Television's most competitive and lucrative night begins its new season in earnest - with two notable absences. The season premiere of "CSI" will have to wait until Oct. 9 so the latest season of "Survivor" (7 p.m., CBS) can take its two-hour bow.
"30 Rock" won't make its season debut until Oct. 30. That's more than a little sad given that it won seven Emmy awards and just about swept the comedy category.
Last Sunday's Emmy awards show offered a cruel contrast between quality and popularity. The little-watched "30 Rock" and "Mad Men" took home the big awards. Meanwhile, the Academy seemed to literally hold its nose as reality television was given a seat at the table.
The presence of reality-show hosts, including winner Jeff Probst of "Survivor," was supposed to indicate that, after nine years, the genre had arrived. Instead, their dreadful performances proved only what many already know, that unscripted and contrived "reality" television is more about watching relatively untalented people waste time. It has little to do with entertainment.
But "Survivor" remains a very popular waste of time. A recent survey showed that viewers claim to have a great emotional investment in the players of that series. In contrast, a comedy like "30 Rock" operates in a feelings-free zone.
It's interesting to note that the same show that honored reality hosts also chose to celebrate sets from classic series, from "Seinfeld" to "Mary Tyler Moore." Singer Josh Groban crooned more than 60 theme songs to beloved series from the past. Those shows - some decades old - have residual value in every sense of the word. They still entertain viewers, and they still make money for their creators and broadcasters.
In contrast, nobody watches an episode of "Survivor" twice. Like yesterday's baseball score, it belongs to history. So, decades from now, viewers may still be marveling at the wit behind "30 Rock" while "Survivor" languishes in the landfill of popular culture, tucked somewhere between "Bowling for Dollars" and professional wrestling.
¢ Viewers love Thursday-night television, but some performers can't wait to leave. "CSI" star William Petersen will finally depart and hand his baton over to Laurence Fishburne. Katherine Heigl's dissatisfaction with the writing for her character on "Grey's Anatomy" has been well-documented and even inspired a Conan O'Brien crack at the Emmy awards.
As "ER" (9 p.m., NBC) enters its 15th and final season, it should be interesting to watch the body count soar. Maura Tierney has even publicly hoped that they would kill off her character, Abby Lockhart, as quickly as possible.
Tonight's season premieres
¢ On two episodes of "My Name is Earl" (NBC), Seth Green guest stars as a "Make-A-Wish" child (7 p.m.), Earl upsets his parents' marriage (7:30 p.m.). The first episode is a fairly good indication of how this series has run out of gas.
¢ Betty makes her choices known on "Ugly Betty" (7 p.m., ABC).
¢ The Dunder-Mifflin staff spends its summer on a crash diet on "The Office" (8 p.m., NBC).
¢ An ice storm and confusion offer a killer a chance to infiltrate the hospital on a two-hour episode of "Grey's Anatomy" (8 p.m., ABC).