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NBC Keeps Its Eye on Recovery Road

Mar 26, 2007  •  Post A Comment

NBC executives gave advertising buyers a first peek the network’s drama and comedy pilots last week, including glimpses of a remake of “The Bionic Woman” and Candace Bushnell’s “Lipstick Jungle.”

NBC presented the pilots alongside a series of digital announcements, including the introduction of a revamped streaming video player, and new social-networking tools and bonus unscripted summer content in support of several series on NBC.com.

Addressing buyers on the Culver City, Calif., set of “Deal or No Deal,” NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly said he hopes the pilots will reinforce the industry’s sense of a recovery for the network that began last year.

“This year we’re not going to ask you to ‘open the case’ on blind faith,” he said, invoking the signature hook on “Deal,” which has been a hit for NBC this season and has played a role in its overall ratings increase. The network is up 6 percent season-to-date over last year among viewers 18 to 49. But even with that improvement, NBC appears destined to again finish the season in fourth place in the demo.

Mr. Reilly said he feels confident about buyer reception to the content, especially when compared with recent years.

“We had a record run and record pricing,” he said, referring to the years that the network dominated the ratings with hits such as “Friends.” “When we went back down, there was a piling-on effect — some wanted to even the score. Then there was a sense last year that we had turned a corner and are coming back.”

The pilots this season are not heavy in one particular genre, Mr. Reilly said, though the network has fewer of the serialized shows that dominated last season’s schedule.

Among the drama pilots, the presentation gave emphasis to “Bionic Woman,” which Mr. Reilly said will re-create the 1970s series as a coming-of-age story. Coming off the success of breakout hit “Heroes” this season, NBC is hoping to catch superhero lightning in a bottle two years in a row.

After the panel, Mr. Reilly said “Bionic Woman” might be scheduled as a Monday night companion to “Heroes.”

“It’s an intriguing title; it’s pre-sold,” he said. “Obviously, it has a similar fan base and ‘Heroes’ is going to be a huge promotional platform for it. They will be in close proximity.”

Among the comedies, “Lipstick Jungle” also had some buzz. In one clip, author Ms. Bushnell described how her “Jungle” will be different from her HBO hit “Sex and the City.”

“It’s not about women looking for Mr. Big, it’s about women becoming their own Mr. Big,” she said.

Other offerings that received warm greetings in the room included the sitcom “The IT Crowd” and the offbeat cop drama “Fort Pit,” from the team behind FX’s “Rescue Me.”

Clips from the upcoming reality-prank show “The Wedding Crashers” drew the most uproarious audience response.

The presentation also featured several clips from “30 Rock,” which has charmed critics but has failed to break out in the ratings. Mr. Reilly praised “Rock” and his similarly struggling “Friday Night Lights” from the stage, comparing their performance to early seasons of “Cheers” and “St. Elsewhere.” Those comments add fuel to ongoing media speculation that Mr. Reilly might extend the shows in hopes of cultivating more fans next season.

Mr. Reilly barely mentioned other struggling freshman efforts, including “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” “Black Donnellys” and “Raines,” as well as veteran reality show “The Apprentice.”

The other broadcast networks also hosted development presentations last week, but NBC was the only network that opened its presentation to the press.