NBC has announced that it has ordered a fourth edition of its Emmy-nominated reality talent competition, reviving the series after a two-year layoff that followed the network's unwise Summer 2004 decision to overexpose the show by premiering a third, hastily-assembled Fall 2004 edition only weeks after its Last Comic Standing 2 summer edition had ended.

Casting for Last Comic Standing 4 has already begun, with talent scouts traveling to major cities nationwide to see performances from thousands of aspiring and professional comedians. In addition, other interested comedians will be able to submit sample tapes to NBC.com, where online voters will later vote and select one comedian that will be able to join the other comedians selected via the nationwide search.

"Last Comic Standing will be an exciting addition to our summer schedule," NBC executive Craig Plestis stated in the announcement of the network's order. "The show gives unprecedented exposure to talented comics and provides countless laughs to our viewers in the process."

The summer season is where Last Comic Standing's first two editions proved themselves to be solid ratings performers for NBC, with Last Comic Standing 2 ranking as NBC's top-rated series of Summer 2004. It was after Last Comic Standing 2's surprising strong ratings start that NBC made the ill-advised decision to hastily schedule a third "Season 1 versus Season 2" edition for Fall 2004.

Slapped together in mere weeks -- and it showed -- Last Comic Standing 3 predictably proved to be a ratings disappointment, resulting in NBC alienating both Last Comic's viewers (what few there were) and participants (including host Jay Mohr) by completely mismanaging the finale broadcast that capped the show's ten-week run.

First, with only its finale episode left to air, NBC announced that it was canceling the ten-week series "effective immediately" and would instead announce the viewer-voted winner of the Last Comic Standing 3 during a three-episode marathon of its long-since-canceled Father Of The Pride animated adult comedy. Then, NBC changed its mind the next day, with the network announcing that it would film a scaled-down 30-minute series finale for the show after all but unwilling to disclose when or where the finale episode would be broadcast (early rumors had NBC airing the finale on its Bravo sister cable network.)

Finally, after keeping both the show's producers and viewers in limbo for several more days, NBC announced that the finale of the suddenly shunted show would air on the Comedy Central cable network (a non-NBC Universal network) that had previously acquired "second window" rights that allowed it to rebroadcast the show's episodes several days after their initial NBC broadcast.

Although the finale would be a previously unbroadcast episode, Last Comic Standing 3's finale would air in the normal (and less than ideal) Saturday night programming timeslot during which the show's Comedy Central rebroadcasts regularly aired. However, before Comedy Central could do so, NBC decided to hurl one final bizarre jab at the series by following through with its plan to reveal Last Comic Standing 3's winner during the Father Of The Pride marathon and therefore "spoiling" the show's finale several days before its Comedy Central broadcast.

The confused messages and outright disdain with which NBC handled Last Comic Standing 3's finale resulted in speculation that the only reason NBC produced a finale at all was that it would have been a breach of its Comedy Central "second window" contract to not provide one. Even in network television, money talks, and the amount of money paid by Comedy Central for the rebroadcast rights was apparently more than the cost of the 30-minute finale. Similarly, the "second window" contract between NBC and Comedy Central is believed to have limited the cable network to broadcasting the finale in the reality TV "ghetto" of Saturday night, despite the fact that even at its minimum, Last Comic Standing 3 averaged over 5 million viewers while Comedy Central was then averaging only about 600,000 primetime viewers.

Even Last Comic Standing 3 winner Alonzo Bodden publicly speculated about the possible motives behind NBC's bizarre behavior. "As for NBC," he wrote on his personal website, "no one knows why they jerked around the show at the final episode." "Some say it's ratings, others say it's [Father Of The Pride production company] Dreamworks -- the producers of the animal puppets have lots of clout. Animal puppets, all I can say is somewhere out there is a great salesman. I mean, how do you pitch that show and when did they think it might be funny?"

Numerous industry outlets also voiced in with criticism of NBC's moves, including Mediaweek.com. "Pulling a stunt like this (which is certainly not a first) shows a lack of respect for the audience," wrote columnist Marc Berman.

However, according to Daily Variety, Plestis has "remained a supporter" of the series and now decided to let Last Comic Standing have the last laugh by bringing the show back.

"Standup is an area we owned with this show for two summers in a row, and we think we can do that again," Plestis told the trade paper. According to Plestis, viewers can expect the new season to feature "some new twists and turns."
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One issue that apparently still remains unresolved is whether Mohr -- one of the most vocal critics about the manner in which NBC handled Last Comic 3's finale -- will return to host the show's fourth season. For now, the network isn't revealing who will host Last Comic Standing 4.