The months-long anticipation we've experienced awaiting new episodes of NBC comedies has almost totally destabilized Defamer HQ, particularly in our speculations as to how the network would gently reintroduce us to programming like My Name is Earl. Would we see a brief sketch with Jason Lee agreeing to return to work on the condition of no more Paris Hilton cameos? Would the show go meta, with its cast treating its staff writers to a Earl-esque karma intervention? Or would NBC boss Jeff Zucker hijack the moment and squander yet another two minutes of viewer goodwill? Wait — did we just give it away?

In the parallel universe where this might be funny, Zucker's tacky product-placement gags, writer-prodding jabs ("preferably in the first 17 days!") and generally bloodless deadpan are themselves sitcom gold, and a star is no doubt born. On Earth, however, we fear this is a haunting signal of the Zucker-era tight-fistedness to come: With pilots, upfronts and junkets already slashed from the NBC budget, Zucker moves on to consolidate his entire Thursday-night slate into five SAG day players ruminating on how His Name Was Earl, the minimalist Jenna Fischer/Office spinoff Pam and Zucker himself finally replacing Alec Baldwin in the 30 Rock role he's been eyeing for at least a year. At least one man's spring is off to a good start.