NBC mixes times of the season

Many series will share slots; 'Earl,' 'Medium' backers rip cancellations

NBC on Tuesday presented a fall schedule that includes a shared time-period strategy as well as two high-profile cancellations that sparked controversy.

With "The Jay Leno Show" occupying the 10 p.m. hour five nights a week, all eyes were on how NBC would reconfigure the rest of its returning lineup and wedge new shows into a tighter schedule.

The answer: having more series than ever before share time periods, with the shows' half-season runs separated by the network's coverage of the Winter Olympics.

The strategy involves abbreviated orders and will allow for fewer repeats, though if serialized shows are given longer hiatuses to make way for new content, it could cause waning audience interest and ratings erosion. On the flip side, ABC's "Lost" is an example of how shorter runs for serialized dramas can work.

"NBC has picked up more scripted shows than last season, even with 'The Jay Leno Show' at 10 p.m.," NBC co-chair Ben Silverman said, singling out two of the network's new series: the drama "Parenthood" and the comedy "Community."

To make room for the new crop, NBC canceled two long-running series, the comedy "My Name Is Earl" and the drama "Medium," while renewing veteran "Law & Order" and sophomore "Chuck."

The dismissal of "Earl" and "Medium," accompanied by Silverman's comments that each was "an aging franchise, without a single fan letter, with no passion," didn't sit well with the producers of both series.

CBS Studios, which is behind "Medium," came out with a sternly worded statement.

"NBC's cancellation of 'Medium' is inexplicable to us," it said. "The ratings don't lie: 'Medium' outperforms many of NBC's renewed shows. We believe the show has a significant future and await developments."

Those developments are said to involve a pickup by sister network CBS, which is awaiting "Medium's" official release from NBC, which comes today.

"Earl" creator Greg Garcia didn't spare harsh words for NBC either, telling the Los Angeles Times, "It's hard to be too upset about being thrown off the Titanic."

"Earl" producer 20th TV is in talks with Fox and ABC about a potential pickup for the 4-year-old series.

For NBC next season, Mondays will see the most dramatic changes and series turnover.

"Heroes" will shift from its signature 9 p.m. spot to 8 p.m. to help launch the medical action drama "Trauma." "Heroes" also is operating with a shortened order next season, 19 episodes, and will run only in the fall, making room in midseason for "Chuck," back from the brink with a 13-episode pickup backed by Subway. After inadvertently becoming part of fans' "Save 'Chuck' " campaign, the fast-food chain has come on board as a sponsor for the series next season. The apocalyptic thriller "Day One" will take over for "Trauma" after the Olympics.

Campbell Mithun's John Rash likes the slot sharing. "Any innovation that reduces repeats is audience- and advertiser-friendly," he said.

On Tuesdays, NBC decided to keep "The Biggest Loser" at two hours.

That means that three nets — NBC, ABC ("Shark Tank," "Dancing With the Stars" results) and Fox ("So You think You Can Dance") — will air unscripted fare from 8-10 p.m., leaving CBS and the CW as the scripted alternatives.

On Wednesdays, where the network really has struggled this season, NBC plans new dramedy "Parenthood" ("Mercy" in midseason) leading into "Law & Order: SVU."

Thursdays keeps "Parks & Recreation" at 8:30 and "The Office" at 9, but other two comedy block slots will see some shifting. The network will start the fall leading off with "Saturday Night Live" specials at 8 p.m. for several weeks, with new comedy "Community" at 9:30 p.m., then shift "30 Rock" into its usual 9:30 slot and put "Community" to the test as the night's new anchor at 8 p.m.

On Fridays, the record-tying 20th season of "Law & Order" will be followed by the return of "Southland," whose ratings started solid and have since declined on Thursday nights.

The network has ordered 16 episodes from "L&O" but said it might extend the order to a full 22.