If they aired a sitcom and nobody watched...

Sitcoms used to be so easy. Find a fairly funny guy or gal; supply a situation and a thin plot; hire a committee of comedy writers to turn every line of dialogue into a rim-shot; cue the laugh track and wait for that syndication moola.

Those days are over. To put a historical perspective on it, those days have been over for about 10 years now. But nobody at NBC has gotten the memo. Hence, horrible comedies like "Come to Papa" (7:30 p.m., NBC).

According to network press material, "Papa" is based on comic Tom Papa's "wildly successful" stand-up routine concerning his life as an average guy from New Jersey. I've never seen his stand-up, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. "Papa," on the other hand, is anything but wild or successful.

While "Papa" is supposed to be set in the Garden State, all of the sets, locations, situations and attitudes scream Los Angeles. And, for reasons we can't fathom, average guy Tom works as a reporter for a newspaper.

After a gazillion gags and a million mechanized laffs, I didn't laugh once. And not just because I found its depiction of Jersey, journalism and guy-dom so phony and pointless. Not one of the jokes was funny.

Tom wears a goofy hat, so the girls at the coffee shop think he's "slow." That's hilarious. His managing editor assigns a story about pigeons, but the whole staff considers these birds scary and proceeds to riff on the subject of pigeon fear. That's a scream. Tom's colleague spends his time trying to complete his mission to sleep with every girl from their high school chemistry class, including their aged teacher. Hilarious! And another co-worker (Steve Carell) can't find anybody who will serve him black coffee. Comic genius!

After a solid decade of failure, I have no idea why NBC continues to churn out these stinkers. Maybe they will only stop if nobody watches. I'm not just talking about UPN-type numbers, either; I mean nobody. We need a Nielsen of absolute zero! Remember, America, only you can prevent bad comedy.

  • Anyone who has ever watched "Without a Trace" knows that the first 48 hours are crucial in any criminal investigation. After that two-day period, the trail of evidence grows decidedly cooler. The new documentary series "The First 48" (9 p.m., A&E;) follows real-life detectives in Philadelphia, Miami, Kansas City, Detroit and Phoenix as they visit crime scenes and forensics labs, and interrogate witnesses.

Tonight's other highlights

  • A divinely inspired party on "Joan of Arcadia" (7 p.m., CBS).
  • Game Five of the Stanley Cup Finals (7 p.m., ABC).
  • Jessica Simpson and Black Eyed Peas perform on "Pepsi Smash" (7 p.m., WB).
  • A killer continues his film-influenced slashing spree in the 1997 horror satire "Scream 2" (7 p.m., Fox).

Late night

Jay Leno greets Dana Carvey, Zumanity and Lenny Kravitz on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC). Kate Winslet, Jamie-Lynn DiScala and The Living End chat on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (11:35 p.m., NBC) ... Phil Mickelson, Jerry O'Connell and Eliza Dushku are booked on "The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn" (11:37 p.m., CBS).


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