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FALL TV PREVIEW: Seinfeld revisits Thursday on 30 Rock

Seinfeld had thrice the ratings of 30 Rock. Now he's helping out.

It's the newly reigning Emmy-holder for best comedy series, but perhaps the least seen of any winner.

A 30 Rock guest shot by onetime NBC potentate Jerry Seinfeld presumably can't hurt when the Peacock's most under-appreciated show returns for its second season Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (central). Star Tina Fey, always happy to joke about 30 Rock's dirt-poor first season ratings (No. 137 with just 5.4 million viewers per episode), is at it again in a form letter sent with a review DVD.

"Our goal is that this episode would play as a continuation for fans of last season," she says, "but also welcomes new viewers who are tuning in just to see Jerry."

You'll see a fair amount of him, with Seinfeld playing himself. His entry point is a pissed-off response to the latest ratings ploy by NBC programming executive Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin). He's hoping to pump up the network's new fall schedule with "SeinfeldVision." NBC owns a wealth of old clips from Seinfeld, and Donaghy is just the guy to digitally use Jerry as a pitchman in clips for Heroes, Deal Or No Deal and a sendup of CBS' Kid Nation.

Seinfeld, newly returned from a European vacation "in a country only rich people know about," confronts a desperate Donaghy before reducing him to a blubbering baby. Isn't there any NBC show he wouldn't mind being computerized into?

"I like Lost," Seinfeld deadpans. "Is that you guys?" No, it's not.

30 Rock is "inside" without being beyond anyone's grasp. Still, its razor sharp satire so far hasn't cut it with anything resembling a mass audience. That's a shame, particularly when Fey, as put-upon variety show producer Liz Lemon, so willingly puts herself out there.

On the second season return, she's just broken up with boyfriend Floyd. This prompts Donaghy to turn on his usual charm.

"Lemon," he says, "women your age are more likely to be mauled at the zoo than get married."

Also returning is show-within-a-show star Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan), whose "ministry" to transvestite prostitutes has prompted his wife to toss him. Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski), having spent summer break starring in a Broadway version of Mystic Pizza, returns with ample extra poundage from too many slices.

"She needs to lose 30 pounds or gain 60," Donaghy informs Lemon. "Anything in between, there's no place in television."

Seinfeld may be the drawing card Thursday, but Baldwin's Donaghy is still 30 Rock's week-to-week scene-stealer. Simply put, this show must go on. But it won't unless America heeds the call and gets with the program.

Grade: A