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NBC Goes Old School

Oct 10, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Maybe they could call it “The Senior Life.”

NBC and the producers of Fox reality hit “The Simple Life” are reaching decades outside of the 18- to 49-year-old demographic the Peacock Network has long prized for the stars of a new celebrity reality series.

NBC and Bunim-Murray Productions are finalizing a deal for a reality pilot starring veteran comedic actors Leslie Nielsen, 79, and Ed Asner, 76, sources said. The concept, dubbed “100 Things to Do Before I Die,” has been described as “Grumpy Old Men” meets “The Simple Life.” NBC was one of several outlets said to be interested in the project.

In addition to producing “Simple Life,” an apparent influence on the “100 Things” format, Bunim-Murray is the production company behind MTV’s 15-year-old “Real World” franchise and ABC’s low-rated summer series “The Scholar.” Bunim-Murray is also in business with NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution for the syndicated daytime strip “Starting Over.”

While NBC is working with the right kind of company for a show project like “100 Things,” how it works with the rest of the network’s schedule remains to be seen, Laura Caraccioli-Davis, senior VP of Starcom Entertainment, said.

“Obviously, the auspices of being in business with Bunim-Murray is attractive to them,” Ms. Caraccioli-Davis said. “But the logline is something I could possibly see on the Hallmark Channel. I don’t know how that fits into what they want NBC to become.”

NBC and Bunim-Murray both declined comment on “100 Things.”

NBC’s immediate need to help boost ratings and replace failing shows may trump any concerns about NBC’s overall brand, Ms. Caraccioli-Davis said. Despite the success of its new comedy “My Name Is Earl” (see Page 3) NBC is down 13 percent in adults 18 to 49 from last season, according to Nielsen Media Research, and has already canceled one of its new dramas. In addition, NBC’s new “Apprentice” spinoff starring Martha Stewart has been a ratings disappointment, and the yet-to-premiere midseason comedy “Thick & Thin” has already had its episode order cut from 13 to 6 episodes, sources said.

“They know they have some holes in their schedule and they are looking fast and furious for things that are easily executable,” Ms. Caraccioli-Davis said.

“100 Things” appears to fit the trend within reality to increasingly use celebrities. ABC had the most recent network success with the trend over the summer, when “Dancing With the Stars” became a surprise ratings hit.

But NBC should be cautious how it uses a project like “100 Things,” she said.

“Sometimes those niche type of realities only work in summer,” she said. “A road trip show, that sounds more summer to me than something they would put on midseason.”

Ms. Caraccioli-Davis did admit loopy ideas occasionally make for successful television.

“You always have to sit back,” she said. “On paper people probably thought ‘Dancing With the Stars’ wasn’t an intriguing show.”

Mr. Asner, the former president of the Screen Actors Guild, is a seven-time Emmy winner, with three comedy statuettes for his work as Lou Grant on CBS’s classic sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

Mr. Nielsen, who appeared in the 1980 feature film comedy spoof “Airplane!” created the role of Police Det. Frank Drebin, a character featured in the short-lived cult favorite 1980s comedy series “Police Squad!” and in the highly profitable “Naked Gun” film franchise.

James Hibberd contributed to this report.