Upfront 2011

NBC Unveils First Fall Lineup Under Comcast Ownership

Network Sets Wednesday for Comedy Block, Expresses Confidence in NFL Return

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NBC, in its first fall lineup devised under new corporate parent Comcast Corp., said it would try to start a turnaround likely to take a few years to put into effect. NBC unveiled a spate of new programs that will put a comedy block on the network's Wednesday-night schedule and a new U.S. version of popular British series "Prime Suspect" on Thursdays at 10 p.m.

'Prime Suspect'
'Prime Suspect' Credit: NBC

The revival task will not be easy. NBC, once the most-watched broadcast network, has seen its position ebb as executives present when General Electric ran the network failed to replace crowd-pleasers such as "Friends" and "E.R." with content of equal quality. NBC's 2010-2011 schedule has been lackluster; indeed, many programs introduced this season -- "Chase," "Law & Order: Los Angeles," "Outsourced," "The Event," "Outlaw," "The Cape," and "The Paul Reiser Show" among them -- will not return.

In remarks made to reporters Sunday, Robert Greenblatt, chairman-NBC Entertainment, said he hoped to come away from the next season with an established comedy block on Wednesday, a restoration of Thursday night -- once NBC's most dominant evening -- and more momentum for "The Voice," the musical contest that has gained popularity late in this season.

Despite the fact that Comcast did not finalize its takeover of control of NBC Universal until January, typically a point at which many shows for the next TV season have already been developed, Mr. Greenblatt said he vouched for the entire schedule. "I'll take ownership," he said, adding, "I'm happy to do so."

NBC executives expressed optimism that the network would be able to air its top property, "Sunday Night Football," with Mr. Greenblatt suggesting the NFL would work through a set of labor issues that threaten to delay or even end the league's next season. "We feel pretty optimistic that football will be there," he said, though he acknowledged NBC was preparing "several high-quality live event reality shows that will fill out" Sundays if the NFL did not resolve the situation. NBC is also broadcasting next year's Super Bowl, and has already begun feeling out potential advertisers, making an initial ask of a whopping $3.5 million for a 30-second spot, according to ad buyers.

NBC said it intended to bring back "The Celebrity Apprentice" whether or not Donald Trump, the show's current central figure, returned. If Mr. Trump does run for president of the United States, as he has suggested he might, NBC would not be able to include him in the show without giving other candidates equal time on its air. Mr. Greenblatt said NBC would consider a different "galvanizing" figure if Mr. Trump entered the presidential race.

NBC will launch three new comedies and three new dramas in the fall, allowing returning reality programming to anchor its Monday and Tuesday nights. "The Sing Off" will air for two hours Monday, followed by "The Playboy Club," a new drama centered on the popular and controversial Chicago-based lounge of the same name that had hits heyday in the 1960s. On Tuesdays, NBC will run "The Biggest Loser" from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., following it with returning drama "Parenthood."

Comedy will kick off Wednesday evenings. "Up All Night," airing at 8 p.m. , features Christina Applegate and Will Arnett as a high-caliber executive and her stay-at-home husband. "Free Agents," at 8:30 p.m, is billed as an offbeat workplace comedy based on a U.K. hit of the same name. Returning drama "Harry's Law" airs at 9 p.m. while veteran crime procedural "Law & Order: SVU" runs at 10 p.m.

NBC will continue to air three of its more popular comedies on Thursdays, running "Community" at 8 p.m., "Parks & Recreation" at 8:30 p.m. and "The Office" at 9 p.m. "Whitney," a new comedy featuring comedienne Whitney Cummings as one-half of a longtime couple happy being unmarried. At 10 p.m., NBC will launch a U.S. version of popular British crime series "Prime Suspect," featuring actress Maria Bello as a hard-boiled female detective. Executives suggested "30 Rock" would return to Thursdays later in the year.

NBC said it would move "Chuck," the comedic spy serial that has attained cult status, to Friday for a final season lasting just 13 episodes. Mr. Greenblatt said the network wanted to run original shows on Friday nights and a drama with a loyal following would attract a base audience to the evening. "Chuck" will run at 8 p.m., followed by a new drama, "Grimm," at 9 p.m. "Grimm" focuses on a police officer discovering he is actually part of long line of mythic fighters tackling events and creatures that come of Grimm's Fairy Tales, which, as it turns out, are based on truths (at least in the show). At 10 p.m., NBC will run "Dateline NBC." Saturdays will feature second-runs of selected programs from elsewhere in the prime-time schedule.

Sundays are slated to feature "Sunday Night Football" in the fall. After the football season concludes, "Dateline NBC" will appear at 7 p.m., "Celebrity Apprentice" will air at 8 p.m. and new drama "The Firm," based on the John Grisham novel of the same name (made into a popular movie) will air at 10 p.m.

NBC said its new show "The Voice" would return for a new season starting in the Spring at 8 p.m. on Mondays, followed by a new drama, "Smash," at 10 p.m. "Smash" is a musical drama focused on the struggle to create a Broadway musical. Mr. Greenblatt suggested NBC viewed "Smash" as one of its priorities in the new season, and hoped it would do well with the audience lead-in provided by "The Voice."