Thursday: TV's Toughest Night

There's no doubt that Thursday is TV's most competitive night. Heck, even NBC is competitive on Thursdays.

Tonight, viewers can get a sample of how they will be taxing their Tivos, when Fox kicks off a new season of "Bones" at 8 p.m., followed by the premiere of "Fringe" at 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, NBC leads off its comedy lineup with "SNL: Weekend Update," followed by the premieres of "Parks & Recreation," "The Office," and the promising new comedy "Community."

That follows last week's premieres of the CW's "Vampire Diaries," the best ratings debut ever for a series on that network (but the show still sucks), followed by cult fave "Supernatural."

And the night's big guns won't premiere until next Thursday. Though CBS does begin a new "Survivor" tonight, it won't bring back "CSI" and "The Mentalist" until next week. Nor does ABC return its key shows "Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice" until then. ABC will kick off Thursday's with possibly TV's best new show in "FlashForward."

The networks are taking very different tacks in their approaches, though it will be interesting to see which shows suffer. Fox execs say they saw some cracks in the "Grey's"-"CSI" dominance at 9 p.m., so they elected to move "Fringe" there, giving it a somewhat logical pairing with "Bones." However, "Fringe," arguably TV's most improved show over the second half (and kicking off tonight's premiere with guest star Leonard Nimoy) may end up dividing genre fans who are loyal to "Supernatural."

NBC is sticking with comedy, and does have the promising "Community," which is a pretty good sitcom that should fit in well. And the network will bring back "30 Rock" in a few weeks, no doubt with more Emmys on that show's shelf. Jay Leno becomes a sacrificial lamb at 10 p.m.

ABC is taking a risk, moving the declining "Ugly Betty" to Fridays even though that show fit in better with the heavily female audience for the night, and using the extremely different "FlashForward" as the leadoff hitter. But the network probably figures that the buzz from "FlashForward" will inject some new life into "Grey's" after last year's lackluster season.

CBS might have the most stable lineup. "Survivor" is a guaranteed ratings grabber, and even though "CSI" lost some viewership with the show's cast changes, it was still TV's No. 1 drama. Moving "The Mentalist," TV's top-rated new show last season, to the 10 p.m. slot will solidify the night. (CBS won't lose anything on Tuesdays, using the new "NCIS: Los Angeles" to replace "The Mentalist).

Viewers may need a map or a chart to plot out their Thursdays, but they won't be lacking for choices.

Cable also gets into the act, with "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" (FX, 10 p.m.) returning with two brand new episodes tonight. You may want to set the VCR to run a little longer, since the schedule lists them running 64 minutes.

My lineup: Watch "FlashForward," record "Parks & Rec"; Watch "Supernatural" at 9 p.m., record the NBC comedies and "Fringe"; at 10 p.m., watch "Sunny," then try to clear some of the DVDs I recorded.