Reilly: Rally in the offing at NBC

'Heroes,' 'Earl,' 'Office,' 'SVU' picked up for 2007-08

NBC brass is feelin' the love these days.

"I do think we brought the love back to the network this year," NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly said Wednesday during the network's portion of the Television Critics Assn.'s winter press tour. "We're going to end up the season tightening the gap only two, three couple of tents away from the lead, one show away from really turning the momentum in the other direction."

Among the main drivers of NBC's newfound groove — the breakout hit "Heroes," hot comedies "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office" and proven veteran "Law & Order: SVU" — got some love back in the form of early full-season pickups for the fall, Reilly announced.

He said negotiations are under way with "SVU" stars Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni, whose deals are up at season's end, to continue on the crime drama.

No decision has been made on the other two "L&O" shows, the mothership series, now in its 17th season, and the younger spinoff, "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," which also are up for renewal in May.

Meanwhile, Reilly reaffirmed his commitment to critically praised but low-rated freshmen series "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," "Friday Night Lights" and "30 Rock," showing confidence in the shows' chances to return for a second season.

Also, Reilly said that the network has ordered "Thank God You're Here," an improvisational comedy series starring David Alan Grier and Dave Foley, and is bringing back game show "Identity."

Based on an Australian format, "Thank God" will showcase the improvisational skills of a group of celebrities. Grier will host and Foley will be the judge on the show, which has been picked up for six one-hour episodes for a spring launch. "American Idol" producer FremantleMedia North America is producing.

"This is a really family-friendly type of show, and it's really fun," FMNA chief creative officer Eugene Young said.

The Penn Jillette-hosted "Identity," which had a weeklong trial run in December, will return in March.

During the Q&A portion of the session, Reilly called canceled drama "Kidnapped" "a big disappointment to us because I personally have never been involved with such a gap between the quality and the performance."

He said the network's executives briefly considered a move of "Heroes" out of the Monday 9 p.m. slot to avoid a face-off with Fox's "24" but opted against it and in favor of schedule stability.

"It's going to be a dogfight," Reilly said. "I think ("24" and "Heroes") are both going to end up taking a haircut, but fortunately, we have enough room to play in there and still be a bona fide success."

He questioned ABC's scheduling strategy on splitting the "Lost" season in two, saying he would be "reluctant" to do something similar with "Heroes," and on launching two new comedies, "The Kings of Prosperity" and "In Case of Emergency," against Fox's "American Idol."

"Certainly, it's the idea that you're going to introduce new comedies against 'Idol,' particularly in some sort of a block. We're not even kidding ourselves about that anymore," he said.

Reilly declined to jump into the Rosie O'Donnell-Donald Trump feud, calling the star of NBC's "The Apprentice" "a tremendous partner."

"He goes in there and does his job confidently, so I'll just leave it at that," Reilly said. There is a deal in place for "Apprentice" to return for another installment, contingent on the reality show's ratings performance this season, he said.

In other NBC news:

The network is almost done with its pilot pickups for next season and is mulling exposing some to Web audiences before making a final decision on which ones will be ordered to series.

Executives are talking with Jay Leno about keeping him on NBC beyond the end of his tenure on "The Tonight Show" in 2009, with both late-night and primetime options considered.

The network has ordered two additional live episodes of the reality competition "Grease: You're the One That I Want."

Daytime drama "Passions" is slated to end its run in June. Talks are under way to keep the soap on the air through August, and NBC is "looking very, very seriously" at continuing the series on a cable network (presumably Disney's SoapNet) or on the Internet, Reilly said.