NBC's Thursday redux

'Rock,' 'Scrubs' make 2-hour block

NBC is bringing back its trademark two-hour comedy block on Thursdays with freshman "30 Rock" and "Scrubs" joining "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office." Meanwhile, another new NBC comedy, "Twenty Good Years," is being pulled off the schedule.

"30 Rock" will be first to join the Thursday lineup Nov. 16 for a supersize night of 40-minute episodes of "Earl," "Office" and "30 Rock" leading into "ER."

Comedy will take a breather the following week, Thanksgiving night, when NBC will air a two-hour "Deal or No Deal" from 8-10 p.m.

Beginning Nov. 30, the four single-camera comedies will take over their new regular slots: "Earl" and "Office" staying put at 8 and 8:30, followed by "Scrubs" at 9 and "30 Rock" at 9:30 p.m. For "Scrubs," it will mark a return to Thursdays, where it aired behind "Friends" during the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons.

"We are excited about the prospect of two hours of top-notch comedy on Thursday nights, which includes the return of 'Scrubs,' " NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly said. "We will stay on-brand with the best comedy block on television, which will position us for the future on the night."

"30 Rock" and its current companion, "Twenty," will remain in their respective Wednesday 8 and 8:30 slots through Nov. 8. The following week, "The Biggest Loser" will air at 8, leading into the two-hour season premiere of "Medium" that will feature star Patricia Arquette's husband, Thomas Jane, as a guest star. "Medium" will begin running in its regular Wednesday 10 p.m. slot the following week.

Starting Nov. 22, NBC will air different specials in the Wednesday 8 p.m. hour. The Thursday edition of "Deal" will not be moved to another night, and the game show will go down from two to one edition a week for now.

There are no immediate plans for a return of "Twenty Good Years" to the schedule. The comedy starring John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor is in production on its 13-episode order and might come back in midseason.

The move follows a low-rated first two weeks for "30 Rock" and "Twenty" in the Wednesday 8 p.m. hour. Last week, they trailed the competition with a 2.3 rating/7 share and a 2.0/5 in adults 18-49, respectively.

It also reaffirms NBC's commitment to moving scripted series away from 8 p.m. as stated by network's brass last week (HR 10/20).

For nearly 20 years, NBC's "Must See TV" comedy lineup dominated the Thursday 8-10 time period with such blockbuster comedies as "Friends," "Seinfeld" and "Cheers." But the formidable block began to show signs of vulnerability in the late '90s when NBC repeatedly failed to launch a new hit comedy behind "Friends" and "Seinfeld." Cracks began to appear when in 2001 when CBS challenged NBC's dominance on the night by scheduling "Survivor" and "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" at 8 and 9 p.m., respectively.

After a successful stunting with supersized episodes of its established comedies, NBC's best response to CBS' assault came in early 2004 when the network broke off its two-hour comedy block to air "The Apprentice" at 9 p.m. NBC briefly returned to the four-comedy format in the spring when it moved "Earl" and "Office" to the Thursday 9 p.m. hour.

"30 Rock," created by and starring Tina Fey, was warmly received by critics. Set behind the scenes of a late-night sketch comedy show, the series also stars Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan and Jane Krakowski.

"Deal" was a late addition to NBC's Thursday lineup. The network originally had scheduled its other behind-the-scenes of a "Saturday Night Live"-type show new series, Aaron Sorkin's drama "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," in the 9 p.m. slot but made the switch after ABC announced its move of "Grey's Anatomy" to the same period.