Stars realigning at NBC

Lear show, Seinfeld stint set for fall

A month and a half into his tenure, NBC entertainment chief Ben Silverman is shaking things up at the network.

At his coming-out party during NBC's portion of the Television Critics Assn.'s summer press tour Monday, Silverman made a flurry of announcements, including several scheduling moves and major comebacks.

NBC is bringing back TV legend Norman Lear with a new project. The network also is bringing Jerry Seinfeld back to Thursday night with a guest appearance on "30 Rock." Fired "Grey's Anatomy" co-star Isaiah Washington is coming back to TV with a five-episode arc on "Bionic Woman" and a development deal at the network. The Donald Trump-starring "The Apprentice" is returning for another cycle — a celebrity edition — and the network has approached Trump's enemy Rosie O'Donnell to make her own return to TV by appearing on the reality series.

On the development side, NBC and Universal Media Studios have inked a first-look deal with indie producer Charles Corwin ("Half Nelson").

The network also is developing "Phenomenon," an American version of the hit Israeli reality series "The Successor" to star illusionist Criss Angel and mentalist Uri Geller.

Additionally, Gary Scott Thompson has come on board NBC's adaptation of the hit Colombian telenovela "Sin Tetas" — about a young woman determined to get breast-enlargement surgery to escape poverty — as executive producer, and the network has brought in a new writer to the comedy pilot "Kath and Kim."

NBC also is introducing a science fiction-themed Monday lineup in the fall, with new one-hours "Chuck" and "Journeyman" flanking the hit "Heroes." "Chuck" originally was slated for the Tuesday 9 p.m. slot.

"All of these shows have male/female demographic interest and balance, and they also have an element of fantasy which runs through them," Silverman said. "(We'll use) our strongest promotional platform in 'Sunday Night Football' to drive viewers and audience into this great lineup of shows."

After its big premiere ratings last week, NBC's new half-hour game show "The Spelling Bee," originally designed as a Friday midseason replacement, is being assigned a slot on the fall schedule as an 8 p.m. anchor on Tuesday. It will be followed by a 90-minute "The Biggest Loser."

"We think this is a compelling two hours leading into 'Law & Order (SVU),' " Silverman said.

"Deal or No Deal" moves from Monday to Friday at 8 p.m. "Friday Night Lights" and "Las Vegas" will swap places, with "Lights" airing at 9 p.m. and "Vegas" following at 10 p.m.

NBC will roll out most of its fall lineup during premiere week, Sept. 24-30. Silverman is working on a major marketing campaign to go with it that probably will include a rebranding of the network.

Aside from the truckload of announcements, Silverman's appearance didn't live up to its billing as the most-anticipated session at TCA this summer, with no big entrance like his boss Jeff Zucker stepping out in a bulletproof vest a few years ago or major controversies.

In a low-key fashion, Silverman and fellow NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios co-chairman Marc Graboff fielded questions in strikingly similar dark suits and white-and-blue striped shirts.

"This is not an arranged marriage," Graboff said of the duo's partnership.

The dialogue inevitably turned to former NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly, who was ousted in May, three months into a new multiyear contract with the network.

"He wasn't fired," Graboff said. "When (Silverman was brought in), Kevin realized or determined that there was just no role for him at the company and decided to move on." The last comment drew laughs from the audience.

Despite some rumblings, as of 2009, "The Tonight Show" will be hosted by Conan O'Brien, Graboff said, adding that the network is working on ways to keep current host Jay Leno in the NBC fold, possibly in primetime.

Further details of NBC's announcements Monday include:

The Lear project is a one-hour dramedy about a mother who re-enters the work force and is pitted against her late husband's ruthless partner on Wall Street.

"It's a wonderful battle of the sexes," Silverman said, adding that the project has been put on the fast track and is casting the leads.

Nina Colman is writing the script, with Lear supervising. The two will executive produce for Lear's Act III Prods., Silverman's former company Reveille and Universal.

Seinfeld will play himself on the season opener of "30 Rock," squaring off with abrasive network executive Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin). The gig extends Seinfeld's presence on NBC next season; he also is doing a series of interstitials tied to his upcoming DreamWorks animated feature "Bee Movie."

Washington is set to star on five of the early episodes of "Bionic Woman," playing a mysterious man who is brought in to teach Jamie Sommers (Michelle Ryan) how to handle her new abilities. The character had been in the works but was modified and tailored for Washington once he came on board, Silverman said. He added that if the stint is successful, the actor might stay on "Bionic" longer.

Additionally, Washington is developing an action drama for NBC based on his idea, to which he is attached to star.

"Phenomenon," from Granada America/Keshet Broadcasting/Kuperman Prods., is a search for the next great mentalist. Geller, who starred on the original series, and Angel will assess the contestants, with the winner ultimately chosen by viewers.

On "Kath and Kim," based on the hit Australian comedy, Michelle Nader replaces original writer Nancy Pimental. Nader will serve as an executive producer on the pilot, which has been put on the fast track, along with original series creators Gina Riley and Jane Turner as well as Rick McKenna.

Two of NBC's fast-tracked projects, "Kath" and the Lear dramedy, hail from Reveille. Additionally, Reveille is involved in a new take on "American Gladiators" that NBC is working on and with "Zip," a comedy pilot passed on by NBC's previous regime that is now is back in contention.

Silverman and Graboff stressed that none of the projects presents conflicts of interest.

"The process that we put in place has been vetted by (NBC parent company) GE," Graboff said. "Everybody at the company is comfortable with the conflict-of-interest procedure when there is something that appears to be an conflict or is an actual conflict with a Reveille project."

Also at NBC's executive session, Bravo Media president Lauren Zalaznick announced "Green Is Universal," a weeklong, environmentally based programming initiative set for Nov. 4-10 that will involve all NBC's primetime series featuring green-themed story lines. The initiative will be extended to all dayparts, news, sports, NBC Universal's cable networks, O&Os and online.