‘Must-See TV’ to apply to Thursdays again

Here’s some momentous scheduling news. Starting Nov. 30, NBC’s Thursday night lineup will be as follows: “My Name Is Earl,” “The Office,” “Scrubs,” and “30 Rock,” with “E.R.” still finishing the night in the 10 p.m. slot.

Take a moment to ponder that two-hour chunk of comedy. If I were to name the 10 funniest shows currently on TV, those would be four of them. A couple of them would be in the top five. These are four consistently funny, smart, and non-condescending comedies. None of them use canned laughter. All of them are sharply written and well-acted.

NBC owned Thursday nights for comedy through the 1980s and ’90s with such monster hits as “Cheers,” “The Cosby Show,” “Seinfeld,” and “Friends.” But the two-hour block hasn’t featured four quality shows since 1987, when the lineup was “Cosby,” “Family Ties,” “Cheers,” and “Night Court.” Since then, there was has always been some crap like “Caroline in the City” or “The Single Guy” wedged in between the good shows. The stellar new lineup is the best block of comedy in 20 years, on NBC or any other network.

Unfortunately, while all four shows are critically beloved, none of them are major ratings hits. The most popular is “My Name Is Earl,” which typically falls around 45th place with about 9 million viewers. In a just world, these four shows would be in the top 20 every week. But we do not live in a just world. Not yet, anyway. If we all watch NBC on Thursdays starting Nov. 30 (and stop watching “Two and a Half Men” altogether), perhaps the world will become just.

(OK, if I were to name the 10 funniest shows currently on TV, they would be, in alphabetical order: “Campus Ladies” [Oxygen], “Curb Your Enthusiasm” [HBO], “Family Guy” [Fox], “Help Me Help You” [ABC], “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” [FX], “My Name Is Earl” [NBC], “The Office” [NBC], “Scrubs” [NBC], “South Park” [Comedy Central], and “30 Rock” [NBC].)