By Ken Tucker
Updated January 16, 2009 at 08:30 PM EST

No, I’m not talking about its liberal cable-news arm, MSNBC. I mean, how ’bout that NBC, fearlessly announcing that they’re replacing ER with… a cop show? Hey, for all I know, Southland, from ER producer John Wells and slated to start April 9, is going to be ground-breaking, exciting stuff. But I really doubt it. For one thing, it’s a show from Wells, which smacks a little of, “Um let’s just stay in business with a guy we know,” rather than, “Let’s put on the best new series possible!” At the TV Critics Association gathering in L.A. yesterday, NBC described the show as being about how police officers are affected by crimes, rather than how they solve them, complete with “emotional [story] arcs through the course of the day,” Wells told TV reporters. In other words, it sounds a bit like NBC and Wells’ previous show, Third Watch. Or NBC’s Boomtown.

As for the rest of NBC’s TCA announcements, the most heartening is the return of Amy Poehler to NBC, this time in prime time, in a sitcom set in an Indiana Parks and Recreation department, with Poehler as a “mid-level bureaucrat.” Sound dry? Not to me: an artfully manic talent like Poehler, working with a master of straight-face comedy, producer Greg Daniels (The Office, King of the Hill), seems like potential comedy gold… and also like the sort of humor that might strike the majority of American TV guffawers as a bit puzzling, or not laugh-out-loud funny enough. No matter: Wouldn’t you rather watch a show that’s as funny as Arrested Development (to name only the most obvious example of too-hip-for-the-living-room comedy, which co-starred Poehler’s husband, Will Arnett) than another earnest cop show with–ick–“emotional arcs”?

And don’t you wish that, in general, networks like NBC would realize that, in a new world of niche, cult TV shows, the best thing they could do is serve us some fresh product, rather than continue to offer more of the same old comfort food, with Jay Leno for dessert?