I was going to make this whole thing a tortured metaphor, but I went running this morning and I’m too tired. Apparently moving to England makes you fat and wheezy. I will accept no other rationalization.

A couple weeks ago I had a dream where Sarah Chalke was playing guitar, so I’ve been watching the first season of Scrubs again. I originally started watching in the third, when Maria brought it to my attention, but she also went to great pre-DVD lengths to obtain old episodes and get me up to speed, so I count myself as a fan from way back.

Man, that was a good show. The Pizza Clock episode might be my favorite half-hour of television ever. I don’t think you can even count it as a sitcom at the beginning: it was a character drama with daydream sequences and goofy sound effects. Maria has asserted that it was, for a time, the most accurate medical show on TV.

The show’s treatment at NBC’s hands is legendary, where by “legendary” I mean “you know about it if you have the unfortunate habit of following TV-production news.” The show is aired by NBC, but owned by ABC Studios, so the network cares even less about its welfare than usual–they have to split the ad revenues with a rival. This led to the standard schedule-shuffling and sweeps-bumping for a couple years, until it became obvious that they had a devoted DVD-buying audience, at which point they actually started promoting it and aired it steadily for almost a year and a half.

Suspiciously, this was where the quality of the show started to decline. The problem with writing something you think is going to be cancelled every five seconds is that you want to get through your good material fast, and after sixty episodes of standing on the gas pedal, there wasn’t much conflict left to wring out of the same characters.

That left daydream sequences and sound effects.

I’m going to put the death rattle at My Butterfly, featuring an awful CGI rendition of the titular bug and a plot that makes it explicit that you don’t know how or whether the events involved affect the characters’ relationships. It comes just after the dramatic high point of My Screw Up, and it precedes the slide into self-parody that accompanied Elliot and JD’s third go-round. I would have been heartbroken if the series had ended after that season–but honestly, it would have been a good place to stop.

See, when you rely on a devoted DVD-buying audience for revenue, both the studio and the network can get lazy. Why come up with bittersweet twists when you can take new templates–first year of marriage, first child, awkward living situation–and apply the same running gags? Why give the workhorse a slot when you know its audience will never change? Try out a flashy new pilot and take ol’ Scrubs off the bench when it fails!

Zach Braff has said repeatedly that he’s done with the show after this season, and Bill Lawrence has said the show is done without him, and that would be fine. Except this year (the worst yet) it became a mainstay in the Thursday night comedy block, and it’s suddenly worth it to NBC not to lose its lead-through. That’s why Zach Braff is getting a raise and Scrubs will probably be back.

I won’t be watching. NBC, give the slot to 30 Rock (the funniest show on television) and put your Andy Richter crap at the end. Bill, you’ve got better things to do. Take the workhorse out behind the barn and shoot it.