Thursday night TV: NBC's My Name Is Earl, The Office, and 30 Rock

For several weeks now (otherwise known as the February “Sweeps”), Amy and I have looked forward to Thursday night TV with a childlike glee. Three NBC Thursday night comedies — My Name is Earl, The Office and 30 Rock — are so good that we want to punch the furniture.

We also used to enjoy Scrubs a lot during its earliest incarnation, but somewhere along the way it started compressing too many zany, surrealistic gags and zingers into each minute and it lost the humanness of its characters and storylines. It started to seem like the Banana Splits in a surgical setting. Plus, the Dr. Cox character just grew too darned snarky as the others grew flaky.

Earl, The Office, and 30 Rock do not really make a complete evening, and they they do not air back-to-back-to-back, but these three shows are really great. Each features a strong yet subtle ensemble cast of lovable but flawed characters, hilarious writing that plays off of their quirks, and a generally good-natured atmosphere which feels so much better than the “stream of insults” template that many sitcoms stuck to back in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.

Now, however, I’m worrying that NBC is going to wreck it. 30 Rock is temporarily going away March 13, and a new Andy Richter show is taking its place. As much as I love Andy Richter, I have a sick feeling that 30 Rock will not recover. 30 Rock had struggled in the ratings for much of this fledgling season, and now that it has finally starting to attract an audience, the network is disappearing it for a month or so. Typical.

What they should do instead is obvious: Move Scrubs away somewhere else, and use Richter’s Andy Barker, P.I. as the new bridge into 30 Rock. I, for one, would watch the two full hours for at least a few weeks to see all four. Better yet, reshuffle the lineup so that it goes Andy, Office, Earl, and 30 Rock. That way, Earl properly follows The Office as a comical palate-cleanser (as originally proposed by radio legend Steve Dahl), and refreshes us ahead of the slightly darker 30 Rock.

Anyway, Sweeps are over now, so Earl and The Office are both reruns tonight, leaving only a new 30 Rock.

But after that, at 9 p.m. Central, the PBS stations in both Chicago and Milwaukee are airing an installment of Soundstage that features Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris, two of the greatest musicians on Earth, in collaboration. This hour promises to be a keeper.

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