NBC goes back to the (scripted) drawing board In prime time
NEW YORK – In one of the most ambitious prime-time overhauls in recent history, NBC announced Sunday it will gut its Monday and Wednesday lineups, and add a total of six new one-hour series, one new half-hour comedy and one new reality series in the fall.
It’s all part of a strategy to get the ratings-depleted network to rise like the phoenix from the ashes of this season’s Jay Leno Debacle, with a new slate that screams “scripted” and “big name auspices”: J.J. Abrams, Jerry Bruckheimer and, yes, Conan O’Brien.
And, yes, “Law & Order” is really most sincerely dead after 20 seasons, NBC programming chief Angela Bromstad told The TV Column by phone Sunday morning:
“It came down to the wire – we had to lock in the schedule. These decisions were made,” Bromstad said.
This week, NBC is getting first crack at pitching its new shows to advertisers at what’s called Broadcast TV Upfront Week, at the end of which ad execs start haggling with network sales suits about buying ad time in advance – “upfront” – on the new shows.
Monday will become a guy-targeting high-octane action night on NBC, because that genre can best be promoted on the network’s Sunday night football lineup. “Chuck” has survived at 8, to the delight of its small but rabid fan-boy base who, to their credit, do tend to rush out and buys things advertised on the show to demonstrate their love.
Besides, Bromstad noted in a Sunday afternoon phone call with reporters, the network “can’t change every hour of the schedule at once.”
“Heroes” is toast, and a new serialized paranormal-ish drama called “The Event” is moving to “Heroes'” 9 o’clock time slot. It will be followed at 10 by producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s latest procedural, “The Chase,” which, yes, will try to take down Bruckheimer’s CBS procedural ,”CSI: Miami,” also on Mondays at 10.
“The Event” stars Jason Ritter as an average guy who stumbles upon “the biggest coverup in U.S. history.” Blair Underwood plays the president of the United States.
“Chase” is a cat-and-mouse drama in which a team of U.S. marshals hunts down the nation’s most dangerous fugitives, led by a cowboy-boots-wearing U.S. marshal who, with the best of intentions, was given the name Annie Frost.
NBC is not touching the brightest spot on its schedule, Tuesday. That means two hours of its fat-farm reality series, “The Biggest Loser,” followed by scripted movie remake “Parenthood” at 10. While not a blockbuster in overall audience, “Parenthood” has been winning its time slot among the 18-to-49-year-olds NBC targets.
NBC is making a major push on Wednesday nights, kicking things off with its new Abrams drama, “Undercovers,” at 8 – the same time slot where Abrams’s “Lost” premiered in fall of 2004 to gimongous crowds. “Undercovers” will be followed by NBC’s sole surviving “Law & Order” series, “L&O: SVU,” which will lead in to the new “Law & Order: Los Angeles” – “LOLA” to its friends.
With regard to launching “LOLA,” NBC Universal Television Entertainment Chairman Jeff Gaspin asserted that the best lead-in for a new show is something from the same franchise. That’s a time-honored cable model that was finally embraced by broadcasters the past few seasons (see CBS’s “NCIS” into “NCIS: Los Angeles,” etc.).
The last episode of “Law & Order,” the mothership, will air on Monday, May 24. After this week’s upfront presentations, Bromstad said, NBC execs will sit down with creator Dick Wolf to determine when and how to wrap up the series – perhaps as a two-hour event, or on “another platform,” she said.
The newest show from Abrams (“Star Trek,” ”Mission Impossible,” ”Lost,” ”Alias,” ”Fringe”), “Undercovers” is about a married couple, retired CIA spies, who own a catering company in Los Angeles. They’re sucked back into the spy world when a spy buddy goes missing while on the trail of a Russian arms dealer. Abrams himself has promised to direct the pilot episode.
“30 Rock” has had all the time it’s going to get for now in the half-hour following “The Office” on Thursdays. The Tina Fey comedy is being bounced around – again – back to 8:30 p.m., following “Community.” This makes room, following “The Office” (the network’s strongest Thursday sitcom), for new comedy “Outsourced” at 9:30 p.m.
The cast and crew of NBC’s struggling Thursday sitcom “Parks and Rec” did not find out until Saturday afternoon that their show was being held for midseason, which, Gaspin assured the press Sunday, would not stall its “momentum.” (What momentum?)
“The Marriage Ref” is not returning at 10 in the fall, but will instead become a backup player, so NBC can go all-scripted on Thursday nights, adding and a new one-hour anthology rom-com called “Love Bites.”
On Fridays, a night the broadcast networks have largely forsaken when it comes to scripted programming, NBC has scheduled a new drama at 10, about a Supreme Court justice gone rogue, called “Outlaw.” It stars Jimmy Smits and is executive-produced by, among others, Conan O’Brien. Read into that what you will.
“Oftentimes what happens is you put one of your weaker shows on Friday night because the time period seems to be waning,” Gaspin said. “We’re taking a slightly different tack.”
“Outlaw,” he said, is “appropriate for the audience that watches television on Friday nights.”
The audience that watches broadcast television on Friday nights “likes procedurals and is a slightly older audience … and tends to gravitate toward crime stories,” he elaborated.
Fridays at 8, Lisa Kudrow’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” reality series will return to the schedule, but only after sharing the hour with a new, aspirational reality series from Cheryl Hines called “School Pride.” It’s a kind of “Extreme Makeover: School Edition.”
Saturday will continue to be NBC Rerun Theatre and Sunday features all-NFL football programming in the fall.
The new schedule unveiled Sunday leaves several high-profile new drama series on the bench, including a David E. Kelley law drama, “Harry’s Law,” and “The Cape,” about a good cop who is framed for a series of murders and is forced into hiding, leaving behind his wife and son. In order to clear his good name and return to the bosom of his family, Good Cop Guy decides to become his son’s favorite fictitious comic book superhero, The Cape. We said Good Cop, not Smart Cop.