TV

NBC makes a Thursday night comeback

Thursday night, once dominated by NBC, has become one of the mostcompetitive nights on television.

The Peacock, which had a monopoly on viewers throughout the 1990s,forfeited its lead by airing too many look-alike, cruddy sitcomsduring the "Friends"-"Seinfeld" glory years and then annoyed loyalfans of TV comedy by plopping reality show "The Apprentice" into the9 p.m. hour in 2004.

These missteps allowed first CBS (with "Survivor" and "CSI")and then ABC (with "Ugly Betty" and "Grey's Anatomy") to usurpNBC's lead.

Last year, NBC finally got its act together, returning to thetraditional four-comedy block from 8 to 10 p.m. and airing four seriesworthy of the "Must-See TV" brand once employed by the network. NowNBC is calling it "Comedy Night Done Right," which, in a rarity forTV slogans, actually has the virtue of being true.

Hospital comedy "Scrubs" (9:30 p.m., Oct. 25) returns to thelineup for its seventh and final season, joining "My Name Is Earl,""30 Rock" and "The Office," whose seasons are already under way.The little comedy that could has been shuffled around the schedulemore than just about any other series and sometimes it would come backonly as a midseason replacement.

As the previous season ended, it appeared that J.D. (Zach Braff)and Elliot (Sarah Chalke) were about to become romantically involvedagain a few years after breaking up. The new season begins at the samespot and then fast-forwards to the ramifications of decisions theyeach make.

It's a less zany episode than "Scrubs" has been in recentseasons, more grounded in reality with fewer flights of fancy. Itshould still be an enjoyable half-hour for the show's loyal fans, butI do have to admit that after this run of 18 final episodes ends, Iwon't be sad to see "Scrubs" go.

Every series has a terminal lifespan and by recycling the"will-they-or-won't-they?" plot, it's obvious that "Scrubs" isready to be put to bed.

"This show is not Sam and Diane. It's not 'Cheers,"' saidexecutive producer Bill Lawrence in July. He said the show got awayfrom the J.D. and Elliot story but chose to return to it as a way todepict two dysfunctional people prone to screwing up their respectiverelationships. He said the show's writers are arguing among themselvesover whether or not to end the series with J.D. and Eliot as a couple.He's cognizant of the anger viewers felt over "The Sopranos" ending,which he, personally, enjoyed.

"Maybe I'm wrong to feel the sense of pressure," he said. "We'rejust going to try and, I don't want to say give people what they want,but hopefully resolve the show in a way that people are satisfied ifthey want that couple to be together, and people are satisfied if theydon't want them to be together."

"I'm a TV junkie," said Lawrence, who directed the seasonpremiere. "I used to watch all (the Thursday night shows). It used tobe a (expletive) sandwich. There used to be, like, three good shows and onegiant piece of doo-doo. This is actually four good shows."

And even though the ratings for the lineup routinely land NBC inthird place in total viewers, Lawrence said in the current TVenvironment, those ratings no longer define ultimate success andfailure. Today a low-rated program may be a smash success online, as adownload or on DVD, finding new ways to make money beyond justadvertising dollars in prime time.

"I honestly believe that in the modern landscape, all four ofthese shows are successes and will all make lots of money for thecompanies that own them," he said.

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