Tuesday, May 19, 2009

NBC Upfront: Splitting Seasons, Lots of Leno

NBC is splitting its new series offering between fall and winter, limiting its fourth quarter debuts to two new dramas, one new sitcom—and a whole lot of Jay Leno.

The network also has passed on scheduling "Medium" and "My Name is Earl," with both shows expected to either die or jump to another network.

As for scheduling strategy, NBC is following through with its announced plan to have shows share time slots throughout the season, thus cutting back on repeats—and providing more lead-in support to Mr. Leno's 10 p.m. comedy hour. The network will use its February coverage of the Winter Olympics as a natural division between its two seasons.

"We have the ability to be in originals all year long ... and drive circulation into Jay," Ben Silverman, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment, told TVWeek. "We've all seen repeats collapse."

In terms of specific nights, NBC is moving one of its biggest scripted assets, "Heroes," to 8 p.m. on Mondays in order to launch new high-octane drama "Trauma" at 9 p.m. The network is betting Sunday football will serve as a strong promotional base for the Monday-night action block.

"It's reinventing the night and making it fresh again," NBC Entertainment President Angela Bromstad said of the Monday rejiggering. "'Heroes' has such a passionate audience, and 'Trauma' is one of the strongest shows we've had."

NBC is keeping "The Biggest Loser" as a two-hour event on Tuesdays. The network considered splitting the show into hours, but didn't want to give up the high-rated 9 p.m. hour of "Loser" as a lead-in for Mr. Leno.

Mr. Silverman said he hopes the "big female circulation (from 'Loser') will flow" into Wednesday nights, where NBC is hoping for impressive things from its new family drama "Parenthood." The latter series will air at 8 p.m., leading into "Law & Order: SVU" at 9.

Thursdays will remain relatively stable, though 8 p.m. anchor "Earl" is gone. As previously announced, it will be replaced by "Saturday Night Live Weekend Update Thursday" at the start of the season, with "Parks and Recreation" and "The Office" remaining in their current 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. timeslots, respectively.

"Community" will begin the fall at 9:30 p.m. Thursdays, but will soon be challenged by a move to 8 p.m. before year's end so that "30 Rock" can return at 9:30.

Fridays will be crime time in prime time on NBC, with "Law & Order" leading into sophomore hour "Southland." While some are interpreting the move as aggressive—since NBC has been very public in its support of "Southland"—the scheduling suggests that NBC realized "Southland" needs to be in a lower-risk timeslot after its weak overall performance Thursdays at 10.

It also shouldn't be hard for NBC to improve its ratings performance on Fridays with "Southland" and "L&O."

After the Olympics, NBC will shake up several key nights.

"Chuck," which escaped cancellation in part due to a fan campaign, will return from an extended break, staying on Mondays at 8 p.m. It will serve as a lead-in to new limited series "Day One."

Mr. Silverman credited viewer and advertiser passion for the "Chuck" pickup.

"Both the fans of the shows that matter and the advertisers of the shows raised their hands to say, 'We need “Chuck” on the schedule.' We will send you Nerds. We will buy Subway $5 footlongs. We will do whatever it takes'," Mr. Silverman said, adding that the pressure from fans was "relentless."

The executive took a swipe at two bubble shows that didn't return: "Medium" and "Earl."

"On the other side, we had an aging franchise, without a single fan letter, not one hand raised (at all of NBC's Infront sessions with advertisers). That speaks for itself. We believe in the future. We believe in shows without ceilings."

Tuesdays will remain the home to "Loser," but the show will go on a New Year's diet, shrinking to a 90-minute format so that NBC can launch new comedy "100 Questions" at 9:30 p.m.

On Wednesdays, "SVU" stays at 9, but NBC plans to replace "Parenthood" with new nurses hour "Mercy."

Thursdays and Fridays are expected to remain stable midseason. Sundays, look for Jerry Seinfeld's reality show "The Marriage Ref" at 8, with "The Celebrity Apprentice" back from 9-11 p.m.

Ms. Bromstad said NBC has chosen to put its new shows "in strategic timeslots that position them for success.”

"They join some of the highest quality returning shows on television, which will serve as a strong foundation to the new schedule," she added. "I think viewers are going to be happy to see this lineup of great new shows that will truly fit the NBC legacy of quality, culturally defining shows."

Other notes on NBC's new schedule:

—Mr. Silverman said NBC will bring back "Weekend Update" prime time two other times during the season for "strategic" purposes. He didn't say when or how the show would be used.

—NBC will once again expand "The Office" to an hour at least once next season.

—Mr. Silverman seemed skeptical of ABC's plans to launch so many new shows next fall. "We don't want to launch 10 new shows in a quarter," he said. "We can do three or four."

Of course, NBC is launching more new hours of programming next fall than any other network. When Mr. Leno's show is factored in, NBC will have eight new hours of prime-time programming in the quarter. ABC will have six.

No comments: