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NBC Dealing With Reality as Underdog

Jul 25, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Acknowledging NBC is no longer the broadcast ratings leader, the network is adjusting its corporate culture to address its new reality as an underdog, a position that isn’t likely to change soon, NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly said.

“This season may not see a turnaround for us,” Mr. Reilly said, noting that the network is in fourth place in the adults 18 to 49 ratings demographic. The loss of “Friends” and “Frasier” last season was a one-two punch from which the network has yet to recover, Mr. Reilly said.

“We had enormous, history-making hits going away. We needed to reseed them, it didn’t happen and now we are where we are,” he said.

Mr. Reilly said the merger of NBC with Universal in 2004 made the network less vulnerable in its current ratings downturn, and that layoffs or cuts in the development budget are not expected, even with NBC’s drop of about $700 million in upfront ad revenue.

“We had the same budget as last year, plus a midseason development chunk on top,” he said.

Following a similar strategy to the one used by ABC last year, NBC will increase its marketing budget but focus on “a couple of shows,” Mr. Reilly said.

“Certainly [‘My Name is Earl’] is going to get a lot of attention,” he said. “So will ‘Surface,’ ‘E-Ring.'”

Mr. Reilly defended the decision to keep the Thursday night schedule from last season intact, and said the “Friends” spinoff “Joey” would be tweaked to include a new male character and see the title character’s acting career take off.

“I wish I heard stories this good last year,” Mr. Reilly said of this season’s “Joey” scripts.

Mr. Reilly also managed expectations about the success of NBC’s Pentagon drama “E-Ring” on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. (ET).

“We’re not expecting this to beat ‘Lost,'” he said. “We think it can be a successful alternative, much the way ‘Medium’ does against ‘CSI: Miami.'”

The decision to cancel “Law & Order: Trial by Jury” was “not an easy one,” Mr. Reilly said. He added that the network is developing another series with “Law & Order” creator Dick Wolf, but not under the signature series’ franchise. NBC is shooting a pilot in six weeks from Mr. Wolf exploring the world of assistant district attorneys that Mr. Reilly said will include more “character development.”

NBC made additional announcements Sunday:

The network has signed a deal with Emmy winner Paul Haggis to write, direct and executive produce the NBC Universal Television Studio midseason drama “The Black Donnellys,” which profiles four young Irish brothers who get involved in organized crime in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. Bobby Moresco is also executive producing.

In other development news, NBC has signed a deal with feature film writer and director Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption”). Mr. Darabont will create one drama series and produce a second.

In October the dramas “Crossing Jordan” and “Las Vegas” will coordinate on their second crossover episode.

The network also announced its fall premiere schedule:

  • Tuesday, Sept. 13: “The Biggest Loser” 90-minute premiere

  • Monday, Sept. 19: “Surface,” “Las Vegas,” “Medium”

  • Tuesday, Sept. 20: “My Name is Earl,” “The Office,” “Law & Order: SVU”

  • Wednesday, Sept. 21: “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart,” “E-Ring,” “Law & Order”

  • Thursday, Sept. 22: “Joey” (one-hour premiere), “The Apprentice,” “ER”

  • Friday, Sept. 23: “Dateline,” “Three Wishes,” “Inconceivable”

  • Sunday, Sept.25: “Dateline,” “The West Wing,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “Crossing Jordan”

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: “Will & Grace” (live episode)

    Specials include “Saturday Night Live: The ’80s (Nov. 13), “The Poseidon Adventure” (Nov. 20), “Faith Hill Music Special” (Nov. 23) and “10/5: Apocalypse” (Nov. 27-28).