In Depth

NBC Picks Up 6 New Series, Renews 'Southland' and 'Parks' for 2009-10

NBC is continuing its move toward the middle.

The network Monday greenlit a programming slate heavy on meat-and-potatoes fare, including two medical dramas ("Trauma" and "Mercy"), a broad family hour ("Parenthood") and an old-fashioned multicamera half-hour from director James Burrows ("100 Questions"). Also on NBC's slate: a single-camera comedy starring E! host Joel McHale and Chevy Chase ("Community") and an ambitious "limited" series from "Heroes" alum Jesse Alexander ("Day One") that will be heavily promoted during the Winter Olympics in advance of a March debut.

"We have some of the best shows on TV. We want to broaden out the brand and the audience," NBC Entertainment President Angela Bromstad said during a telephone interview from New York, just before she stepped on stage to meet with advertisers in the first of several of what the network calls "infront" presentations.

"These are accessible concepts," Ms. Bromstad added.

That includes "100 Questions," the first multicamera half-hour to get a pickup at NBC since 2006's short-lived "20 Good Years."

Marc Graboff, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment, said the network would continue to balance quality and populism.

"We need to hit a broader audience but still be loyal to the NBC brand," he said.

In total, NBC ordered six new series Monday, with plans to roll out the shows throughout the season. The network's fall needs will be limited, with the new Jay Leno 10 p.m. comedy show taking up a big percentage of its schedule.

NBC also announced renewals for midseason entries "Southland" and "Parks and Recreation." The network also said it was bringing back six episodes of "'Saturday Night Live' Weekend Update Thursday," the half-hour version of the "SNL" staple that made its debut last fall during the election season.

All of the new and returning series greenlit Monday are at least partially owned by Universal Media Studios, NBC's in-house production unit. The only full-fledged outside studio garnering a pickup: Sony, which is co-producing "Community" with UMS.

"We went with the shows that we felt hit the brand and demanded to be on the schedule," Ms. Bromstad said. "We're fortunate that we have ownership of them."

Ms. Bromstad went out of her way to praise outside studios, but said it was "just the odds" that all of the network's pickups were in-house shows.

Mr. Graboff said pickups were not made based on ownership status, and acknowledged that there's also financial risk to owning so much of a schedule.

"In success we'll look like heroes, but in failure, it's a tough financial nut to carry," he said.

There was no official word on renewals for "Law & Order," "My Name Is Earl," "Chuck" or "Medium," all of which were on the bubble headed into Monday's presentation.

Also missing: The new drama from David E. Kelley, "Legally Mad."

Ms. Bromstad held open the prospect that show could yet be ordered for midseason, saying there's "still a conversation" to be had with Mr. Kelley and producer Warner Bros. TV about the project.

"We may decide we need another new show after we move the puzzle pieces around," Mr. Graboff explained. However, if a new show in development wasn't announced today, it will not be on in the fall, he said.

As for other bubble shows, Mr. Graboff promised a decision by May 19, when NBC will unveil its fall schedule grid. The pickup of "Weekend Update" and strong feelings of support for "100 Questions" could make it tougher for the half-hour "Earl" to snag a renewal.

The lack of a decision on borderline shows "doesn't mean that they won't be picked up," Mr. Graboff said. "We just haven't made those decisions, and we don't feel any pressure to do so."

NBC, however, may be looking to maximize its leverage with the studios behind the bubble shows. Networks are looking to control license fee costs wherever possible, and by announcing its lineup of newcomers now, NBC is trying to signal that it might just be able to live without shows on the bubble if the studios behind those shows get too greedy.

Previously announced pickups include "The Office," "30 Rock," "The Biggest Loser," "The Celebrity Apprentice," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," "Friday Night Lights" and new alternative series "The Marriage Ref," "Breakthrough With Tony Robbins" and "Who Do You Think You Are?"

NBC's push for populism isn't new. The network last season also greenlit plenty of straight-down-the-middle fare, including "Knight Rider," "Crusoe" and "My Own Worst Enemy."

On the comedy front, Ms. Bromstad seemed upbeat about the notion of adding an old-school, filmed-before-a-live-studio-audience show to NBC's mix to Thursdays.

"We absolutely feel a multicamera show can work on Thursday," she said. "The case (of '100 Questions') really came together. It's a pretty special show. It's time to bring multicameras back to NBC."

Here's how NBC described its new shows:

"Parenthood": From the executive producers of the box office hit "Parenthood," Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, and writer-executive producer Jason Katims ("Friday Night Lights"), this contemporary reimagining of the blockbuster film depicts the colorful and imperfect Braverman family, four grown siblings sharing the headaches, heartaches and joy of being parents. The star-studded cast includes Peter Krause, Maura Tierney, Craig T. Nelson, Dax Shepard, Bonnie Bedelia, Monica Potter, Erika Christensen and Sarah Ramos. When Sarah Braverman (Tierney), a financially strapped single mother, returns home to her parents and siblings in Berkeley, Calif., after packing up her Fresno apartment and uprooting kids Amber (Mae Whitman) and Drew (Miles Heizer), she is greeted by her opinionated father, Zeek (Nelson), and strong mother, Camille (Bedelia), who are privately dealing with their own marital issues. As Sarah is reunited with her siblings—sister Julia (Christensen) and brothers Crosby (Shepard) and Adam (Krause)—all struggling with issues of their own, it’s clear that the Braverman reunion is just what they need to face the everyday challenges of modern family life. "Parenthood" is a production from Imagine Entertainment and Universal Media Studios. Emmy winner Thomas Schlamme ("The West Wing") directs the pilot.

"Trauma": Executive producer Peter Berg ("Friday Night Lights") delivers "Trauma," the first high-octane medical drama series to live exclusively in the field where the real action is. Like an adrenaline shot to the heart, "Trauma" is an intense, action-packed look at one of the most dangerous medical professions in the world: first-responder paramedics. When emergencies occur, the trauma team from San Francisco General is first on the scene, traveling by land, by sea or by air to reach the victims in time. From the heights of the city’s Transamerica Pyramid to the depths of the San Francisco Bay, these heroes must face the most extreme conditions to save lives—and give meaning to their own existence in the process. Starring in "Trauma" are Derek Luke, Cliff Curtis, Anastasia Griffith, Aimee Garcia, Kevin Rankin and Jamey Sheridan. "Trauma" is a production of Universal Media Studios and Film 44. Berg, Sarah Aubrey, Dario Scardapane and Jeffrey Reiner serve as executive producers. The pilot was written by Scardapane and directed by Reiner.

"Mercy": A medical drama with a unique point of view that portrays the lives of the staff at Mercy Hospital as seen through the eyes of those who know it best—its nurses. Nurse Veronica Callahan (Taylor Schilling) returns to Mercy from a military tour in Iraq, and she knows more about medicine than all of the residents combined. Together with fellow nurses Sonia Jimenez (Jamie Lee Kirchner) and Chloe Payne (Michelle Trachtenberg), Callahan navigates through the daily traumas and social landmines of life and love both inside the hospital and out in the real world. The cast includes James Tupper as Dr. Chris Sands, a new doctor at the hospital who complicates Veronica's life; Diego Klattenhoff as Mike Callahan, Veronica’s husband; and Guillermo Diaz as Nurse Angel Lopez. "Mercy" is a production from Universal Media Studios and BermanBraun. Joining writers-executive producers Liz Heldens and Gretchen Berg & Aaron Harberts are executive producers Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun. Emmy Award winner Adam Bernstein is the director.

"Day One": From executive producer-writer Jesse Alexander ("Heroes," "Lost," "Alias") and director Alex Graves ("Fringe," "Journeyman"), "Day One" tells the story of life on earth following a global catastrophe that has devastated the world's infrastructures. Beginning with the immediate aftermath of the cataclysmic event, an eclectic band of survivors—played by Adam Campbell, Catherine Dent, Julie Gonzalo, David Lyons, Derek Mio, Carly Pope, Thekla Reuten and Addison Timlin—strives to rebuild society as they unravel the mysteries of what happened and face their uncertain future. The group, all residents of one apartment building in suburban Van Nuys, Calif., embarks on a quest for survival and discovers that hope is found in small victories and heroes are born every day. "Day One" is a Universal Media Studios production. (Preview clip unavailable due to special effects.)

"100 Questions" (formerly known as "100 Questions for Charlotte Payne"): Emmy winner James Burrows directs "100 Questions," a comedy written and executive produced by Christopher Moynihan ("For Your Consideration") that provides hilarious answers to 100 questions about love. Charlotte Payne (Sophie Winkleman) is looking for love and has rejected multiple marriage proposals, but she has yet to meet Mr. Right. When she joins a popular online dating site, she gets a little help from her dating counselor Ravi (Amir Talai), who requires her to take a 100-question compatibility test. The questions aren’t easy for Charlotte to answer, and each one requires her to recount a poignant and humorous time in her life with friends Leslie (Elizabeth Ho), Jill (Joy Suprano), Mike (Christopher Moynihan) and Wayne (David Walton). The test becomes a journey of self-discovery for Charlotte, who begins to realize what she truly wants in a relationship. Ron West, Kelly Kulchak and Michelle Nader join Moynihan as executive producers. The series is produced by Universal Media Studios and Tagline.

Community: From Emmy Award-winning directors Joe and Anthony Russo ("Arrested Development") comes "Community," a smart comedy series about higher education—and lower expectations. The student body at Greendale Community College is made up of high school losers, newly divorced housewives and old people who want to keep their minds active. Within these not-so-hallowed halls, "Community" focuses on a band of misfits, at the center of which is a fast-talking lawyer whose degree has been revoked (Joel McHale); they form a study group and end up learning a lot more about themselves than they do about their course work. In addition to McHale, the series stars Gillian Jacobs, Yvette Nicole Brown, Danny Pudi, Alison Brie and comedy legend Chevy Chase. "Community" is a Krasnoff Foster Entertainment, Harmonious Claptrap and Russo Brothers production in association with Sony Pictures Television and Universal Media Studios. Russ Krasnoff, Dan Harmon, Joe Russo, Anthony Russo and Gary Foster are executive producers. The Russo brothers directed the pilot, written by Harmon.

(8:25 a.m.: Updated throughout.)
(Edited at 9:19 a.m. to fix Graboff quote.)