NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly called the schedule "very focused" and said the dramas are "very promotable." "We don't have three doctor shows and four lawyer shows," he said.
Though they've always been around, serial dramas, in which a storyline weaves through multiple episodes like a soap opera, were once out of favor with buyers because they repeat poorly and were generally not as lucrative in syndication. (They were also considered the sign of the desperate network, a categorization that could fit the NBC at the moment.) But ABC struck gold two years ago with its hit serials "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost," launching a burgeoning trend.
"Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," starring Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet and Bradley Whitford, is the instant favorite, and NBC has put the Aaron Sorkin-produced show in one of the most important time slots of the week -- 9 p.m. Thursday. That flies in the face of NBC's earlier strategy to return Thursday night to a night of comedy, a genre that Mr. Reilly called "challenged."
"Studio" will follow "My Name is Earl" and "The Office." At 10 p.m. NBC is taking a page from Fox by running all original episodes of "ER" for the first half of the season. (Fox airs its hit "24" without repeats for one half of the season.) Come January NBC will replace "ER" with Academy Award-winner Paul Haggis' "The Black Donnellys," a drama about an Irish mob family.
Jeff Zucker, CEO, NBC Universal Television Group, said the payoff in higher ratings and increased ad rates for the Thursday 10 p.m. hour will make the night, which typically accounts for 40% of the week's prime-time revenue, more profitable for NBC. "We plan to have 35 original episodes in the 10 o'clock time period," he said. "This is much more profitable than airing repeats."
Monday's lineup begins with "Deal or No Deal," one of only two returning shows from last season. Drama "Heroes," which tells the story of ordinary people who discover they have superpowers, will air at 9 p.m., and "Medium" caps the evening at 10.
"Friday Night Lights," based on the book and movie of the same name and starring Kyle Chandler as the coach of a top-ranked high-school football team, kicks off Tuesday in front of "Kidnapped," a thriller about the abduction of the teenage son of a wealthy New York family. "Kidnapped" will follow the crime throughout the season, and next season will launch a new crime, Mr. Reilly said. "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" will keep its 10 p.m. timeslot.
Wednesday begins with "The Biggest Loser" followed by two new comedies, "20 Good Years," starring John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor as mismatched friends who vow to make the most of every day, and the Tina Fey workplace comedy "30 Rock." "Law & Order" returns at 10 p.m.
Friday will have "Deal or No Deal" at 8 p.m. followed by "Las Vegas" at 9 PM. "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" will air at 10 p.m. Saturday will remain unchanged. "Dateline Saturday" will continue at 8 p.m. followed by encore telecasts of NBC dramas.
Football eases the load
Of course, the return of the National Football League means NBC has one less day to program: Sundays. The network will use the increased circulation of the night to heavily promote its week of programming. When football season ends in January, "America's Got Talent," hosted by Regis Philbin, will air at 8 p.m., followed by "The Apprentice" at 9. Despite the show's languishing ratings, Mr. Reilly professed his faith in the program and its host.
"If you look around the landscape, it's still one of the most successful shows going on," he said. "It settled in from a phenomenon to a success." At 10 p.m. the Jeff Goldblum-starring police drama "Raines" will premiere.
Missing from the season's lineup are fan favorites "Crossing Jordan" and "Scrubs." These shows and some new comedies are being held in reserve as midseason replacements.