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12 to Watch: Kevin Reilly

Jan 29, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Three years ago, the last time Reilly was on TelevisionWeek’s 12 to Watch list, the auspices of the profile were very different. Mr. Reilly was the man under the gun to “find the next `Friends”‘ as NBC was starting to decline after years of prime-time dominance.

“No one is in denial here about the challenges,” Mr. Reilly said at the time. “It could get to be tough sledding, but even if it is, no guts, no glory.”

That sledding turned out to be tougher than most could imagine, with a particularly rough patch in 2005 during which Mr. Reilly’s job security was constantly a subject of speculation.

Now, Mr. Reilly is back on the list and NBC’s ratings are up 16 percent season-to-date among adults 18 to 49.

What’s more, NBC is the only broadcast network to claim any average growth at all this season.

Of course, that ratings increase underscores how far NBC had fallen since its “Must See TV” days. But even if the network hasn’t returned to its former glory, it has certainly become Must Discuss TV.

New shows such as “Heroes,” “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” “30 Rock” and “Friday Night Lights” dominated much of the conversation of broadcast television this season and have earned considerable critical praise, even though viewers have, in many cases, failed to get on board.

Thankfully, one show in that group, “Heroes,” hit a home run in all respects-earning critical praise, blockbuster ratings and a Golden Globe nomination for best drama series.

As for the others, Mr. Reilly has stuck to his guns, ordering full seasons for “Studio,” “Friday” and “Rock” despite their slim viewership, hoping that quality shows will eventually draw viewers. He has said that NBC is on the brink of breaking out of its fourth-place position, that all the channel needs is one more audience-drawing hit and the entire schedule will catch fire, much as the network did in the 1983 season.

“Heroes” was certainly one element in the equation. Another was the recent revival of the two-hour Thursday night comedy block after surrendering the space last year due to a lack of effective comedies.

“Last year we made the move off of Thursdays; we were a few bricks shy,” Mr. Reilly said. “This year we got it back.”

Despite NBC’s repeated emphasis on quality, Mr. Reilly said he wouldn’t turn down a highly rated hit of a lesser stripe. “I don’t know how critically acclaimed [CBS’s procedural drama] `Criminal Minds’ is, but that’s a 5.0 rating and I’d take it,” he said.

Industry experts expect NBC to finish the season in fourth place, but significantly higher rated than last year and without too much distance from the first-place network. Mr. Reilly has ordered about eight comedy pilots and several alternative comedy pilots for next fall, hoping to continue NBC’s leadership in smart, prime-time comedy that it has helped revive with “My Name Is Earl” and “The Office.”

“In the back half of the season, the key is to close the gap,” Mr. Reilly said. “We’re going to come out of the season feeling like we added significant pieces of the puzzle creatively and commercially.”