Let’s Just Fix NBC’s Thursday Night Scheduling Problem Right Now

Last night saw the midseason break returns of Parks and Recreation, The Office, and Up All Night, as well as the season premiere of the sorely missed 30 Rock. It…was good. Very good, in fact, but not great, because Community was absent, and will be until some undetermined time in the spring.

So: you’ve got two hours of scheduling (8-10 p.m. EST), room enough for four shows, but what about Community? Where will it go when it returns? It’s been a problem that’s plagued NBC for years, through pretty much everything has plagued NBC since Friends went off the air. All they’re missing is a literal plague. Below are my suggestions of how to handle their scheduling quandary, with the focus more on what’s best for the shows rather than what’s best for the advertisers. You hear that, Verizon!

Why am I qualified to do this? WELL, during my senior year of high school, I took a class field trip from Albany, NY to New York, NY to visit the headquarters of one of the Big Four networks. One of the presentations we sat through and participated with was with someone who was in charge of scheduling, and she asked how we would arrange their, say, Tuesday night shows. I did it, and was told, “Let me point out a few things to you…” Five minutes later, I had been humbled and walked out ashamed. Like a PRO.

8 p.m. The Office

It doesn’t feel right to me, either, and I know it’s never going to happen because The Office still brings in decent ratings, at least compared to the other NBC Thursday night shows. (The pre-Christmas episode, which aired on December 8, pulled in 2.9 rating in the key 18-49 demographic, well below The Bang Theory’s 4.7; Parks had a 1.8.) BUT, of the sitcoms available to air this night, The Office is by far the weakest, creatively; that’s not to say it’s bad, but rather, it’s struggling to find its way in a post-Michael Scott world, and there haven’t been any indications that it’ll right itself any time soon. The Office has been on long enough that I doubt anyone who hasn’t watched it will suddenly say, “Gee, this show’s been on for eight seasons – why not give it a shot?” One series needs to take one for the team, and it should be The Office.

8:30 p.m. Up All Night

It was only a matter of time before Up All Night, possibly the strongest new sitcom of the season, joined its single-camera brothers and sisters on Thursday night. It’s too sweet and family friendly of a show to air at 9:30 p.m. (at least compared to Community), and I actually want it to succeed, so no 8 p.m., either. Hence, 8:30 p.m. (And I’m just happy that it won’t be airing against the equally good The Middle on Wednesdays anymore.)

9 p.m. Community

This solves both Big Bang Theory problems: 1) both shows aim for the same nerdy demographic; and 2) the CBS sitcom is a fucking ratings monster – it was the seventh most watched show in 2011, with an average of 16.6 million viewers every week. It also means Community wouldn’t be leading off the night, which was a dumb move in the first place; I doubt many Access Hollywood viewers are big fans of the show. Just put the show back on the air (syndication, SO CLOSE), NBC, and accept that ratings aren’t going to suddenly skyrocket, but know that the show does about as well as Whitney – but people actually love it.

9:30 p.m. Parks and Recreation

Why here? Honestly, it’s just because I like the idea of Community and Parks and Recreation airing back-to-back, and 9 and 9:30 p.m. looks better to the eye than 8:30 and 9 p.m. They’re the two best sitcoms on television, and the strongest one-two scheduling since The Simpsons/Arrested Development.

10:00 p.m. 30 Rock

The Firm, which holds this timeslot (for now), premiered last week to 1.4 adults in the 18-49 range, making it NBC’s “lowest rated in-season drama ever,” according to TVBTN. It costs barely anything to make, so it’s likely the rest of the season will be aired…somewhere, just not on Thursdays (probably Saturday). Of the Thursday sitcoms, 30 Rock feels the most right at 10 p.m. because it’s the bawdiest of the group, and I think the small group of people who already follow Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin would follow anywhere. It’s certainly better here, getting trounced against The Mentalist, than at 8 p.m., getting destroyed by The Big Bang Theory. Embrace three hours of comedy, NBC. EMBRACE IT.

10:30 p.m. Friends repeat

And it’ll be the highest rated show of the night.

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