NBC Introduces New Spring Comedy Block

by Shannon Baldo
Columnist

Stop what you’re doing. I have big news: The spring primetime television schedules have been released.

It’s that time of year again, when the major broadcasting networks announce their lineup of shows for the second half of the season. Normally, hearing about the schedules for the following season certainly wouldn’t merit a column.

However, a few weeks ago NBC released a revolutionary new schedule for its Thursday night programming. This spring, we get a three-hour block of half-hour comedies. It will begin at 8 p.m. with “Community” and the new relationship comedy “Perfect Couples,” continue at 9 with “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” and finish the evening with “30 Rock” and “Outsourced” at 10.

So, you may ask, why should we care about a three-hour comedy block?

Well, dear readers, it’s the first time NBC has scheduled three hours of sitcoms in 20 years and even longer since they appeared on a weeknight. Thursday is the biggest night of the week for television, and major broadcasting channels pull out all the stops. From ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” to CBS’s “CSI:” and “The Mentalist,” Thursday primetime holds the most entertaining and addictive shows in network television, and for decades those slots have been generally limited to hourlong dramas. Filling this schedule with sitcoms is radical.

A lot of television journals have speculated that the reason for this abrupt change is NBC’s currently lackluster Thursday ratings. Putting a series of lighthearted, half-hour comedies up against such serious dramas may create major competition among the networks, and many suspect that this may boost NBC’s primetime ratings.

Yet I have a different theory on the network’s motivation. NBC knows that its most entertaining and addictive shows right now are these half-hour comedies. The NBC programs which have gained the most fan loyalty over the past several years have been comedies such as “30 Rock” and, especially, “The Office.” With a community of strong writing, enchanting acting and just enough quirk to keep an audience interested, these comedies have climbed their way to the top of NBC programming, and finally earned the top slots which go along with it.

Of course, there is an amount of risk involved in such a schedule. As many online columnists have written, filling up a three-hour block of primetime with one genre could easily drain all the laughter out of a viewer.

However, I have faith in NBC’s programming. Both “30 Rock” and “The Office” this season have returned to their previous highs in writing and comedy, and “Community” has kept the satiric quality it found at the end of last season. “Perfect Couples” seems to be taking inspiration from classic successes like the British “Coupling,” which lends hope for it. “Outsourced” has had a rough start, but the episodes have progressively improved and may take a route akin to “Parks and Recreation”— which surpassed its dull early episodes and became one of the best shows on television in its second season, and which also returns to the Thursday block in January.

With such a strong set of shows, I’m incredibly excited about this schedule and genuinely hope that it works out for NBC, particularly because, if the network’s ratings don’t pick up very soon, we may see the ax brought to some of our favorite series.

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