NBC Continues Pickup Spree With Chelsea Handler Comedy, Hank Azaria's 'Free Agents,' 'Bent,' 'BFFs'; Renews 'Chuck'; Cancels 'LOLA,' 'Event,' 'Outsourced'
With NBC's upfront presentation set for Monday, the network's new boss Bob Greenblatt went on a buying spree aimed at reversing the network's fortunes next season. Over the course of three days, he added 11 new series -- six comedies and five dramas -- to his 2011-12 schedule.
The Hollywood Reporter takes a look at what's in, out and renewed.
Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea
NBC adds another femme-skewing comedy, which centers on a group of twentysomethings living and working together, headed by a very outspoken young woman (Laura Prepon, That '70s Show). The multicamera comedy from Warner Bros. TV was inspired by Chelsea Handler's life, and is based on her best-selling book. Handler is on board as an executive producer and will appear in the series as the older sister. Julie Larson (The Drew Carey Show) and Dottie Zicklin penned the pilot and will serve as exec producers alongside Tom Werner (The Life and Times of Tim), Tom Brunelle (After Lately), Mike Clements (The Life and Times of Tim), Rick Messina and Richard Baker. Gail Mancuso (Rules of Engagement) directed the pilot. Like Whitney, NBC brass hopes Vodka will draw a younger, female audience. Adding more leverage: Handler is already part of the NBCUniversal family through her E! shows, and has the potential to trot out her cast on her nightly talk show.
With the pickup, Prepon joins fellow That '70s Show co-stars Ashton Kutcher (Two and a Half Men) and Wilmer Valderrama (Awake) on the 2011-12 schedule.
The single-cam comedy centers on two quirky co-workers who fall in love. The series is based on a U.K. format, rebooted by UMS and exec producer/director Todd Holland and executive producer/writer John Enbom, among others. Hank Azaria, who sources say garnered high marks from NBC brass, co-stars.
The UMS comedy stars Amanda Peet as a recently divorced type-A mom who tries hard not to fall for the sexy surfer-dude contractor (David Walton, Perfect Couples) that she hires to redo her kitchen. Arrested Development's Jeffrey Tambor co-stars in the single-camera laugher from wrier Tad Quill (Perfect Couples) that was directed by Craig Zisk (United States of Tara). Multiple sources suggest the laugher could get a midseason slot.
BFF (aka Best Friends Forever, formerly the untitled Parham/St. Clair)
From UMS and Jessica St. Clair, the single-camera comedy centered on a woman and her live-in boyfriend who wind up taking in her distraught and pushy best girlfriend after a divorce. The project failed to garner attention this development season, say sources.
The multicamera comedy from Universal Media Studios and Dan Goor (Parks and Recreation) revolved around a young doctor who joins his parents' medical practice. Andrew West, Jean Smart and Audrey Esparza starred.
After critical pans and early accusations of racism, the workplace comedy starring Ben Rappaport muddled along on a night otherwise knoqn for critically adored comedies (see Community, 30 Rock) on NBC.
The freshman serial premiered strong to early buzz and hefty promotion, only to free fall in the months to follow. The Jason Ritter series has lacked buzz and viewers since its return from its three-month hiatus.
Law & Order: Los Angeles (LOLA)
From Dick Wolf and Universal Media Studios, the freshman drama didn't resonate with viewers after its creative hiatus that increased screen time for Alfred Molina and Terrence Howard. Around this time last year, NBC called it quits on the franchise’s original.
The Warner Bros. TV spy dramedy has been a perennial bubble show, with fans successfully mounting a campaign to save the show for a third and fourth season. It seems they’ve done it again, with the poorly rated fan favorite among younger male -- and thus advertiser beloved -- viewers. Sources say it will return for a fifth and final season of 13 episodes.
On Thursday, NBC picked up the following dramas to series:
The Playboy Club
The drama revolves around working-class bunnies (Amber Heard, Jenna Dewan) and the men who love them (Eddie Cibrian) in the 1960s, where crooners, mob bosses, politicians and Chicago's elite play. The drama, a 20th TV and Imagine production, counts Chad Hodge (Runaway) and Brian Grazer (Lie to Me, Friday Night Lights) among its executive producers. The pilot was directed by Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones). Working in its favor: name recognition -- and a vast empire of products, print and reality series to remind viewers about the show.
Awake (formerly REM)
Lone Star creator Kyle Killen delivers another dual life drama, this time a procedural hybrid starring Jason Isaacs (Brotherhood) as a police detective who can't let go of any aspect of his fractured family after a car crash. Cherry Jones and Wilmer Valderrama co-star in the drama from 20th TV. Howard Gordon (24) executive produces with the pilot directed by David Slade (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse). The project, from 20th TV, is said to be both smart and compelling, though fears about its complexity have been raised.
The dark cop drama with fantasy elements is set in a world in which Brothers Grimm fairy tales exist. David Greenwalt (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) & Jim Kouf (Ghost Whisperer) are writers and executive producers on the series, from UMS and Hazy Mills Productions. Marc Buckland (My Name is Earl) directed the pilot. It was one of two fantastical police dramas (17th Precinct was the other) the network was considering this development season.
On Wednesday, NBC picked up the following to series:
The multicamera comedy, from Universal Media Studios, is based on the stand-up comedy of Whitney Cummings and revolves around the ups and downs of a young couple in a committed relationship. Cummings penned the pilot and will executive produce with Betsy Thomas (My Boys), Scott Stuber (Your Highness), Quan Phung and Barry Katz (Good Luck Chuck). Andy Ackerman (Perfect Couples) directed the pilot. The series garned strong buzz in recent weeks, with network interest in femme-skewing comedies.
Up All Night (formerly Alpha Mom)
Another single-cam comedy that takes an irreverent look at parenthood through the point of view of an acerbic working mother (Christina Applegate) who never thought she'd be a mom, along with her stay-at-home husband (Will Arnett) and opinionated parents. Maya Rudolph co-stars in the UMS project. Spivey wrote the pilot and will executive produce along with Lorne Michaels (Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock). The combo of talent on and off camera was a major selling point.
The musical drama, based on an idea by Steven Spielberg, revolves around a cross-section of characters (Debra Messing, Katharine McPhee) who work to put on a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe. Theresa Rebeck penned the pilot with Spielberg, Justin Flavey, Darryl Frank, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron on board as executive producers. Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman will contribute original songs. Smash, which many have dubbed Glee for adults, hails from UMS and DreamWorks TV. The project was said to be a sure thing all along. Working in its favor: Spielberg's engagement, a high-profile cast and the early involvement of NBC boss Bob Greenblatt, who developed the show while still at Showtime.
The adaptation of the British miniseries stars Maria Bello as a female detective who has to make her bones in a tough New York precinct dominated by men. The reboot counts Alex Cunningham, Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights), Sarah Aubrey and Julie Medel Johnson as executive producers. Greenblatt was a big fan of both the long-gestating reboot concept and Bello, sources tell THR.
Despite having the most buzz of any pilot this season, the David E. Kelley reboot failed to score a pickup. The news comes after lackluster buzz and a network screening that went poorly, multiple sources tell THR. The drama, produced by Warner Bros. TV, is a reinvention of the iconic DC comic in which Wonder Woman (Adrianne Palicki) is a vigilante crime-fighter in Los Angeles but also a successful corporate executive trying to balance all the elements of her extraordinary life. Joining Palicki is Elizabeth Hurley, Tracie Thoms and Cary Elwes. Jeff Reiner (The Event) directed the pilot. In recent weeks, sources had suggested that the network would renew Kelley's first season drama, Harry's Law, instead.
Thoms, who would have played Wonder Woman/Diana Prince's best friend Etta, voiced her disappoinment on Twitter, saying, "I am very sad that NBC passed on Wonder Woman. But that just goes to show you: There is no such thing as a "sure thing" in this biz."
A Mann's World
The ensemble drama, from Warner Bros. TV and Michael Patrick King (Sex and the City), centered on a celebrity hair stylist (Don Johnson) as he navigates the complexities of LA salon and family life. Early on, Greenblatt is believed to have had concerns about the project, which co-starred Ellen Barkin, says sources.
The ensemble police drama was set in a town where magic and supernatural elements rule over science, and had been deemed a mini-Battlestar Galactica reunion show. From Ron Moore and Sony, the cast featured Jamie Bamber, Tricia Helfer and James Callis. In the battle for fantastical dramas this development season, pilot Grimm won out.
The drama, which centers around a Civil War soldier (Martin Henderson, Off the Map) who crosses the country and settles in a complicated town where he is welcomed as its savior -- whether he likes it or not-- would have been a shift for NBC. Josh Brand (Northern Exposure) wrote the pilot, which was executive produced by Aaron Kaplan (Terra Nova) and Peter Horton (Lone Star), who directed as well. Though the project had a fan Greenblatt, says sources, there had been questions about how to position and market a Civil War series on a net better known for series like The Biggest Loser and The Office.
Metro (formerly S.I.L.A.)
The Jimmy Smits drama is set in the world of crime, law enforcement and politics in sprawling modern-day Los Angeles. Stephen Gaghan (Traffic) wrote, executive produced and directed the pilot, from 20th TV. Peter Chernin and Katherine Pope also were on board as executive producers. In an increasingly crowded landscape, many had questioned whether a pilot one source called "too smart" could cut through.
Brave New World
From Peter Tolan (Rescue Me) and Sony Pictures Television, the single-camera workplace comedy followed a group of characters (Nick Braun, Ed Begley Jr., Will Greenberg) at a theme park that specialized in re-creations of 1637 New England. NBC passing was expected.
The multicamera comedy from 20th Television and Chris Sheridan revolved around two couples and their challenges in love and infidelity. Passing on the project, which lacked industry chatter, is hardly surprising.
The workplace comedy revolved around a relationship-challenged woman (Sarah Paulson) who, with the help of her co-workers, guided people through unexpected career transitions. The Warner Bros. TV multicamera comedy was from Kari Lizer.
I Hate That I Love You
The single-camera comedy from Jhoni Marchinko and 20th Television was based on a straight couple who introduced two of its lesbian friends to each other. Buzz was said to be cold for weeks.
My Life as an Experiment
From Sony Pictures Television, the single-camera comedy starring Adam Campbell and Donald Sutherland revolved around a magazine wrier who immersed himself and his family in unusual situations for his stories. From Cathy Yuspa & Josh Goldsmith, the comedy was based on the book by A.J. Jacobs and counted Jack Black as an executive producer.
The drama from UMS and Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights), recently wrapped its second season in the Tuesday at 10 p.m. slot, where it performed modestly against strong competition from CBS' The Good Wife with 6.7 million viewers, on average, tuning in. The show has garnered critical praise, through the size -- and thus cost -- of its ensemble cast, which includes Peter Krause and Lauren Graham, has been a concern internally, sources tell THR. The renewal was expected.
The midseason legal drama starring Kathy Bates will be back for a second season. The project, from David E. Kelley and Warner Bros. TV, has averaged 11.6 million viewers in its 13-episode run, a hit by the fourth-place net's current standards. Kelley's other project, pilot Wonder Woman, is unlikely to get picked up, multiple sources tell THR.
NBC is scheduled to unveil its complete slate to Madison Avenue buyers on Monday in New York.
Email tips to Lacey.Rose@THR.com.