Upfront 2010

NBC Revamps Prime-Time Lineup With Emphasis on Scripted Programming

Thursday Remains Focused on Comedy; Wednesday Drama Block Includes J.J. Abrams' 'Undercovers'

By Published on .

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- NBC unveiled a new prime-time schedule for its coming fall season that reworks a significant portion of its programming and aims to get the network on proper footing following its decision last year to put an ill-fated talk show featuring comedian Jay Leno on five nights a week.

"We have so many [shows] that we're launching that it puts us in a unique situation," Angela Bromstad, president of prime-time entertainment, NBC and Universal Media Studio, said in an interview. NBC is expected to make a formal presentation of its fall schedule to advertisers Monday, in an event that opens the annual "upfront" marketplace, during which advertisers typically commit the bulk of their TV ad spending for the new season.

The network intends to use its highly rated "Sunday Night Football" broadcasts to push viewers to many of the new programs, she said. Even so, NBC also has a unique marketing challenge ahead of it: Introducing a bumper crop of new products -- in this case, TV programs -- at a time when new digital methods of viewing video have made getting a message out to mass audiences a very laborious task.

Most networks have a few holes to fill every season, but NBC is revamping nearly every night on its schedule, except for Tuesday, where it has found success with "The Biggest Loser" and new drama "Parenthood." The network has suffered lackluster seasons for the past few years, and has cast about for solutions, including the experiment with Mr. Leno and enlisting the help of ad-savvy producer Ben Silverman. Neither sparked a turnaround.

Instead, NBC is banking on a return to high-quality scripted programs -- and the network is shoving aside programs that have run out of steam in favor of new dramas and comedies that would seem to appeal to an intelligent, upper-income demographic. Speaking during a conference call with reporters today, NBC Universal Television Entertainment Chairman Jeff Gaspin suggested that the economy had improved substantially in the past year, and that investing in programs that could draw high ratings would be essential to garnering more revenue for NBC.

"While the full health of the marketplace is not back from the way it was years ago, the marketplace is certainly much healthier than it was just a year ago," he said.

'Chuck' returns, 'Law & Order' canceled
  Returning shows include NBC's spate of Thursday-night comedies, "30 Rock," Community," "Parks & Recreation" (which will return in mid-season) and "The Office"; mainstay "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"; cult-favorite "Chuck"; and "Sunday Night Football," the most expensive program in prime-time TV for advertisers, according to Ad Age's annual survey of commercial costs during prime-time. Gone are super-hero serial "Heroes" and the venerable "Law & Order." In all, NBC will launch seven and a half hours of new programming in the fall, and has approved at least five new programs for pick up later in the season.

On Mondays, NBC said it would stick with "Chuck" in the 8 p.m. hour, then launch "The Event" at 9 p.m. and "Chase" at 10 p.m. "The Event" stars Jason Ritter as an average Joe trying to unravel a global conspiracy, while "The Chase" is a procedural crime drama from "CSI" producer Jerry Bruckheimer focusing on a team of fugitive-chasing U.S. Marshals.

NBC has high hopes for "The Event" and is likely to devote a substantial amount of marketing to it, said Mr. Gaspin. "We would love to see a show like 'The Event' really break through," he said in an interview.  "We think there's potential there because it is so unique and different and because shows like 'Heroes' and '24' and 'Lost'" aren't coming back [next season]. We think that this show can really fill the gap left behind by those high-octane series that are going away."

On Wednesdays, NBC will air three dramas, flanking "Law & Order: SVU" with two new programs. "Undercovers," a new spy drama from "Lost" and "Fringe" producer J.J. Abrams, will launch at 8 p.m. while a new entrant to the "Law & Order" franchise, "Law & Order: Los Angeles," will air at 10 p.m.

Modernizing 'L&O' franchise
NBC does not believe producing a Los Angeles-based version of "Law & Order" will be any cheaper than it would to continue running the original version, Marc Graboff, chairman-NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studio, said in an interview. But executives believe that "Law & Order: Los Angeles" has the potential to add a new shot of energy to a format that plays across not only NBC but also NBC Universal cable channels and also enjoys a substantial business in syndication and on cable outlets. "It's up to us" to keep the "L&O" brand fresh "in a very modern and exciting way," Ms. Bromstad said during a conference call with reporters Sunday afternoon. NBC continues to hold discussions with "L&O" producer Dick Wolf about a potential send-off for the original series, she said.

NBC will devote all of its Thursday night lineup to comedy. NBC will launch "Outsourced" at 9:30 p.m., and a new romantic anthology series, "Love Bites," at 10 p.m. "Outsourced" centers on the manager of a practical-joke company who is transferred to India to help boost the operations of a call-center there, while "Love Bites" will present a series of interconnected vignettes focused on love, sex, marriage and dating.

On Fridays, NBC will launch "School Pride," a new non-fiction series that looks at communities rebuilding their schools, at 8 p.m. The show will share the timeslot with celebrity-genealogy "Who Do You Think You Are," which launched this spring. "Dateline" returns at 9 p.m. NBC launches a new courtroom drama, "Outlaw," at 10 p.m. The show stars actor Jimmy Smits as a former U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

Saturdays will be devoted to repeats, while Sundays will be devoted to "NBC Sunday Night Football." After the football season ends, NBC will air a new schedule consisting of "Dateline, "Minute to Win It" and "The Celebrity Apprentice."

Mid-season replacements include: "The Cape" a drama centered on a cop who tries his hand at being a super-hero; "Friends With Benefits," a half-hour comedy that looks at the romantic travails of a group of young friends; "Perfect Couples," a comedy centered on people looking for the perfect relationship; "Harry's Law," a drama from David E. Kelley about people brought together by fate; "The Paul Reiser Show," a comedy from the popular comedian offering a humorous look at the life of a man in middle age; and a reality series called "America's Next Great Restaurant." NBC has also said it intends to bring back Jerry Seinfeld-produced reality show "The Marriage Ref."

Most Popular