I hate to be hard on NBC all the time, and maybe I should have some sympathy. After all, any network can have an off decade. And truth be told, the peacock has kept some very good shows running on Thursday nights, even though their ratings do not come close to matching those of sitcoms past. 30 Rock, the most honored series in the NBC lineup since The West Wing was impeached, opens its fourth season on Thursday (9:30 p.m.) with an episode titled "Season 4," and once again, an awful lot will be expected of it.
The premiere plays as if it might be a commentary on real life encounters with NBC execs, as Jack (Alec Baldwin) informs Liz (Tina Fey) that the cast of TGS is not likable enough. Both Tracy (Tracy Morgan) and Jenna (Jane Krakowski) react to the news by taking steps to improve their images. Also, Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) gets militant by leading a page strike, while Liz and Pete go on the hunt for new talent for the show. 30 Rock may not be likable in the sense of being heartwarming, but there's still no more reliable source of laughs on the air today.
Also this week:
Monday: Gone Too Far (MTV, 10 p.m.): MTV has decided to go ahead with this limited-run series about the toll of addiction even though the man behind it, Adam Goldstein aka DJ AM, lost his own battle with drugs several weeks ago. Apparently it's for those viewers who find Intervention too lighthearted? The debut episode features Amy, a heroin addict who needs to be coaxed into rehab.
Tuesday: Hell's Kitchen (Fox, 8 p.m.): I'm going to miss Tennille, eliminated last week, because her victory would have been the most bizarre result in reality show history. Tonight's season finale will give us as a new champion either Kevin, who's a jerk; Ariel, who's pretty boring; or Dave, who probably deserves the win for putting up with Gordon Ramsay while working with just one functioning arm.
Wednesday: Nip/Tuck (FX, 10 p.m.): The sixth season of television's most outrageous series kicks off with an acknowledgement of hard times -- after all, people who are worried about their jobs can't afford to waste money on breast augmentation. But an old rival (Mario Lopez) may offer a solution to their problems of Sean and Christian. Also, born loser Matt has his looniest job idea yet.
Friday: Ugly Betty (ABC, 8 p.m.): ABC is attempting to show that it hasn't forgotten about Betty and Co. by giving up two hours to this show's fourth season premiere. Betty is now the associate features editor at Mode, but both old rivals and former boss Daniel are having trouble adjusting to that. Also, Justin begins high school and finds out that it's hard out there for a 14-year-old fashionista.
Saturday: Saturday Night Live (NBC, 11:30 p.m.): Can Gerard Butler be a funny guy? Those that hated The Ugly Truth, and that's most anyone who saw it, might be questioning if it's possible. Butler hosts the fourth new SNL to begin the season, and Shakira will unleash her lycanthropy as the musical guest.
Sunday: The Simpsons (Fox, 8 p.m.): One of the best things about the baseball season lasting longer nowadays is that Fox now has to run the annual "Treehouse of Horror" episode of The Simpsons prior to Halloween instead of afterwards. For the twentieth version, Bart has to save Springfield from zombies, Lisa seeks vengeance after being double-crossed, and Homer's blood becomes the secret ingredient in Moe's beer. I thought Homer's blood was already all beer?