Ranked: 20 Years of NBC ‘Must See’ Thursday Night Comedies

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NBC’s had Thursday night as it’s big comedy night for nearly 20 years now, moving from “Must See TV” to “Comedy Night Done Right.” Over all that time, they’ve tossed 38 shows our way, and counting. Some are comedy classics ranking amongst the best sitcoms ever created. Others? Well, let’s put it this way: remember Daddio, starring Michael Chiklis? Nobody else does, either. Let’s take a look at all of ‘em in order from worst to best.

#38. Coupling (2003)

Episodes: 4 (plus 7 unaired)

Quality-wise, there have been worse shows on NBC Thursday nights, which you’ll soon see, but the U.S. remake of Coupling deserves to be last because it managed to tarnish the legacy of BBC’s near-perfect original. The great Steven Moffat helmed both versions, and the U.S. one starred the otherwise-charming Jay Harrington, so NBC’s meddling is to blame for this mega-hyped screw-up. Good thing they’d right their wrong with another BBC remake…

#37. Battery Park (2000)

Episodes: 4 (plus 3 unaired)

In 1999, ABC aired the pilot episode of the Charlie Sheen-starring Sugar Hill, a police-themed sitcom. It would be the show’s only episode — until a year later, when NBC re-tooled the sitcom, now called Battery Park. It starred Elizabeth Perkins and Justin Louis and lasted four times as long as Sugar Hill! Meaning, four episodes were shown before NBC said no more.

#36. Daddio (2000)

Episodes: 9 (plus 9 unaired)

I at least vaguely remember, not to mention watched, every sitcom on this list, with the exception of Daddio. It ran for nine episodes and starred a pre-Shield Michael Chiklis as a stay-at-home dad, but nope, nothing. At least the next selection was memorably bad, rather than forgetfully so.

#35. Fired Up (1997-1998)

Episodes: 23 (plus 5 unaired)

The show’s tagline: “First she got fired, then she got fired up!” UGH, NEXT.

#34. Inside Schwartz (2001-2002)

Episodes: 9 (plus 4 unaired)

Doing something different isn’t always a good thing for a sitcom. For instance, Inside Schwartz — well, here’s the NBC press release to explain the show, “The series focuses on Schwartz as he struggles to come to terms with both his love of sports — where there are definite rules and official referees — and his personal life, where there are no designated foul lines.” That stupid press release talk is sadly accurate, too: the show used sports metaphors to discuss Schwartz’s love life. For instance, when a date licks him on the face, a referee says, “Illegal use of tongue!”

#33. Good Morning, Miami (2002-2003)

Episodes: 40

I mentioned this story elsewhere on the Internet, so Mom, if you’re reading this, I apologize for being repetitive: a screener copy of Good Morning, Miami was sent to my home in early 2002. I was 13 years old at the time, and super excited to receive a VHS copy of a show that hadn’t been on the air yet. A note came with the pilot episode, asking my mom and I to send our thoughts about the show after watching it. Twenty-two minutes later, I put on a pair of boots, ejected the video from the VCR, and literally stomped on it until it was smashed into countless pieces. The show was that bad.

#32. Union Square (1997)

Episodes: 13

Union Square was a sitcom that ripped off characters from other, more popular sitcoms on the same network. Constance Marie played Gabriella Diaz, a lawyer-turned-playwright who befriended people she met in a fictional coffee shop in New York City. It was one of the many failed shows hoping to capitalize on the success of Seinfeld and Friends.

#31. Kath & Kim (2008-2009)

Episodes: 17

While not quite as bad as Coupling, Kath & Kim still suffered from many of the same problems, including the peculiar casting of Molly Shannon and Selma Blair as the titular mother and daughter duo and trying to Americanize the characters while also keeping them consistent to the Australian original. But at least the Scissor Sisters did the theme song! (That’s not a good thing.)

#30. The Single Guy (1995-1997)

Episodes: 44

I’ll save you many pointless, Seinfeld-rip off hours of your life: in the final episode, The Single Guy becomes The Married Guy. Believe me, I’m doing you a favor.

#29. Hope & Gloria (1995-1996)

Episodes: 35

There are certain shows that just kind of come and go. They’re not offensively awful or critically loved; they just kind of came and went, no fuss and no uproar. That’s Hope & Gloria in a nutshell, about a producer (Cynthia Stevenson) of a daytime talk show becoming friends with a hairdresser (Jessica Lundy). Alan Thicke is in there, too, but here’s a pop culture tip: unless it’s preceded by “Bob” or “raising,” it’s probably not wise to include “hope” in your title (see: Hope Floats, Hope Springs, etc.).

#28. Leap of Faith (2002)

Episodes: 6

Another show about a group of well-off people hanging out in New York, Leap of Faith averaged 16.5 million viewers per episode in a post-Friends timeslot, but was still canceled after six episodes because no show with the wonderful Ken Marino can last very long. Unlike Veronica Mars and Party Down, though, Leap of Faith deserved to be canned.

#27-25. Jesse/Veronica’s Closet/Caroline in the City (1998-2000, 1997-2000, 1995-1999)

Episodes: 42/66/97

Honestly, all three of these shows blend together. David Crane and Martha Kauffman produced Jesse and Veronica’s Closet, and they’re all about strong, single women trying to make it in a male-dominated world. Another similarity between the three: jokes that wouldn’t have even made it into the first draft of the second Sex and the City movie.

#24. Suddenly Susan (1996-2000)

Episodes: 93

This could have easily been bunched in with the last selection, but at least Suddenly Susan, about the staff of a magazine in San Francisco, had Brooke Shields, who I’ve always liked, Judd Nelson, and Nestor Carbonell. Could have done without Kathy Griffin but that’s not exclusive to Suddenly Susan.

#23. Cursed/The Weber Show (2000-2001)

Episodes: 17

Many critics were calling out for Cougar Town to change its awful title between seasons one and two, an almost unheard of move. But Cursed did something even more shocking: it changed its name mid-way through its freshman year. Originally, Cursed was about Chris Elliot having been, well, cursed by an ex-girlfriend, but because no one was watching, NBC re-titled the show to the more conventional The Weber Show. Didn’t help, and it was axed after less than a full season.

#22. Boston Common (1996-1997)

Episodes: 32

Boston Common tried to do for the Land of Fenway what Friends did for New York City, which is to say only show the nicest parts of it. Obviously, it didn’t succeed, although it did give Zach Galifianakis an early gig.

#21. Four Kings (2006)

Episodes: 7 (plus 6 unaired)

Doesn’t Four Kings sound like a USA Network drama? Maybe that’s why no one watched the Seth Green-starring sitcom about, you guessed, a group of friends making it in New York City. It was either that, or people were scared off when they heard the Counting Crows’ theme song.

#20. Outsourced (2010-Present)

Episodes: 20+

Hey look, a show that isn’t about white people! It’s about making fun of people who AREN’T white! What an original idea, NBC. Anisha Nagarajan and Rebecca Hazlewood, the show’s two bright spots, really deserve better. Outsourced’s legacy will be that it kept Parks and Recreation off the air for a few months.

#19. Joey (2004-2006)

Episodes: 46

Unless you’re Kelsey Grammar, it has to be tiring, not to mention boring, to play the same character for over a decade. Matt LeBlanc, who played the lovable goofball Joey on Friends, tried taking his talents to California in this spin-off.

#18. Madman of the People (1994-1995)

Episodes: 16

For awhile, NBC was obsessed with sitcoms about people working in media (see: Suddenly Susan, Hope & Gloria, Good Morning, Miami, The Single Guy, Just Shoot Me!, etc.). Add Madman of the People to that list. Dabney Coleman, who you’ve probably seen in many films and TV shows but never really noticed, played a newspaper columnist whose daughter helps him update his long-running column for a new generation. Semi-hilarity ensued! But with such a specific premise, the writers could only squeeze so much from it, and although it was top-20 hit, NBC stopped the proverbial presses after 16 episodes.

#17. Perfect Couples (2011)

Episodes: 10

As previously discussed, I didn’t hate Perfect Couples as much as everyone else seemingly did. It was a perfectly mediocre sitcom that gave me the opportunity to gawk at Olivia Munn for 22 minutes for every week. Nothing wrong about that (besides the creepiness factor, I suppose).

#16. The Naked Truth (1995-1998)

Episodes: 48 (plus 7 unaired)

In season two, The Naked Truth, about Tea Leoni working at a sleazy tabloid, pulled in over 16 million viewers in its comfy Thursday night timeslot. In season three, in a new non-Seinfeld assisted timeslot, the show resorted to stunt guest appearances from Charo and Gary Coleman, bombed in the ratings, and was cancelled. That about sums up half of the shows on this list, but what separates The Naked Truth from the rest of the mediocre pack is Amy Ryan and George “Norm!” Wendt.

#15. Stark Raving Mad (1999-2000)

Episodes: 22

A show created by Modern Family’s Steven Levitan with a cast composed of Neil Patrick Harris and Tony Shalhoub should be entertaining — with Stark Raving Mad, viewers had to settle for decent. In a Monk-meets-Castle plot, Shalhoub plays Ian Stark, an eccentric, practical joke playing horror novelist, who’s teamed with Henry (NPH), a straight-faced book editor. It won a People’s Choice Award for “Favorite New Television Comedy Series” (previous winners include Dharma & Greg and Martin), but was cancelled after less than two dozen episodes.

#14. SNL Weekend Update Thursday (2008-2009)

Episodes: 6 (plus 6 unaired)

It made sense at the time. Like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, SNL loves presidential elections, and the ratings boost that comes with it, but in typical SNL fashion, they overdid things and stretched an amusing five-minute sketch into 22 (although Bill Murray did make an appearance).

#13. Just Shoot Me! (1997-2003)

Episodes: 148

If you hate what happened to David Spade, and there’s no judging if you do, you probably hate Just Shoot Me! It was on this long-running show that Spade transformed from Chris Farley’s straight-man sidekick to the womanizing douche he now plays (and lives) so, um, well, on Rules of Engagement. It was never a totally awful show (well, maybe it was by the end) but it wasn’t exactly subtle humor, either. After all, there’s a freaking exclamation point in the title.

#12. Will & Grace (1998-2006)

Episodes: 194

I’ve always found Will & Grace to be extremely annoying and shrill (until Parks and Recreation, I wondered why people considered Megan Mullally funny), but I must admit it’s probably the best of NBC’s bad bunch (don’t worry, things only get better from here). The show’s only saving grace was Debra Messing, peppy in a non-Jenna Elfman way.

#11. Andy Barker P.I. (2007)

Episodes: 6

Although not quite as good as Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Andy Barker did have Conan O’Brien, Tony Hale, and, of course, Richter, as well an intriguing premise that Bored to Death would Brooklyn-ize a few years later. But it also had an odd distribution plan: all six episodes were streamed on NBC’s website before a single aired on TV. It lasted only four episodes on Thursday, with the final two burned out on consecutive Saturdays, and Richter continues to this day to be known as Conan’s sidekick.

#10. Mad About You (1992-1999)

Episodes: 164

There’s almost no nostalgic fondness for Mad About You, which ran for seven seasons and made household names out of Paul Reiser, whose new Thursday night sitcom premiered last week, and Helen Hunt. That’s a shame, too, because although it wasn’t a great sitcom, it had fantastic characters, especially Hunt and Reiser’s respective families, including Carol Burnett and Mel Brooks. It lasted for two seasons on Thursday before helming NBC’s ill-advised “Must See TV Tuesday” lineup.

#9. Friends (1994-2004)

Episodes: 236

My feelings for Friends can be found here, but for the tl;dr crowd: good at the time, but so many shows tried to replicate its format that Friends-esque quickly burned out, and the show’s blueprint isn’t on TV anymore (and before you say it: How I Met Your Mother is making fun of Friends, rather than paying respect).

#8. My Name is Earl (2005-2009)

Episodes: 96

Many potential viewers, myself included, didn’t give My Name is Earl a chance when it premiered in 2005 because the promos made it look rather Joe Dirt-esque. We were wrong, though: creator Greg Garcia has a unique talent in writing blue-collar characters without restoring to stereotypes, as he’s shown on both Earl and now Raising Hope.

#7. Scrubs (2001-2010)

Episodes: 181

Technically, only 150 episodes aired on NBC, with the other 31 coming on ABC, but the show’s best years, and there were plenty of them, occurred on the peacock network. Some day, Scrubs will get the respect it deserves from comedy fans — hopefully before everyone gets sick of watching syndicated repeats seemingly eight times a day on five networks.

#6. Frasier (1993-2004)

Episodes: 264

Frasier, which only spent three seasons on Thursday, is one of NBC’s greatest achievements. It’s a successful spin-off, an impressive enough achievement, but it also never had any awful years. The quality slipped a little once the show was a decade old, but David Hyde Pierce, playing the obsessive-compulsive Niles, always kept things grounded.

#5. Parks and Recreation (2009-Present)

Episodes: 39+

You’ll soon notice that the top of this list is heavy on shows whose end dates haven’t arrived yet. Whatever the reason for this, it’s nice that we’re living in such a prime time (heh?) for sitcoms, including Parks and Recreation, although I bet NBC would trade Parks for a show as mediocre and popular as Mike & Molly any day.

#4. The Office (2005-Present)

Episodes: 146+

Enough Internet Ink has been spilled praising The Office (rightly so), and even more will come in the next few weeks, so let’s go to a fun fact instead: before signing on as Michael Scott, Steve Carell played Blevin in Come to Papa, an NBC midseason sitcom that lasted only four episodes before cancellation. Maybe Tom Papa, who the show is named after, should play Michael Scott when Carell departs?

#3. Community (2009-Present)

Episodes: 45+

Considering all the accolades I’ve laid on this show since I started recapping it for Splitsider last year, I’m as surprised as you are that Community isn’t one slot higher. But as wonderful as the show is, and I do think it’s the best sitcom out there today, it needs another outstanding season before it jumps…

#2. 30 Rock (2006-Present)

Episodes: 99+

I know I take 30 Rock, a show I rarely think about on the same terms as Louie and either of the last two choices, for granted, but when I’m watching an episode, no program is as consistently excellent as Tina Fey’s comedy vault masterpiece.

#1. Seinfeld (1989-1998)

Episodes: 180

The greatest live-action sitcom of all-time, Seinfeld is essentially the reason Must See TV exists. But the show began on Wednesday nights and was infamously moved around the schedule before finally a time slot that stuck on Thursday in season five. That’s when it evolved from modest hit to pop culture landmark. With all due respect to The Simpsons, no show has shaped not only comedy but also American culture quite like Seinfeld.

Josh Kurp’s favorite Seinfeld quote of the moment: “Yeah, I am Batman.”