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James Hibberd

Silverman Panel II: Snap Judgments

July 16, 2007 4:08 PM

NBC buried reporters under an avalanche of announcements. Let’s run through them.

Announced: Renewing “The Apprentice” for a 13-episode, midseason run with celebrities.

Background: Silverman extended an invitation to Trump sparring partner Rosie O’Donnell to join the show. “I think it would be great to have Rosie [O’Donnell] on ‘The Apprentice,’” he said, “Donald personally told me to extend an invite to her.” After the panel, Silverman said the franchise likely will move back to New York. “Going to L.A. was a mistake,” he said. Silverman also criticized NBC for using “Grease: You’re the One That I Want,” a heavily female-skewing show, as a lead-in to “Apprentice” earlier this season.

Take: As Silverman points out, celebrity versions of “Apprentice” and “Big Brother” worked in the U.K. There’s great potential for getting at least one last gasp of ratings juice out of the veteran series. And with only 13 episodes ordered, very little downside.

Announced: Signing Isaiah Washington for “Bionic Woman”

Background: Washington’s character tries to convince Jamie Summers to embrace her mechanical side while she struggles to retain her humanity. The character is signed for episodes 2-6. Silverman said some extra content is being shot (ahem, reshot?) for the pilot, so Washington might be in that, too. “He knows he’s got a job to do,” said Silverman, who said he’s also agreed to develop an action-drama pilot for the actor. “I didn’t quite understand what had gone on there [at “Grey's Anatomy,”] but the bottom line is he’s a wonderful actor.”

Take: A surprising move coming from the famously progressive Silverman. Washington will bring “Bionic” more press. But the smart, passionate, geeky fans who would embrace “Bionic” are the same sort of viewers likely to be turned off by the casting of a person perceived as a homophobe incapable of taking responsibility for his actions. And though “Bionic” has a female lead, it’s not exactly appealing to the same “Grey’s Anatomy” psychographic (and, in fact, is scheduled against “Grey’s” spinoff “Private Practice”).

Announced: Landing Jerry Seinfeld for a “30 Rock” guest appearance

Background: Seinfeld is a big fan of the show, Silverman said, and will play himself in the premiere.

Take: Brilliant. Could help jumpstart the struggling series for the second season.

Announced: New reality show “Phenomenon” hosted by mentalist Uri Geller and magician Criss Angel based on an Israeli format.

Background: “We watched the show in Israel and we saw these ratings, and it was incredible,” said Silverman. “We had goose bumps watching the show.”

Take: Few Americans like, or trust, Uri Geller. Criss Angel is a basic-cable-level annoyance. The critics groaned when Silverman announced the hosts. As Sci Fi has shown with its hit “Ghost Hunters,” the best hosts for a paranormal show are those who can convincingly act skeptical. Even Silverman seemed to admit as much, saying, “Uri is … not the central element of this. … The contestants are the central element, and he and Criss are kind of there driving.”

Announced: Moving “Chuck” to Mondays, extending “The Biggest Loser” to 90 minutes, moving “The Singing Bee”

Background: “Loser,” owned by Silverman’s former production company Reveille, raises the whole conflict-of-interest question. “Ben did not make the decision” to extend “Loser,” Graboff said post-panel. “He had input, but it went to Zucker—it was vetted all the way up.”

Take: Moving the likable “Chuck” makes Monday a bit sci-fi heavy, but it could work (Tuesday at 9 p.m. was a brutal time period). Deciding to move “Singing Bee” from Friday to Tuesday is interesting because the second episode hasn’t aired yet, but it makes sense if the show holds up.

Announced: “Green Is Universal,” a weeklong November programming initiative where shows across the company’s platforms will adopt environmental themes.

Background: Post-panel, Silverman insisted showrunners wouldn’t object to adding green themes to their dramas and comedies. “They’re all people who want this planet to survive,” he said. “It’s one of those unifying ideas. If [‘The Office’ boss] Michael Scott has everybody turn the lights off, it’s going to be good for comedy, too.” Later, “My Name Is Earl” showrunner Greg Garcia joked about the initiative, noting, “I hope we’re not graded on the amount of [green] content we have.”

Take: Despite the trendy green theme, the idea weirdly feels like old-school NBC (remember 1994’s “Blackout Thursday,” where the storylines for all the Must-See TV shows included a New York City power loss?). As if Silverman’s ideology was fused with Jeff Zucker’s marketing acumen.


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