NBC shuffles its infront

Screenings postponed after death of exec Nora O'Brien

NBC's final preparation for its Monday infront was halted Thursday with the sudden death of vp drama development Nora O'Brien.

The scheduled Thursday screenings of the pilots for "Mercy," "Off Duty" and "State of Romance" were postponed to Friday, when the network brass also is slated to see "Parenthood," on whose set O'Brien died, as well as "Day One," "100 Questions for Charlotte Payne" and "Trauma."

The only pilots seen by NBC's executives are "Community," "Legally Mad" and "Lost & Found," which screened Wednesday. Of those, the early front-runner "Community," starring Chevy Chase, is said to have received a very good reception, with David E. Kelley's "Mad" and the Dick Wolf-produced procedural "Found" getting mixed-to-cold reaction.

Both dramas have something going for them. Although the pilot for "Mad" is said to have problems, the project's hefty series commitment and the fact that it has one of TV's top showrunners, Kelley, at its helm, weigh in its favor. Meanwhile, "Found" comes from another heavy hitter, Wolf, who has a long-standing relationship with NBC. It is considered the type of lower-cost 8 p.m. show that the network needs after deciding to strip a Jay Leno-fronted talk show at 10 p.m., and it has a promotable star in Katee Sackhoff.

"Parenthood," a new take at the 1989 movie boasting an A-list cast led by Peter Krause, continues to be a front-runner on the drama side, with the action-packed "Trauma" also tracking strong.

The chances of "Mad," "Found," "Day One" and "Mercy" will depend on how many of its bubble drama series NBC will bring back. The midseason cop show "Southland" looks likely to return, possibly for midseason, but its chances were hurt by a lackluster ratings performance Thursday night. And to the delight of staunch "Chuck" supporters, the chances of survival for the quirky soft-rated series have improved slightly. And "Law & Order" is looking good to match "Gunsmoke's" record 20-season run, possibly with a partial order.

On the half-hour side, "Community" is pretty much a lock, with "Off Duty" and "Charlotte" having some buzz.

The midseason comedy "Parks and Recreation" looks good to come back, with "My Name Is Earl" remaining a question mark. The shows producers were expected to make their pitch at the end of this week, with the pickup said to be hinging on the cost of the 4-year-old show.

Although most bet that "Earl" would return to NBC, the studio had been looking at contingencies like taking the series elsewhere, including to Fox.

Because NBC's infront is two weeks before the rest of the broadcast pack, the network's executives have been screening full pilots as well as trailers, rough cuts and dailies from the projects that are still filming.

Because of the time constraint, which was exacerbated by O'Brien's death, some had suggested that the network might not announce a full schedule or all returning series on Monday. Others insist that NBC will make up the lost time and will be able to present a full slate to advertisers.