NBC sked 'infront' and center
EmptyOff to the races. Six weeks before the traditional broadcast upfront, NBC unveiled its scheduling plans through summer 2009 in a stripped-down "infront" presentation.
The network's 65-week schedule includes a spinoff of "The Office," the final season of "ER" and the return of the low-rated critical darling "Friday Night Lights" through a deal with DirecTV.
"It's a dream schedule," said NBC co-chairman Ben Silverman, who delivered the presentation at 30 Rock in New York solo as his cohort, Marc Graboff, was sidelined by the flu.
NBC's "The Office" was front and center at the event, which began with a clip of Steve Carell as "Office" boss Michael Scott opining about advertising — a fitting intro to the network's biggest announcement: the series pickup of a long-rumored spinoff from the Emmy-winning NBC comedy that Silverman produced before taking the reins of NBC.
Silverman said the entire "Office" creative team is behind the spinoff but declined to give any details, noting only that "you may see some of the actors on that show on the other show."
The "Office" spinoff will premiere after the Super Bowl on Feb. 1. It then will move into its regular 9:30 p.m. Thursday time slot, running behind the original "Office."
NBC's returning series include the veteran "ER," which will come back for a 15th and final season featuring original cast member Noah Wyle, as well as "Office," which has been picked up for 28 episodes, including four one-hour episodes to air at the beginning of the season. Also coming back are "30 Rock," "My Name Is Earl," "Law & Order: SVU," "Deal or No Deal," "Law & Order," "Lipstick Jungle," "Medium" and "Dateline."
They join the previously renewed "Heroes," "Chuck," "Life," "The Biggest Loser" and "Celebrity Apprentice."
"All of your favorites are coming back," Silverman said.
There will be no drama repeats in the 10 p.m. hour on Monday, Wednesday, Thursdays and Sunday. Several other dramas, including "Heroes" and "Chuck," also will only be originals.
Under NBC's deal with DirectTV —similar to the Peacock's agreement last year with USA Network on "Law & Order: CI" — "FNL" will get a first run on DirecTV, beginning in the fall. The show's third season will air on NBC in the winter, about a month after it ends on the satellite channel.
In addition to the "Office" spinoff, NBC's new series include "Knight Rider," the Christian Slater starrer "My Own Worst Enemy," Tom Fontana's "The Philanthropist" and the comedy "Kath & Kim," toplined by Molly Shannon and Selma Blair. Additionally, NBC will air three live primetime election "Saturday Night Live" specials in the fall.
All of NBC's scripted series orders went to sister studio Universal Media Studios or international producers.
NBC's series imports include Canadian drama "The Listener," BBC fantasy "Merlin" and the U.K.-produced "Crusoe," a reimagining of Daniel Defoe's novel.
While NBC renewed 20th TV-produced "Earl," CBS Par's "Medium" and Warner Bros.' "Chuck," the shutout of non-NBC Uni studios from the new series pickups is sure to send a message to the marketplace.
"We have to make deals differently, and they have to deliver shows at a better cost point," Silverman said after the presentation.
At the presentation, Silverman, who was joined by NBC Uni ad sales chief Mike Pilot, scripted development head Teri Weinberg and NBC ad sales president Marianne Gambelli, touted NBC's development philosophy focused on "bringing the family together for quality programming."
"We will not be doing 'Moment of Truth' on NBC," he said, taking a jab at Fox's lie-detector show. But NBC also took a page out of Fox's game book with "American Idol" by announcing that it will run only one cycle of "The Apprentice" a season.
NBC is branding the three hours of primetime as "family hour" at 8 p.m., "blockbuster" at 9 p.m. and "adult-themed" at 10 p.m.
Highlights of NBC's 2008-09 schedule include "Enemy" and "Philanthropist" alternating in the post-"Heroes" 10 p.m. Monday slot; "Crusoe" taking over the 8 p.m. Friday slot; "Life," featuring new cast addition Donal Logue, moving to 10 p.m. Fridays; "Lipstick Jungle" moving to 10 p.m. Wednesdays; and "Celebrity Apprentice" to 10 p.m. Thursdays. NBC's postfootball Sunday lineup will have "Merlin," "Medium" and "Kings" as well as four-hour miniseries "XII," a conspiracy thriller starring Val Kilmer and Stephen Dorff and action-adventure "The Last Templar," starring Mira Sorvino.
After several years of a fourth-place finish in the ratings, NBC is looking for momentum to get back into the game with its entertainment programming. Silverman said he asked NBC Uni CEO Jeff Zucker for additional money for programming — and received it.
"This is the opportunity for us to make that move," he said. "It's why NBC Uni is backing us so hard with an investment in original programming, and it's why we're scattering this original schedule around the year," Silverman said following the presentation.
He said that the de-emphasis on pilots was well under way before the writers strike and that the network was now free to do smarter deals.
"We couldn't have had "FNL" and another series on Friday had we not made the DirecTV deal. Some of these deals do enable us to have more original programming," he said. "Liberty Mutual coming in to 'Kings' helps us make enough money so we can do more originals." (NBC and Boston-based insurer Liberty Mutual announced a partnership Wednesday that will result in at least two TV movies next season, including the two-hour backdoor pilot for "Kings" slated to air in September.)
With its upfront presentation so early, NBC plans to have most of the scripts for its new series written before they go into production to give advertisers an opportunity to read them and find better ways for product integrations.
That got the approval of Guy McCarter, managing director of Omnicom's Green Room Entertainment, who said he liked the network's plan to forgo pilots and go straight to series when it has the talent and director it wanted, offering to show advertisers the first six or seven scripts.
"Being able to read shooting scripts when you know the talent could be just as effective as seeing a pilot," McCarter said.
Early reaction among advertisers who saw the presentation was positive.
"It was a very good blend of traditional program development and the May upfront," said Harry Keeshan, executive vp at New York-based ad buyer PhD. Keeshan said he was especially struck by the network's willingness to collaborate with advertisers and gave them high marks for doing it six weeks earlier.
Veteran media buyer Bill Cella, chairman and CEO of the Cella Group, said it was a welcome step to engage in an early dialogue with advertisers.
"The brevity of it was a positive," Cella said. "It was a very good give and take."
On the digital side, "30 Rock" will be the latest NBC show to have a digital extension as the network will introduce "30 Rock 360" next season. This offering will feature an online business course from Jack Donaghy, an NBC exec played by Alec Baldwin, and a chance for users to submit their own business advice via video and skits for "TGS," the fake show at the center of the sitcom.
The network also will debut an original online production, "Fears, Secrets, & Desires," in which two hosts will enlist users to submit stories detailing "their deepest, darkest secrets, their unimaginable fears and their scandalous desires." In October, selected posts will be acted out and produced, either in-house at NBC.com or by outside talent.
In addition, NBC will roll out chapters of webisodes for "Heroes," "Chuck" and "Office." These offerings will debut on NBC.com in July and will roll out through the shows' seasons.
Paul J. Gough reported from New York; Nellie Andreeva reported from Los Angeles. Alex Woodson in New York contributed to this report.