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NBC strives to stay 'must see' on Thursdays

30 ROCK. 8:30 p.m. Thursday, NBC10. PARKS AND RECREATION. 9:30 p.m., NBC10.

30 ROCK. 8:30 p.m. Thursday, NBC10.


IT PROBABLY says a little too much about what TV's done to my brain that my first thought when I heard NBC's "30 Rock" would be live this week was that I should remember to record it.

But if the Nielsens are any indication, recording now and playing back later is how more of us are watching TV, assuming we're watching at all.

Special live episodes, once used to boost ratings while keeping actors from growing bored, are either more important than ever in the age of the DVR — because advertisers pay more for viewers who don't fast-forward through commercials — or, outside sports and a few performance shows, a poor use of a medium that benefits from editing.

I used to love the mere idea of live, but sometimes the anticipation, including the possibility that something might go very wrong, is more fun than the result.

On post-must-see NBC, where a sitcom like "Community" might be constructed like a Chinese puzzle, only to be deconstructed the next morning by an army of blogging critics who may have watched it more than once, live may no longer be a good fit.

Not that "30 Rock," now in its sixth season and on its second set of live episodes (one per coast), is as complicated and unwelcoming to newcomers as its insanely clever (and sometimes simply insane) lead-in has lately become. But it's still a show in which a rewind button can be helpful, if only to make sure that, yes, they really did say/do/cut to that. So while I really will try to make it to the couch by 8:30 p.m. for "Live From Studio 6H," in which NBC corporate parent Kabletown decides that the once-live "TGS" will now be prerecorded, the DVR will be set, too.

Just in case.

I haven't, obviously, seen Thursday's "30 Rock," but I have seen the latest, very much prerecorded installment of "Parks and Recreation," a show I'll admit to having taken just about forever warming up to. Though the addition of Adam Scott ("Party Down") a while back helped ground the show for me, I know I'm never going to feel as comfortable in Pawnee as someone who was gung-ho about it from the beginning.

So the best thing, to me, about "Debate," written and directed by Amy Poehler, who stars as parks employee-turned-City Council candidate Leslie Knope, is that even someone who's never seen "Parks and Recreation" before could still figure out enough to find it funny.

Why should anyone who's already a fan care? Because Kabletown/Comcast notwithstanding, NBC is not actually a cable channel and its Thursday-night viewership isn't meant to be quite as elite as it's become.

As Leslie finally gets to face her chief opponent, rich kid Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd) in the televised debate she knows he can't possibly be ready for, "Parks and Recreation" has a nonpartisan field day with the whole debate process, from the media spin doctors to the donors' viewing party.

It's probably giving nothing away to say that just about everything that can go wrong does, but when it does, at least you'll know for sure that it's because Poehler and company wanted it that way. n

Contact Ellen Gray at 215-854-5950 or graye@phillynews.comor follow on Twitter @elgray.Read her blog at