Ranked: 20 Years of NBC “Must See” Thursday Night Comedies
#18. Madman of the People (1994-1995)
For awhile, NBC was obsessed with sitcoms about people working in media (see: Suddenly Susan, Hope & Gloria, Good Morning, Miami, The Single Guy, Just Shoot Me!, etc.). Add Madman of the People to that list. Dabney Coleman, who you’ve probably seen in many films and TV shows but never really noticed, played a newspaper columnist whose daughter helps him update his long-running column for a new generation. Semi-hilarity ensued! But with such a specific premise, the writers could only squeeze so much from it, and although it was top-20 hit, NBC stopped the proverbial presses after 16 episodes.
#17. Perfect Couples (2011)
As previously discussed, I didn’t hate Perfect Couples as much as everyone else seemingly did. It was a perfectly mediocre sitcom that gave me the opportunity to gawk at Olivia Munn for 22 minutes for every week. Nothing wrong about that (besides the creepiness factor, I suppose).
#16. The Naked Truth (1995-1998)
Episodes: 48 (plus 7 unaired)
In season two, The Naked Truth, about Tea Leoni working at a sleazy tabloid, pulled in over 16 million viewers in its comfy Thursday night timeslot. In season three, in a new non-Seinfeld assisted timeslot, the show resorted to stunt guest appearances from Charo and Gary Coleman, bombed in the ratings, and was cancelled. That about sums up half of the shows on this list, but what separates The Naked Truth from the rest of the mediocre pack is Amy Ryan and George “Norm!” Wendt.
#15. Stark Raving Mad (1999-2000)
A show created by Modern Family’s Steven Levitan with a cast composed of Neil Patrick Harris and Tony Shalhoub should be entertaining — with Stark Raving Mad, viewers had to settle for decent. In a Monk-meets-Castle plot, Shalhoub plays Ian Stark, an eccentric, practical joke playing horror novelist, who’s teamed with Henry (NPH), a straight-faced book editor. It won a People’s Choice Award for “Favorite New Television Comedy Series” (previous winners include Dharma & Greg and Martin), but was cancelled after less than two dozen episodes.
#14. SNL Weekend Update Thursday (2008-2009)
Episodes: 6 (plus 6 unaired)
It made sense at the time. Like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, SNL loves presidential elections, and the ratings boost that comes with it, but in typical SNL fashion, they overdid things and stretched an amusing five-minute sketch into 22 (although Bill Murray did make an appearance).
#13. Just Shoot Me! (1997-2003)
If you hate what happened to David Spade, and there’s no judging if you do, you probably hate Just Shoot Me! It was on this long-running show that Spade transformed from Chris Farley’s straight-man sidekick to the womanizing douche he now plays (and lives) so, um, well, on Rules of Engagement. It was never a totally awful show (well, maybe it was by the end) but it wasn’t exactly subtle humor, either. After all, there’s a freaking exclamation point in the title.
#12. Will & Grace (1998-2006)
I’ve always found Will & Grace to be extremely annoying and shrill (until Parks and Recreation, I wondered why people considered Megan Mullally funny), but I must admit it’s probably the best of NBC’s bad bunch (don’t worry, things only get better from here). The show’s only saving grace was Debra Messing, peppy in a non-Jenna Elfman way.
#11. Andy Barker P.I. (2007)
Although not quite as good as Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Andy Barker did have Conan O’Brien, Tony Hale, and, of course, Richter, as well an intriguing premise that Bored to Death would Brooklyn-ize a few years later. But it also had an odd distribution plan: all six episodes were streamed on NBC’s website before a single aired on TV. It lasted only four episodes on Thursday, with the final two burned out on consecutive Saturdays, and Richter continues to this day to be known as Conan’s sidekick.
#10. Mad About You (1992-1999)
There’s almost no nostalgic fondness for Mad About You, which ran for seven seasons and made household names out of Paul Reiser, whose new Thursday night sitcom premiered last week, and Helen Hunt. That’s a shame, too, because although it wasn’t a great sitcom, it had fantastic characters, especially Hunt and Reiser’s respective families, including Carol Burnett and Mel Brooks. It lasted for two seasons on Thursday before helming NBC’s ill-advised “Must See TV Tuesday” lineup.
#9. Friends (1994-2004)
My feelings for Friends can be found here, but for the tl;dr crowd: good at the time, but so many shows tried to replicate its format that Friends-esque quickly burned out, and the show’s blueprint isn’t on TV anymore (and before you say it: How I Met Your Mother is making fun of Friends, rather than paying respect).
#8. My Name is Earl (2005-2009)
Many potential viewers, myself included, didn’t give My Name is Earl a chance when it premiered in 2005 because the promos made it look rather Joe Dirt-esque. We were wrong, though: creator Greg Garcia has a unique talent in writing blue-collar characters without restoring to stereotypes, as he’s shown on both Earl and now Raising Hope.
#7. Scrubs (2001-2010)
Technically, only 150 episodes aired on NBC, with the other 31 coming on ABC, but the show’s best years, and there were plenty of them, occurred on the peacock network. Some day, Scrubs will get the respect it deserves from comedy fans — hopefully before everyone gets sick of watching syndicated repeats seemingly eight times a day on five networks.
#6. Frasier (1993-2004)
Frasier, which only spent three seasons on Thursday, is one of NBC’s greatest achievements. It’s a successful spin-off, an impressive enough achievement, but it also never had any awful years. The quality slipped a little once the show was a decade old, but David Hyde Pierce, playing the obsessive-compulsive Niles, always kept things grounded.
#5. Parks and Recreation (2009-Present)
You’ll soon notice that the top of this list is heavy on shows whose end dates haven’t arrived yet. Whatever the reason for this, it’s nice that we’re living in such a prime time (heh?) for sitcoms, including Parks and Recreation, although I bet NBC would trade Parks for a show as mediocre and popular as Mike & Molly any day.
#4. The Office (2005-Present)
Enough Internet Ink has been spilled praising The Office (rightly so), and even more will come in the next few weeks, so let’s go to a fun fact instead: before signing on as Michael Scott, Steve Carell played Blevin in Come to Papa, an NBC midseason sitcom that lasted only four episodes before cancellation. Maybe Tom Papa, who the show is named after, should play Michael Scott when Carell departs?
#3. Community (2009-Present)
Considering all the accolades I’ve laid on this show since I started recapping it for Splitsider last year, I’m as surprised as you are that Community isn’t one slot higher. But as wonderful as the show is, and I do think it’s the best sitcom out there today, it needs another outstanding season before it jumps…
#2. 30 Rock (2006-Present)
I know I take 30 Rock, a show I rarely think about on the same terms as Louie and either of the last two choices, for granted, but when I’m watching an episode, no program is as consistently excellent as Tina Fey’s comedy vault masterpiece.
#1. Seinfeld (1989-1998)
The greatest live-action sitcom of all-time, Seinfeld is essentially the reason Must See TV exists. But the show began on Wednesday nights and was infamously moved around the schedule before finally a time slot that stuck on Thursday in season five. That’s when it evolved from modest hit to pop culture landmark. With all due respect to The Simpsons, no show has shaped not only comedy but also American culture quite like Seinfeld.
Josh Kurp’s favorite Seinfeld quote of the moment: “Yeah, I am Batman.”
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