Wednesday, October 8, 2008

get on the dancefloor, it's a timeslot hit

So a few days ago, we were watching our usual dose of Seinfeld reruns, and one of them was the one where Jerry goes onstage before hopelessly unfunny rival comic Kenny Bania, and Bania's act unexpectedly generates a bunch of laughs. When Jerry figures out that Bania's doing well because Jerry has already got the audience laughing, he calls Bania a "timeslot hit."

That got me to wonderin' if future generations will get this joke. I mean, in and of itself the plotline is funny. But the real deliciousness of Jerry's line comes from knowing the meta joke: it's a reference to NBC's practice on its "Must-See Thursdays" of airing sitcoms more lame than Bania's act in the 8:30 PM and 9:30 PM eastern/pacific slots, i.e., in the gaps between huge ratings hits Friends (8 PM), Seinfeld (9 PM) and E.R. (10 PM). No matter how insipid or atrocious or savaged by critics these shows were, they'd always be in the Nielsen top 10 because enough people wouldn't bother to change the channel between shows. Veronica's Closet, The Single Guy, Madman of the People, Union Square... need I go on for anyone who lived through this era?

In the world's best-ever Rolling Stone interview, NewsRadio creator Paul Simms dubbed NBC's approach to Thursday nights "the shit sandwich." I can't find the full text of the interview on the Internet anymore, but I can quote my own quoting of it from this Fegmaniax post of mine from days of yore:
Simms on NBC's "Must See Thursday":
"People are starting to realize Thursday night is
like a big double-decker shit sandwich with three
good pieces of bread, and in between..."

Q: If "NewsRadio" doesn't last, would you turn
your back on sitcoms?

"Yeah, this is the best I can do. Pretend
you're God and you say, 'If you do a show
about a single father who's dating a lot
and has two teenage sons, and it doesn't
have to be funny, and it'll be a huge hit.'
I'd say, 'Fuck you, God.'"
It's all of this that went into Jerry's joke, which made me guffaw when the episode first aired, when I watched it last week, and probably will for years to come. But as NBC's "Must-See Thursday" recedes into the dustbin that's already home to CBS' '70s Monday night comedy juggernaut, the true resonance of the "timeslot hit" line is likely to be as lost on the young'uns as the archness of Alexander Pope is to me. Annotation is no substitute for living memory.


Miles said...

Perhaps one should not make the first comment on one's own post, but I would also like this additional relevant piece of arch dialogue from that Seinfeld episode to be on the record (I trimmed it from the main post for better flow):

JERRY: You think [Bania's act is] funny?

GEORGE: I don't know, I like stuff you don't have to think about too much.

villain said...

nbc aired some lame-looking thing between earl and the office just last week. but i don't know if the strategy will generate a hit in the age of tivo. (we watched the previous office via hulu during the timeslot, so I can't comment on whether the lame-looking thing was actually lame or not.)