It was hard not to laugh this week when NBC announced its midseason schedule would continue its Thursday night of comedy past 10 p.m. ET, by pushing back Tina Fey's Emmy-winning 30 Rock and the freshman series Outsourced.
After all, one of the jokes in the previous weekend's PBS special honoring Fey with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor concerned how low the ratings for 30 Rock have been.
And the joke was made by Lorne Michaels, the Saturday Night Live producer who also is one of the producers of 30 Rock.
NBC has tried the 10 p.m. ET comedy strategy before on some nights, and it has never worked. The chance it will work with the low-rated 30 Rock is as slim as the chance Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien will have Thanksgiving dinner together. If nothing else, NBC's moves will give Fey some material for her show, which oftens skewers network executives.
I suspect one of the reasons 30 Rock was given a renewal through the 2011-12 season is that NBC executives realize Fey's show will deserve an extra year for being sacrificed at 10 p.m. ET Thursday, where Donald Trump's The Apprentice has been tanking this season.
The move does have some benefits for 30 Rock in that it eliminates one competitor. Fox doesn't program at 10 p.m. ET. As of now, it will face only ABC's Private Practice, which isn't exactly a ratings hit, and CBS's The Mentalist.
NBC's midseason scheduling changes [detailed here by Ed Bark] are one big concession that its fall schedule of new shows was close to a disaster, despite the pedigree of some shows' producers.
J. J. Abrams' Undercovers already has been canceled. Jerry Bruckheimer's Chase hasn't officially been canceled, but NBC has announced two shows in its 10 p.m. ET Monday time slot, so you don't have to be a mentalist to see what that means.
The Event [photo above], which had such strong numbers at the start that NBC immediately proclaimed it a hit, has been sinking since, and will go on hiatus for two months. It will need as much or more promotion for its return than it did at the start, to get audiences back now that they know it's a series about aliens.
Law & Order: Los Angeles had a strong ratings start, but has faded, which is why it is being moved to 10 p.m. ET Tuesday in February. It isn't getting much of a favor there, where it will compete with CBS's The Good Wife.
Outsourced isn't a ratings hit, but NBC hasn't demanded big audiences from its comedies -- witness the continuation of Community and Parks and Recreation.
The one recent NBC series that seems to be getting some traction is Parenthood [photo at left], which premiered last spring. Its reward? Moving to 10 p.m. ET Monday in March. That's the time slot where ABC's Castle and CBS's Hawaii Five-0 have been battling for audiences.
The biggest admission that NBC is facing reality -- that practically everything this fall failed -- is the announcement of all the reality shows it plans to return after the New Year.
That includes Jerry Seinfeld's The Marriage Ref, airing at 8 p.m. ET Sunday after the NFL season ends, followed by Trump's reality series.