The 2007 Upfront NotebookNBC rolls out fewer shows for fall lineupThe struggling network is banking on just five new dramas and a sitcom to grab viewers
By Martin Miller Los Angeles Times
Staff Writer May 15, 2007 (Times staff writer Matea Gold also contributed to this report.)
NEW YORK NBC, the fourth-place network, officially raised the curtain on its new fall schedule Monday, and there were surprisingly few performers standing on its stage.
The struggling network is banking on five new dramas, one new comedy and a handful of reality programs to help boost its rankings in an ever-crowded entertainment marketplace.
"I take comfort not in quantity but quality," said Kevin Reilly, NBC's president of entertainment.
Reilly made his remarks at a morning news conference, a prelude for this week's "upfronts." The weeklong springtime ritual of rolling out new fall programming relies on an often elaborate song-and-dance to stir up advertiser enthusiasm.
The fewer programs are a deliberate strategy in a new age of television, Reilly said. Like other traditional media, television has been raked by the gradual and ever worrisome erosion of its once huge audience at the hands of everything from cable's niche programming to sophisticated computer games. "Everybody is down," Reilly said.
Had the network picked up more new shows, Reilly said, NBC probably couldn't have promoted them.
"For networks in down cycles," Reilly said, "loading up on product is not necessarily a recipe for success, particularly in this day and age with the fragmented audience where you simply can't market them."
The new shows include "Journeyman," "Chuck," "Bionic Woman," "Life," "Lipstick Jungle" and "The IT Crowd."
Just as vital as what NBC is unveiling this week is what NBC decided to keep. The network renewed two shows: its comedy-within-a-comedy, "30 Rock," and its gritty look at small-town life, "Friday Night Lights." Both shows scored with critics and developed an almost cultish following.
Both shows foundered in the ratings, but Reilly said scheduling was partly to blame something he hopes to rectify this fall. "30 Rock" moves back an hour from 9:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on the network's Thursday comedy night away from the audience-crushing force of ratings monsters "Grey's Anatomy" and "CSI."
Meanwhile, "Friday Night Lights" shifts, appropriately enough, to Friday nights at 10.
"I must have had a billion people ask me why isn't it on Fridays," Reilly joked. "The mystery is over."
Reilly assured journalists that perhaps "30 Rock's" single most important actor, Alec Baldwin, who portrays a ruthless corporate executive, was committed to staying. Baldwin, who won a Golden Globe award for the role earlier this year, had suggested he wanted to leave television after his abusive voicemail message to his preteen daughter gained nationwide publicity.
The early pickups for both shows also contained another motivation: a potential strike by the Writers Guild of America, whose contract is up in October. At issue between the writers and networks is compensation for television content over the Internet. But the early pickups will allow for earlier production of shows and a modest stockpile should a strike occur.
When asked why the network didn't stand by Aaron Sorkin's drama "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," Reilly replied: "We can only reach for so many of these. It just felt like that show had run its course."
Also, absent from NBC's fall schedule was Donald Trump's increasingly wobbly reality show "The Apprentice." Once a ratings powerhouse, the franchise saw its ratings fall again despite moving the program to Los Angeles last season.
But Reilly said don't scratch out Trump's name just yet.
"We want to be in business with Donald," Reilly said. "He has a certain magic."
The NBC president repeatedly made mention of "bulking up" his schedule. NBC has expanded orders to 30 for its solid hits: serial drama "Heroes" and comedy "The Office." The "Heroes" order includes a half dozen episodes for a spinoff called "Heroes: Origins," in which a new character will be introduced every week and one will be voted onto the regular series by viewers.
The strategy is the answer to the spring ratings for NBC, which were a heavy drag on its numbers. Last year, there was too much emphasis on the fall.
"We're not front-loading," Reilly said. "So we don't fall apart in the spring."
"ER," the acclaimed medical drama, remains on NBC at its same time slot, at 10 p.m. Thursdays. However, in October the network and the show's creative team will determine whether this will be its final season. After a strong ratings surge last fall, the show markedly dipped.
"We want 'ER' to go out strong," Reilly said.
Also, nearly a decade after "Seinfeld" ended its run on NBC, Jerry Seinfeld appeared at the upfronts to tout his new project a series of mini-episodes that take viewers behind the scenes of his upcoming DreamWorks animated "Bee Movie."
Seinfeld's new project, which he dubbed "Making Bee Movie Magic," amounts to 20 short promotions for the film, which is being released Nov. 2. The mini-episodes will run during NBC's prime-time schedule and online in the fall near the movie's release (the exact dates haven't been determined).
The marketing gambit could pay off for NBC Universal, which has exclusive U.S. broadcast and cable rights to the movie.http://www.latimes.com/entertainment...dlines-entnews