By Scott Brown
May 15, 2006 at 08:50 PM EDT

If you want to see the future of NBC (and TV in general), watch The Office finale on iTunes. (I forgot to breathe during that climactic, brutally transfixing Jim-Pam scene — TV’s best comedy also features some of TV’s best dramatic closework.)

If you’d like a more direct breakdown of what’s to come from the Peacock, go here. The view from fourth place is sobering. But, after a long slide, NBC finally seems to be digging in its feet. The lineup reflects changing attitudes towards what constitutes primetime material. Movie concepts (i.e., Heroes, an ordinary-joe superhero series a la Unbreakable, and Friday Night Lights, based on the West Texas high-school football flick) and movie people (i.e., Crash writer-director Paul Haggis, who’s behind crime drama The Black Donnellys) are coming to the fore. Meta-ness rules: There’s a drama about comedy (Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60, pictured, starring Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford) and a comedy about comedy (Tina Fey’s similarly themed and equally numerically titled 30 Rock).

What we’re not seeing are many traditional sitcoms or police procedurals. Perhaps reflecting the strengthening of NBC president Kevin Reilly’s hand, there seems a real willingness on the part of the network to move beyond formula — which everyone now agrees is a must in the age of cable, iTunes, and all the other hobgoblins of traditional broadcast TV.

With any luck, the viewers will be the beneficiaries. Got to say, NBC’s Thursday is looking like a winner: Between Sorkin’s fantastically promising Studio 60 (I’ve read the pilot — it’s genius), and the brilliance that is The Office, you can bet I’ll be there. Or rather, my TiVo will be there.

Joey, Surface, Four Kings, E-Ring, Conviction, and Teachers are all destined for the knacker yard. I don’t think I realized half these shows were still on. Though I understand my colleague Michael Slezak is huge, salivating Teachers fan. So be nice to him this afternoon — this has got to be hard.

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