NBC: Once-Dominant Net Must Search for Answers

May 16, 2005  •  Post A Comment

NBC arguably is looking to make more changes to its lineup than any other broadcast network and has taken its shopping list to the upfront.

“What do you do when you need everything?” said one talent agent about NBC, which has few confirmed first-season scripted successes to show for the 2004-05 season besides midseason sensation “Medium” and a still finding its way “Law & Order: Trial by Jury.”

“Joey” will be back for a second season, but it pales in comparison with parent comedy “Friends.” That raises the question of whether NBC will break two decades of tradition and open Thursday-once the clear nightly leader with such former comedy stalwarts as “Friends” and “Seinfeld”-with a drama.

With the network saying goodbye to three one-hours-Friday’s “Medical Investigation” and “Third Watch” and Sunday’s “American Dreams,” which is almost certain to be canceled-NBC will need to use half of its six drama pilots just to fill holes. So the network will repeat its strategy from last year of picking up all its hour-long development to help fit slots such as Tuesdays at 9 p.m., insiders speculated.

“They really didn’t develop that many one-hours to give themselves a margin of error,” the agent said.

With NBC’s needs in the 8 p.m. hour almost every night, some promising comedy pilots are also crucial. NBC Universal Television Studio’s “Filmore Middle” and 20th Century Fox’s “Earl” are comedies said to have heat at the network, but the agent said too many half-hour pilots have come in below NBC’s expectations.

“It seems like they took some chances, but I haven’t heard that anything they took chances on is really delivering,” he said.

Some pilots, such as “Lies and the Wives We Tell Them To,” already have been reshot, sources said. But if the development is not up to snuff, network favorites from this year that did not initially have an audience may make it back on the air.

“After they see these pilots,” the agent said, “shows like `The Office’ seem a little better, when a month ago [network executives] were writing them off.”