A Guide To The Thursday Night Comedy Battle, Or: Please Watch 'Community' : Monkey See The Thursday night comedy battle starts tonight, with some very good shows and some very bad shows kicking off their seasons. We have a suggestion on how to make the night work for you.
NPR logo A Guide To The Thursday Night Comedy Battle, Or: Please Watch 'Community'

A Guide To The Thursday Night Comedy Battle, Or: Please Watch 'Community'

Tonight's season premiere of Community includes the whole bunch -- Gillian Jacobs, Donald Glover, Joel McHale, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, and Alison Brie. Oh, and hey! BETTY WHITE! Trae Patton/NBC hide caption

toggle caption
Trae Patton/NBC

Of all the shows I have ever recommended to people exhaustively and repetitively, there's nothing I've ever received more thank-you notes about than Community. As we discussed yesterday, nothing is everyone's cup of tea — not even a cup of tea. But I've gotten many expressions of appreciation from people who have picked up the show, which returns tonight at 8:00 on NBC, many of whom say that they've become very devoted fans of the community-college comedy starring Joel McHale and a large cast of uniformly terrific actors.

And now: The Death Star. A wonderful, adorable, witty Death Star called The Big Bang Theory — a show I also love — is coming for Community.

It was CBS that decided to create a comedy block on Thursday nights to go up against the traditional NBC comedy night. It's one of NBC's few remaining spots of even moderate brightness, so this is the time to move in for the kill. So CBS is moving The Big Bang Theory and the new (and terrible) William Shatner comedy Bleep My Dad Says (I refuse to type out the asterisks and whatnot) up against Community and 30 Rock at 8:00 and 8:30 p.m. respectively.

Now it gets more complicated. The reason why 30 Rock has moved back to 8:30 is that NBC is using the spot after The Office to launch its new (and terrible) comedy, Outsourced. (Fortunately, I don't feel the need to review Outsourced at all, so pleased am I to recommend and co-sign the review from my TCA pal Dan Fienberg, who gets everything right in this post.) The show left out in the cold is Parks & Recreation, which is a terribly sad development, and which makes me even more eager to see Outsourced hit the scrap heap as quickly as humanly possible. FREE LESLIE KNOPE!

Here's what I want you to do if you have a DVR: I want you to watch Community at 8:00, and then watch 30 Rock at 8:30, and then watch The Office at 9:00, and then I want you to outsmart NBC and CBS by watching your DVR'd The Big Bang Theory at 9:30 instead of Outsourced. This allows you to hit all the shows with any promise (yeah, yeah, The Office and 30 Rock have had their ups and downs, but I'm a long way from giving up on either one) and miss both of the ones with no promise at all.

Why do I want you to watch Community and not The Big Bang Theory at 8:00? For several reasons. First of all, The Big Bang Theory is an established hit — that's why they're moving it — while Community was lucky to get a renewal for a second season. That means Community needs you more.

But another reason is that CBS has been a stubborn holdout in many cases when it comes to putting episodes online. The Big Bang Theory, unless something has changed from last year, cannot be viewed online, paid or free, on iTunes, on Amazon, on CBS.com, or in any other legal way, if you happen to miss it. You literally have to wait for a rerun or wait a year for the DVD. Community, on the other hand, will be on Hulu.

This might make you think the opposite — "Well, then I should definitely watch Big Bang, because I can watch Community tomorrow on Hulu." This, of course, is a great plan, provided you want to reward the practice of keeping shows offline. I don't know whether the right model for the future is a pay-by-the-episode model, a with-ads model, a subscription model, or something else, but I'm very concerned that if it becomes clear that it benefits Big Bang in head-to-head competition to keep it offline, then the currently unstoppable march toward legal online availability in some format could come to a sudden screeching halt.

There's still a great plan for a pretty great night of comedy, but you have to go back and forth a little bit to do it. Yes, if you don't have a DVR, and you don't have a VCR, you'll have to watch Big Bang at 8:00 and catch Community on Hulu if you want to see both. But for DVR viewers, just swap out Outsourced for your DVR'd Big Bang Theory, and you can still have a pretty good time.