Playing the Slots: Thursday Night

Thursday nights used to be simple: Just set the dial to NBC and put the popcorn in the microwave. This season, though, the night’s become a ratings battleground, with up-and-comers such as Grey’s Anatomy, Ugly Betty, and 30 Rock jousting with old-guard hits like CSI, Survivor, and ER. Clearly, hard choices are in order. It’s time to decide which Thursday-night shows to sit down with, which ones to store for later, and which ones to dump from your cluttered lineup for good.

Photo: Karen Neal/ABC

‘Ugly Betty’
Sure, the Rebecca Romijn-as-hot-transsexual-come-back-from-the-dead plotline wasn’t exactly a winner. But Betty remains the perfect post-work TV indulgence—not least for Michael Urie as a bitchy Mode Magazine rival.
Watch It

Photo: Bill Inoshita/CBS

‘Survivor: Fiji’
This is the fourteenth installment of Mark Burnett’s pioneering reality show, and it long ago started showing its age. Simply put, people just don’t talk about Survivor anymore, which was always half the fun of watching. To fulfill your watercooler chatter quota, stick to a show like, say, American Idol. Well, except for …
Drop It

Photo: Frank Micelotta/Fox

‘American Idol’
Enough is enough! This “recap” show—on the third night in a row of Idol on Fox’s schedule—features no new performances, just Ryan Seacrest stalling as he awkwardly teases out 30 seconds’ worth of information. Save your time and check the results online.
Drop It

Photo: Paul Drinkwater/NBC

‘The Office’; ‘30 Rock’
Even if you watch them when they air, these sitcoms are still must-records, often deserving a second (or third) viewing for scenes like Tracy Jordan’s Meat Machine infomercial (30 Rock) or Dwight fighting a bat (The Office). NBC’s other “Comedy Night Done Right” offerings— My Name Is Earl and Scrubs—are both acquired tastes that, if you haven’t acquired them yet, aren’t worth the space on your DVR.
Record It

Photo: Ron Tom/ABC

‘Grey’s Anatomy’
This reliable tearjerker has veered into dangerously melodramatic territory; recently, Meredith almost drowned, then flatlined, then had a Tony Soprano–like dream in which she encountered ghosts from episodes past. (Ghosts—never a good sign.) The show’s better off sticking with its strengths: Sandra Oh; sex in the medical supply closet; and Patrick Dempsey’s beautiful, beautiful hair.
On Probation

Photo: Courtesy of MTV

This reality show about teenagers in a juvenile detention center may sound exploitative, but instead it manages to be genuinely tragic, occasionally poignant, and, at times, even oddly funny. Store up a few episodes on your TiVo for a rainy day: You’ll not only see how these disadvantaged kids fall into lives of petty crime, then try to chart better futures for themselves, you’ll also get to enjoy such great lines as “She caught me stealing the chicken from the food line—I don’t know why I stole the chicken! I wanted extra chicken!”
Record It

Playing the Slots: Thursday Night