Ben Silverman has been busy.
About a month after NBC Universal named him co-chairman of the network and studio, Mr. Silverman took the stage Monday at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour with a lengthy list of programming announcements, including shaking up the fall schedule set by his predecessor.
The announcements include reviving “The Apprentice,” hiring fired “Grey’s Anatomy” actor Isaiah Washington, signing legendary producer Norman Lear to a series deal, announcing a reality series with magician Criss Angel, tapping Jerry Seinfeld for a “30 Rock” appearance, launching an environmentally friendly programming initiative and shaking up the fall schedule.
Mr. Silverman also took questions from critics, assuring them that the network would continue former entertainment president Kevin Reilly’s penchant for sticking with quality shows and reiterating that Conan O’Brien will replace Jay Leno as host of “The Tonight Show.”
As first reported by TelevisionWeek, “Apprentice” has been renewed for 13 episodes featuring celebrities playing for charity. Mr. Silverman said he approached executive producer Mark Burnett and performer Donald Trump with the idea.
The reduced episode count makes it easier to garner celebrity commitments, he said. Mr. Silverman has approached the cast of “The Office,” but said he will aim for “A-list” performers.
“I think it would be great to have Rosie [O’Donnell] on ‘The Apprentice,’” said Mr. Silverman, referring to the former talk show host’s feud with Mr. Trump. “Donald personally told me to extend an invite to her.”
NBC has signed fired “Grey’s” actor Mr. Washington for a guest-star role in fall drama “Bionic Woman.”
“He’s a wonderful actor and a great performer, and he became available,” Mr. Silverman said. “I didn’t quite understand what had gone on there [at ABC]. And we think the character who has been created for him is really strong.”
NBC also has signed a series deal with legendary producer Norman Lear (“All in the Family”). Mr. Lear will join Mr. Silverman’s former company Reveille, along with Act III Productions and Universal Media Studios, to produce a one-hour dramedy about a mother who re-enters the Wall Street workplace and finds herself pitted against her late husband’s ruthless partner.
“Norman Lear is an idol of mine, and bringing his voice back to network television is the fulfillment of a personal dream,” Mr. Silverman said. ”The series will push the envelope by tackling gender issues through comedy, character and emotion.”
In another series deal, Mr. Silverman announced new show “Phenomenon” (working title), a live competition series where magician Criss Angel (“Criss Angel Mindfreak”) and self-proclaimed psychic Uri Geller search for “the next great mentalist.” The series is based on a successful Israeli format judged by Mr. Geller. Mr. Silverman said he plans to have the show on the air “as soon as possible.”
After earlier pledges that NBC’s fall schedule would not change in the wake of Mr. Kevin Reilly’s departure, NBC announced some shifts.
“Deal or No Deal” is moving off Monday at 8 p.m. and being replaced with new series “Chuck.” Monday’s other shows are “Heroes” and “Journeyman,” making Monday night a pure-sci-fi-hero lineup.
With “Chuck” off of Tuesday, Mr. Silverman has extended “The Biggest Loser” to 90 minutes, then moved half-hour summer breakout reality show “The Singing Bee” from Friday to Tuesday to fill out the 9 p.m. hour. “Loser” is produced by Reveille, a company in which Mr. Silverman continues to hold a financial stake.
NBC's premiere week will feature one-hour episodes of “My Name Is Earl” and “The Office” on Thursday, Sept. 27, and a two-hour season premiere of “Las Vegas” on Friday, Sept. 28.
NBC also is signing Mr. Seinfeld for a guest appearance on the season premiere of “30 Rock.” Mr. Seinfeld, whose interstitials promoting his upcoming “Bee Movie” will air on the network this fall, will play himself on the half-hour comedy.
NBC Universal announced “Green Is Universal,” a weeklong programming initiative where shows across the company’s platforms will adopt environmental themes.
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