NBC lends big hand to 'Philanthropist'

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NBC has unveiled a surprising summer lineup that includes several scripted projects, including the long-awaited scheduling of "The Philanthropist," starring James Purefoy and Neve Campbell.

The lineup includes imported drama series "Merlin" and "The Listener" and new reality shows "I'm a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!" and "Great American Road Trip."

"We have a nice balance that provides as much original programming as possible," NBC scheduling head Mitch Metcalf said. "Reality has traditionally worked really well, and though scripted has had a more spotted record, I believe if you put too much of one thing, it becomes harder to promote and gain a whole audience."

The headline-maker is the UMS-produced "Philanthropist." Once planned for midseason, the expensive and ambitious drama stars Purefoy as a globetrotting billionaire who helps those in need. The project was sidelined by financing issues as NBC sought an overseas production partner, then creatively as the network swapped showrunners (original writer-exec producer Tom Fontana is back in charge), then medically as Purefoy pulled a hamstring while shooting the pilot.

Typically, when an in-season show is pushed to summer, it spells trouble. But with only eight episodes in the show's run, Metcalf made a case that "Philanthropist" is being given a strong shot by pairing it with last summer's most-watched show, "America's Got Talent."

"This idea that this is a summer burnoff is just not supported by the fact we're giving it a great lead-in with our No. 1 show," he said. "We're giving it a great chance, and it fits perfectly after 'Got Talent.' "

"Merlin" and "Listener" are overseas acquisitions. "Merlin," produced by Shine Television for the BBC, is a 13-part series that updates the legend of the Arthurian sorcerer. "Listener" is a Canadian drama, co-produced by CTV, about a telepath who helps those in crisis.

" 'Listener' has a great shot because it's a closed-ended procedural," Metcalf said. " 'Merlin' is a big swing — it's set in the U.K. — but it's a timeless story with large appeal that's worked well in a movie form for us in the past."

In another summer rarity, two miniseries also are included in NBC's lineup: "The Meteor," beginning June 7, and "The Storm," beginning July 26, will air across four Sundays.

On June 21, "Merlin" will take over the 8 p.m. Sunday spot from "Kings." The eight-episode run of "Philanthropist" will take over for "Law & Order" at 10 p.m. Wednesday starting June 24, and "Listener" will relieve "Southland" at 10 p.m. Thursday starting June 4.

With two new dramas going into 10 p.m. hours, NBC plans to give Conan O'Brien strong support when he takes over June 1 as host of "The Tonight Show." The network also will extend the season finales of "Medium," "Law & Order" and "Law & Order: SVU" into the first week of June, a practice increasingly common for networks as they try to maintain momentum into the summer.

On the reality side, NBC will take the unusual step of stripping "I'm a Celebrity" at 8 p.m. throughout the week. The show launches its 15-episode run June 1.

"We're taking a reality format that has worked incredibly well around the world and borrowing not only a great idea but also a scheduling philosophy that has worked for this show overseas and worked for 'Deal or No Deal' and 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,' " Metcalf said.

But those game shows were self-contained and stripped for brief runs, whereas "I'm a Celebrity" is a competition series, a genre that tends to be more serialized.

"The mechanics of the show keep it very joinable," Metcalf said. "And having an original across the 8 p.m. hour helps us better support Conan." (partialdiff)
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