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"Earl" dodges "Idol" (seth green mention)

Alan Sepinwall

Thursday 8 December 2005, by isa

WHAT’S THE SOUND of the other shoe dropping? If you watch NBC, it may be the sound of Zach Braff narrating his life.

A day after Fox’s mid-season schedule announcement didn’t include the move of "American Idol" to Thursdays, NBC unveiled its Hail Mary pass to save the season, a schedule that includes the move of "My Name Is Earl" to Thursdays, the return of "Scrubs" on Tuesdays, and, in the brightest news of all, the banishment of "Joey," however temporary it may be.

NBC had been waiting for weeks, if not months, to learn whether Fox would shift "Idol" so they would know whether it might be safe to move "Earl," the network’s only bright spot this season.

Back in the days when NBC’s domination of Thursdays — the most lucrative night of the week, thanks to advertising dollars from movie and car companies looking to drum up weekend business — was a birthright, the network aired four comedies from 8 to 10. Some years, you got a lineup that included "Mad About You," "Seinfeld" and "Frasier." Other years, the likes of "The Single Guy" and "Caroline in the City" got in the way, but at least there was the potential for two straight hours of laughs.

So it was once, and so shall it be again. In the new lineup, which begins next month, "Earl" and "The Office" will take over the 9 o’clock hour, while the next version of "The Apprentice" will air, post-Olympics, on a night and time TBA. "Will & Grace" slides to 8, and "Four Kings," a new comedy from the "Will & Grace" guys (which, based on the pilot, you’ll only want to watch if you really, really, really, really — really — love co-star Seth Green) at 8:30.

"Joey" will return at some later date. According to a recent Entertainment Weekly story, the only reason NBC hasn’t canceled it outright is that it’s actually cheaper to produce and air it for the rest of this season. In which case, I would suggest the final episode simply feature NBC entertainment president Kevin Reilly handing Matt LeBlanc his paycheck, bill by bill. ("$80,000... $81,000...")

Meanwhile, after getting a full season order and then being left off the fall schedule, "Scrubs" has so many episodes lying around that NBC will air them back-to-back on Tuesdays at 9 and 9:30, at least for a while. (A pessimist would look at that and assume NBC is just trying to get the show off the air as quickly as possible.)

Two other NBC changes of note: "Book of Daniel," a drama starring Aidan Quinn as an Episcopal minister who has regular conversations with Jesus, will air Fridays at 10, replacing the long-dead "Inconceivable"; and when "Apprentice: Martha" ends, never to be seen again, the Wednesday at 9 slot will be filled by "Biggest Loser" specials. (This or Tuesday seems like the most likely landing spot for The Donald.)

At press time, ABC hadn’t announced its complete midseason plans (CBS did it last week), but rumor has it that, like NBC and Fox, it’s planning to air sitcoms in the 9 o’clock hour. "Earl" did well opposite three dramas and a reality show; will it be as strong opposite "CSI" and a bunch of other comedies?

All TV bits

Wendie Jo Sperber, a veteran TV comedienne best known as one of the girls across the hall on "Bosom Buddies," died Tuesday at age 46 after an eight-year battle with breast cancer. Sperber’s other sitcoms included the TV version of "Private Benjamin," "Women in Prison," "Hearts Afire" and "Babes," a short-lived Fox series about three plus-sized sisters sharing a small studio apartment. She also starred in a number of movies, notably as Michael J. Fox’s sister in "Back to the Future."

After dragging William Shatner back into the mainstream and hiring Betty White and Candice Bergen in for extended stints, "Boston Legal" is reaching into TV’s past again. Tom Selleck will guest star in a February sweeps episode as the ex-husband of Bergen’s Shirley Schmidt.

The Howard Stern Plugathon continues. The radio shock jock, who’s about to make some kind of career change (he hasn’t talked about it very much, but I think it has something to do with space stations), will appear on Sunday’s "60 Minutes," where, among other things, he’ll express regret for the 1992 show where he prayed for an FCC commissioner’s cancer to spread.