (Hawkeye/JD) who loves to joke around with his best friend (Either Trapper or BJ/Turk). Dr. Cox is a crotchety superior who really has a warm heart, much like Col. Potter, and both shows frequently mix emotional drama in with the hijinx.
The Office = The Bob Newhart Show. This one doesn't work as well. I admit that. But I think the similarities are there. Both shows started out with small casts of 5 main characters (Bob, Carol, Howard, Emily & Jerry/Michael, Dwight, Jim, Pam & Ryan) and then grew to include a huge stable of recurring players (Bob's patients/Everyone working at Dunder-Mifflin). Both casts consist of eccentric people, but they always play it completely straight. They're exaggerated, but they never feel forced or artificially. Most importantly, in both series much of the humor comes from those characters showing up each week and doing a new twist on the same shtick, and doing it perfectly.
My Name is Earl is not All in the Family in any way, except maybe that both shows have a main character who is "conservative". It might be Sanford & Son, though.
If only NBC had picked up Arrested Development to air at 7:00! Not only would it make a lineup of four great shows, AD could even have worked as an analogue for All in the Family. Both shows were about the dysfunctional ways the members of one family relates to each other. They also were both known for pushing the envelope of what could be done on network TV, but they always put the comedy, not the shock value, first. They are also my favorite sitcoms of their respective decades, but that's neither here nor there.
Of course, I neglected to mention that the CBS lineup was followed by The Carol Burnett Show and the current NBC one airs before ER. Those two shows have very little in common, although the later seasons of ER might be funnier than the later seasons of Carol Burnett.