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NBC’s Creative Highs, Ratings Lows in ‘1600 Penn’

Though its audience struggles continued Thursday with another sub-1.0 rating in the 18-49 demo, “1600 Penn” keeps finding new gears creatively, setting itself (and its star, Josh Gad) up to be among the top underdog Emmy contenders of 2013.

You can underline “underdog,” because “1600 Penn” is another sad tale of a good comedy on NBC that is in trouble but doesn’t deserve to be.

Here’s a scene that tickled me from Thursday’s episode. Perhaps you need to have been watching the show all along to appreciate it, but everything is working in this sequence: good direction, clever dialogue and a pitch-perfect emotional buildup, thanks in no small part to Gad’s silky line readings with Andre Holland.

Because of the show’s shaky future, it’s not surprising that someone from the “1600 Penn” cast has already found a potential new gig — though the one who did from a group that includes Gad, Bill Pullman and Jenna Elfman might surprise you. Benjamin Stockham, who plays pre-teen Xander Gilchrest, has been booked for NBC’s adaptation of “About a Boy” with Minnie Driver and David Walton — the latter, appropriately enough, a graduate of last year’s unappreciated NBC comedy, “Bent.” There’s still a show to be saved here.

It sure is weird about NBC, isn’t it? Even with sunset arriving on “30 Rock” and “The Office,” the Peacock could have had a Thursday night block in 2013-14 of “Community,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Bent” and “1600 Penn” that creatively no network could match. (Since we’re speaking hypothetically, Dan Harmon could still be running “Community,” which is getting mixed reviews in his absence.)  Maybe NBC has comedy pilots that will do better in the ratings right off the bat — maybe “About a Boy” is one of them — but how long have we been hearing that one?  I’m not sure there’s a better strategy for NBC than for it just to let its best shows run and taking what it can get from them.

If nothing else, here’s one other thing: Along with talent like exec producer/director Jason Winer and exec producer Mike Royce, if I had Gad, the ex-“Book of Mormon” star, under contract, I sure wouldn’t let him go.

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