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'The Contender,' 'Law & Order: Trial By Jury' and 'American Dreams' Get Axed

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NEW YORK ( -- In an upfront presentation marked by modest predictions and humble admissions of failure, NBC yesterday announced it was sidelining or killing programs including Fear Factor, Scrubs, American Dreams and The Contender.
Photo: Claire Atkinson
NBC held its upfront presentation at Radio City Music Hall.
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The event in Radio City Music Hall in Midtown Manhattan was underscored by a sense of gloom following what has been one of the toughest seasons for the network in recent history.

Injecting a bit of self-deprecating humor was NBC'S entertainment president, Kevin Reilly, who screened a clip about the network's mistakes. In the clip, the network executive sits in a darkened room listening to The Doors’ song “The End” and contemplating the end of his career at NBC. He lauds the network's shows Hawaii, LAX and Father of the Pride, and then watches as they all fail. His job is saved after Medium, The Office and Revelations perform well later in the season, and West Wing star Martin Sheen comes to lift Mr. Reilly’s spirits with a fruit basket and some kind words.

No 'No. 1' predictions
Mr. Reilly and Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Universal TV Group, made clear during the presentation to advertisers and media buyers to entice them to buy air time on the network that they recognize their problems and hope to fix them. But no one was saying NBC will be No. 1 again next season. Mr. Zucker said the only limb he would go out on was to predict the Winter Olympics would be successful.

On a conference call earlier in the day, Messrs. Reilly and Zucker outlined some of the pressures of the current season. “We were lights out at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and Sunday was struggling. If we can get 8 p.m. going we can launch some new shows,” Mr. Reilly said.

NBC's new mantra, repeated by Mr. Zucker, is: “Get out of

Photo: Claire Atkinson
At the upfront is Jeff Zucker, president NBC Universal TV Group, with Frances Berwick, senior vice president for programming and productions for Bravo, part of NBC Universal.
the gate at eight; add shows that rate; stay strong late.”

Still, despite strong competition from CBS on Thursday, NBC schedule for that night will remain intact even though Will & Grace is entering its final season and there is a feeling that ER "can’t be taken for granted,” as Mr. Reilly said on the call.

'Joey': uninspired but fixable
He said the network would stand by Joey, because although it has been "a mixed bag creatively, I’ve never felt it was broken, I’ve felt it was uninspired. We need to add some cast members.”

NBC appears to be banking on turning Tuesdays into “one of the most commercial nights in TV,” at least during the early part of the season before Fox’s American Idol juggernaut returns.>

Not returning to the prime-time lineup from this year are Medical Investigation, Third Watch and The Contender, which failed to capture enough female viewers to make it a broad-based reality show. “It was about boxing. That’s a high bar to get over,” Mr. Zucker said. American Dreams got the axe as did Law & Order: Trial By Jury.

Shows on the sidelines, for now, are gross-out reality series Fear Factor and

Photo: Claire Atkinson
Bill Cella, left, chairman-CEO Magna Global, with Jon Mandel, chairman of MediaCom U.S. and chief global buying officer, were among the media-buying heavies attending the event.
the medical comedy Scrubs, which will return when lead character Zach Braff completes a new movie for Harvey Weinstein.

Messrs. Zucker and Reilly said that being the first of the broadcast network's to hold an upfront presentation in a year in which the network is rebuilding was a disadvantage, and that they reserved the right to make changes to the schedule once they saw the other networks’ offerings.

Six new shows
Among the six new shows debuting in fall are E Ring, with Benjamin Bratt, about life and death decision-making in the Pentagon; My Name Is Earl, a comedy about a guy who tries to turn around bad karma in his life by undoing all his misdeeds; and Fathom, a thriller about strange creatures living at the bottom of the sea. Those series generated most buzz at the NBC post-presentation party, though media buyers said they reserved judgment until they had seen full pilot episodes.

Other series included Four Kings, about four young men who live in New York; Three Wishes, starring Christian singer Amy Grant about a woman who helps people realize their dreams; Thick and Thin, a sitcom about a newly slim woman surrounded by overweight friends. The network has also ordered a number of miniseries, including a remake of The Poseidon Adventure and September 11.

The new prime-time schedule:

8 p.m. Fathom
9 p.m. Las Vegas
10 p.m. Medium

8 p.m. The Biggest Loser
9 p.m. My Name Is Earl
9.30 p.m. The Office
10 p.m. Law & Order: SVU

8 p.m. The Apprentice: Martha
9 p.m. E Ring
10 p.m. Law & Order

8 p.m. Joey
8.30 p.m. Will & Grace
9 p.m.: The Apprentice
10 p.m.: ER

8 p.m. Three Wishes
9 p.m. Dateline
10 p.m. Inconceivable

8 p.m. Movies

7 p.m. Dateline NBC
8 p.m. West Wing
9 p.m. Law & Order: Criminal Intent
10 p.m. Crossing Jordan

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