McShane is fit for 'Kings' as NBC hones its fall slate

Dramas big as early upfront looms

From an outlaw to royalty, "Deadwood's" Ian McShane is returning to television as star of NBC's drama pilot "Kings."

"Kings" is among a quartet of dramas expected to take center stage at NBC's upfront presentation Wednesday, along with "Knight Rider," "My Worst Enemy" and "The Philanthropist."

Sources said NBC is planning to announce series pickups for "Rider," the Christian Slater starrer "Enemy" and "Kings." They join "Philanthropist," which was given a straight-to-series order before the strike.

In line with programming chief Ben Silverman's affinity for commercial, easily promotable franchises, three of the shows are based on popular concepts. "Rider," which started as a highly-rated two-hour movie/backdoor pilot in February, is a spinoff from the 1980s series. "Enemy," from writer Jason Smilovic, is a take on "Jekyll & Hyde" with Slater starring as a suburban dad who learns that his alter ego is a spy.

The Michael Green-penned "Kings" is loosely based on the story of King David. It stars Christopher Egan as a pure-hearted young warrior who joins the court of the charismatic and authoritative King Silas (McShane).

Meanwhile, Tom Fontana's "Philanthropist" had been an early favorite of Silverman and his team, even though the project has failed to cast the lead yet.

"Rider," "Enemy," "Kings" and "Philanthropist" would join recently renewed "Chuck," "Life," "Heroes," "The Biggest Loser," "Celebrity Apprentice" and "American Gladiators." At its presentation Wednesday — a full six weeks before its rivals unveil their fall schedules — NBC also is expected to announce a deal with DirecTV to bring back the modestly rated "Friday Night Lights." Also shoo-ins to return are "The Office," "My Name Is Earl," "Law & Order," "ER" and "30 Rock."

Sources say a renewal of "Lipstick Jungle" looks unlikely and that the network is still mulling the future of "Medium."

Year-round programming and development will be a central theme at NBC's Wednesday presentation, and the unveiled 2008-09 schedule is expected to reflect that. Details about the lineup, which will be presented by NBC co-chairs Silverman and Marc Graboff in a news conference format, are being kept under wraps.

Sources indicate "Chuck" is favored to return to its Monday 8 p.m. slot, followed by "Heroes" and "Enemy" at 10 p.m. Tuesdays will probably have a two-hour "Biggest Loser," followed by "Law & Order: SVU." Wednesday is a wild card night, with a new drama likely to debut at 9 p.m. Thursdays will probably remain unchanged, with the two-hour comedy block followed by a renewed "ER." The single-camera "Kath & Kim," which received a six-episode order in February, is a contender for the slot that will be vacated by departing Thursday comedy "Scrubs." Fridays are in flux, while Sundays will be dominated by the NFL.

Mindful of rushing "Bionic Woman" to air last year with uneven results, sources says the network was recently toying with the idea of taking its time with "Rider" and launching it in midseason, possibly in the coveted post-Super Bowl slot.

NBC also has been approaching advertisers about doing more "green weeks," with a modest version potentially planned for later this month to coincide with Earth Day and a more expansive version tentatively scheduled for November.

NBC launched a heavily marketed week of green-themed programming and marketing last November under the moniker "Green Is Universal," but the event was largely overshadowed by the beginning of the writers strike.

NBC is eschewing the usual May upfront extravaganza as a cost-cutting measure and to get the jump on rivals. NBC also will have three days of one-on-one meetings with advertisers, then a larger "spotlight" event May 12 in Manhattan.

McShane, who won a Golden Globe for his role on "Deadwood," stars in the revival of "The Homecoming" on Broadway and next voices one of the leads in "Kung Fu Panda." He is repped by ICM and attorney Mark Wetzstein.

Nellie Andreeva contributed to this report.
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