It was almost as if the NBC comedy writers had decided to test the limits of prime time taste just as the network unveiled a family-friendly philosophy of scheduling.
Thursday's episodes of "30 Rock" and "The Office," the first new installments to be broadcast since the end of the writers' strike, each included coy references to a vulgarity: in one case it was bleeped out; in the other it was winked at in an acronym. While not unprecedented, the occurrences in the back-to-back prime-time shows were jarring. They also raise questions about the placement of "30 Rock" as an anchor of what an NBC executive, Ben Silverman, has designated the "family hour."
In the case of "30 Rock," the reference came in the form of an acronym -- part of the title of a make-believe "Survivor"-like show -- referring to a teenager's crude designation of someone's sexy mother. In "The Office," besides the bleeping, the character's lips were even pixilated to prevent lip reading. But it was not difficult for many viewers instantly to realize what was said.
Mitch Metcalf, NBC's executive vice president for program scheduling, said in an interview on Friday that the shows were not breaking new ground: comedies on NBC and other networks have used the vulgarity before, he said, and cited a 1993 episode of "Seinfeld."