The TV ColumnNo New Sitcoms? At NBC, It's No Joke
By Lisa de Moraes Washington Post
Tuesday, May 15, 20077
NEW YORK, May 14--NBC, which for some weeks this spring has barely shown a ratings pulse, took over Radio City Music Hall to pitch a resuscitation plan that includes a handful of new high-concept dramas, "bulked up" original-episode orders on three returning series and, for the first time in nearly 30 years, no new sitcoms.
For advertisers and the news media that came to hear what NBC had to say, it was like watching John Stamos apply a defibrillator to a flatliner on "ER" -- you have your doubts but hope for the best.
"Frankly, we need to be more better," NBC Entertainment chief Kevin Reilly joked at the outset of the presentation that kicked off the network's week-long unveiling of its prime-time plans.
True to its NBCUniversal2.0 word, NBC has no scripted series at 8 in the fall except Thursday, when it's sticking with its four-sitcom format.
Three of NBC's four new drama series are high concept, sci-fi-ish and hope to be the next "Heroes." It appeared NBC had developed three new series as potential Monday companions to that show and decided to put them all on the air. They're peppered across Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
The rest of its schedule brings back critically acclaimed, low-rated series -- and all those 8 p.m. reality shows, including screaming-at-briefcases utility player "Deal or No Deal," which kicks off Monday and Wednesday nights.
Much time was spent, both during the presentation and at an earlier news conference with reporters, preaching the upscale-ness of NBC's audience.
"We got the class -- we need the mass," Reilly told critics during a pre-dog-and-pony-show Q&A session.
Having noticed viewers will no longer tolerate repeats for any length of time, NBC asked three series to "take the bulk-up challenge," Reilly told advertisers.
Thursday comedies "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office" will produce 25 and 30 new episodes, respectively, though some of "The Office's" episodes will be bundled as one-hour broadcasts.
"Heroes" will produce 24 episodes and, when the show takes a break in the spring next year, NBC will fill the time slot with something called "Heroes: Origins," which the network touted as a spinoff, introducing new characters in the "Heroes" universe. One lucky character will join the series as a regular the following season, based on votes cast by viewers on the "Heroes" Web site.
"Friday Night Lights" has been moved to . . . Friday nights, NBC suits having finally bought into their own blather that this drama series is about "so much more than football." The network had resisted putting the series, about the religion that is high school football in a small Texas town -- you saw the movie, right? -- on Friday night when high school football games are played, fearing the show would lose a big chunk of its potential audience.
But since no one is watching this show anyway -- it's averaging 6.2 million viewers this season -- it appears NBC decided "what the heck." According to Reilly, network researchers had discovered that, statistically, the number of people who attend high school football on Friday nights is not significant relative to the number of viewers in the country. Plus, he added, there's also a bingo night and a church night in America, but "you can't get caught up in those details." Now he tells us!
Even so, NBC is hedging its bets by moving "FNL" to 10 p.m., by which hour, in theory, high school football games are over. Except in the middle of the country, a.k.a. TV Suits Flyover Zone, where prime time starts early and "FNL" will air at 9.
So desperate for buzz is fourth-place NBC that it announced Monday with fanfare that Jerry Seinfeld is returning to the network as writer, producer and star of 20 1-to-3-minute-long promotions for his new DreamWorks feature film, "Bee Movie." NBC is calling them "unique live-action comedy 'minisodes' " that will give viewers a "glimpse at Seinfeld's behind-the-scene antics during production of the movie."
Seinfeld, who got the 90-minute NBC presentation's biggest applause, reminded advertisers that it has been nearly 10 years since his hit sitcom aired on the network.
"I had the No. 1 show -- we were the No. 1 network!" Seinfeld gushed, twisting the knife. "People watched what NBC put on the air or lived in fear of the consequences."
He acknowledged people have asked him to do another TV show but said he didn't think he could come up with a program that included both worms and one-legged dancers. "Sometimes I feel like the whole industry just packed up and joined the circus," he said. This from a guy who's selling NBC infomercials for his new animated flick, in which he plays a disillusioned bee.
As announced on Mother's Day, all three "Law & Order" series are returning to the "networks of NBC Universal," but only "Law & Order: SVU" is on NBC's fall schedule, Tuesdays at 10. The mothership show, "Law & Order," won't debut until after NBC's Sunday football package has wrapped for the season. "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" will air first on NBC Universal-owned USA network, then repeat on NBC where, as they say, if you didn't catch it the first time, it's "new to you."
It's unclear where "CI" will air on NBC's prime time; maybe Saturdays between 9 and 11 p.m., where the network has scheduled Drama Series Encore Theatre.
NBC's one and only fabulous time slot in which to grow a new series, Mondays at 10, after "Heroes," has been bestowed on "Journeyman" -- a new romantic mystery about a San Francisco newspaper reporter, played by Kevin McKidd of HBO's "Rome" fame, who inexplicably begins to travel through time and alter people's lives.
One reporter wondered why they had made the lead a newspaper reporter.
"Haven't you heard?" the reporter asked, referring to some reports the newspaper business is crawling to its deathbed. Reilly explained that since the lead character is going to spend a lot of time in the past, he kind of had to be a newspaper reporter (as opposed to, say, an Internet journalist).
Then Reilly added, "We may reshoot that." The many newspaper reporters in the room laughed outwardly; inside they cried.
Tuesdays at 9, following "The Biggest Loser," NBC will debut "Chuck," from "OC" creator Josh Schwartz, about a computer nerd who works for a "nerd herd" at a place called Buy More. The guy becomes the government's top secret agent after opening an e-mail "subliminally encoded with government secrets" that he unwittingly downloads into his brain.
Hey, I don't write this stuff. I'm just the messenger.
Two new dramas are bound for Wednesday night: a "Bionic Woman" remake at 9 and "Life," at 10, about a cop who returns to the force, bitter, no doubt, after spending years in prison.
And, just in case reporters didn't catch the "bitter middle-aged guy" parallels between this new show and "House," which has been clocking record high ratings on Fox this season, Reilly noted "Life's" star, Damian Lewis, is, like "House" lead Hugh Laurie, a "guy who can bring it all together." Heck, Lewis even looks a little like Laurie and, in the clip shown to advertisers, he seemed to imitate some of Laurie's "House" shtick.
Thursday is untouched, except NBC has shuffled its four sitcoms, and, yes, "Scrubs" is back, after all that hooey about NBC ditching the series because Zach Braff's gimongous pay raise makes the show prohibitively expensive for the GE-owned network.
NBC actually has ordered one new comedy, mid-season's "IT Crowd." It's a remake of the 2006 Brit sitcom about computer geeks -- and we mean that in the best possible sense -- who, NBC says, are "misunderstood masters of their high-tech domain" and "lack the people skills to befriend anyone but each other."
Friday night is now "Game Night" on NBC, kicking off first with "1 vs. 100" for eight weeks, after which "The Singing Bee" will step in, challenging contestants to sing the lyrics to pop tunes they think the know.
On Sunday, once football season ends, "Dateline" returns to the night, followed by "Law & Order" at 8, "Medium" at 9 and the new one-hour "Lipstick Jungle" at 10.
NBC is waiting on "L&O" actor Fred Thompson to decide whether he'll run for president, in which case he would be off the series, Marc Graboff, NBC Universal Television West Coast president, told reporters, adding, "It's pretty clear you can't be an actor and . . . oh, never mind."
"Lipstick" is based on a Candace Bushnell book. Its scheduling on Sunday is calculated to make happy fans of HBO's former Sunday hit "Sex and the City," also based on Bushnell's writing.
"Lipstick" is about three high-powered New York chicks -- one in publishing, one in the movie industry and one a designer who's looking for Mr. Right. Sadly, one of them is played by Brooke Shields, who is the anti-"Sex and the City."
Noticeably missing from the fall lineup is the Donald Trump vehicle "The Apprentice." Reilly told reporters it's not dead -- yet, and the network will "revisit" the matter in "the next couple weeks."
One reporter, at the news conference via telephone, actually complained about the network having announced pickups on some returning shows days, and even weeks ago, rather than waiting for its dog-and-pony show.
Reilly and Graboff explained patiently, as though talking to a much-loved idiot child, that NBC did so, on such series as "Law & Order: SVU," "30 Rock," "My Name Is Earl," etc., because intrepid reporters had gotten wind of the early pickups, which were initiated so that NBC could get the shows back into production early and stockpile episodes in the event of an anticipated writers strike next season.http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...401696_pf.html