I love to see competition! (OK, it's a bit long, but if you are a "watcher" then this is some interesting stuff....)
"e-Peacock aiming for 8 p.m. rally
By Andrew Wallenstein
NEW YORK -- Acknowledging that its decadelong streak of dominance in primetime has ended, NBC charted its course for the comeback trail with six new series unveiled at its upfront presentation Monday at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan.
Facing a crowd of advertisers and assorted media, NBC Universal Television Group president Jeff Zucker candidly sized up the network's primetime fortunes, which dropped it from first to fourth among viewers ages 18-49. The network had maintained the lead in that key demographic going back to "Seinfeld."
"The truth is, it has been a tough year," Zucker said. "For the first time in 10 years, we come before you without a fantastic story to tell."
With an emphasis on shoring up ratings shortfalls in the 8 p.m. time slots, NBC reloaded anchor slots Monday, where "Fear Factor" was benched until November in favor of undersea saga "Fathom"; Wednesday, where Martha Stewart will unveil her version of "The Apprentice"; and Friday, home to another new unscripted series, "Three Wishes."
Stewart's "Apprentice" will run concurrently with the original version featuring Donald Trump, which remains on Thursday, the only night of original programming NBC didn't reshuffle.
NBC is ready to usher in what the network hopes will be the next generation of hits, many of which are nudging aside the network's standbys. In addition to "Fathom," NBC ordered two other hourlong dramas: "E-Ring," which will push "The West Wing" from its Wednesday 9 p.m. time slot to the Sunday 8 p.m. slot, where it likely will spend its last season; and "Inconceivable," which moves into the Friday 10 p.m. slot once inhabited by canceled "Law & Order: Trial by Jury."
Another ratings-starved returning comedy, "Scrubs," received a full-season order but is holding for a midseason berth. Unscripted veteran "Fear Factor" is expected back Tuesdays at 8 p.m. after returning reality hit "The Biggest Loser" ends its summer run, perhaps in time to face Fox's "American Idol."
Although NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly indicated that he remains bullish on the comedy genre, only one of three new half-hours will join the schedule in the fall, when "My Name Is Earl" will be paired with returning comedy "The Office" Tuesdays from 9-10 p.m. The other pickups, "Four Kings" and "Thick and Thin," still await time slots.
"We'll give them the attention and protection they deserve when we have a better idea of how the fall schedule is going to play out," Reilly said.
That said, NBC also indicated in a news conference before the upfront that it likely would continue tinkering with its primetime schedule in response to moves its competitors will make this week.
In addition, Zucker characterized NBC's insertion of only six series into the fall lineup as a display of restraint befitting a network that could be just one hit away from being back on top. "This is not a primetime schedule littered with holes," Zucker said.
Zucker and Reilly repeatedly underlined the notion that weaknesses at 8 p.m. are NBC's Achilles' heel, hobbling the 9-11 p.m. blocks. "It was extraordinary how out of business we were at 8 o'clock," Reilly said during the pre-upfront news conference. "If we can get some base going at 8 o'clock, we can start launching some shows."
Reilly acknowledged that he was taking a gamble by scheduling returning rookie "The Office," which has a 13-episode order, with the eccentric "Earl," which he cited as NBC's highest-testing comedy in 15 years despite its quirky content. The series stars Jason Lee as a small-time crook convinced that he must do good to change his karma.
"I'm very confident that there are no bolder bets on anybody's schedule than these two comedies," Reilly said.
As for "Office," Reilly defended his decision to bring it back despite paltry ratings because it retained what little audience its lead-in had and maintained an upscale skew with minimal marketing support. There also was NBC's tradition of sticking with unusual comedies like "Seinfeld" to consider.
"We could not face the prospect of not bringing it back given the history" NBC has had with the likes of "Seinfeld," Reilly said.
On Wednesdays, Reilly acknowledged that putting both "Apprentice" series on the air simultaneously was a gamble given the erosion the Trump vehicle is experiencing, but the timing of Stewart's entree to primetime was key to the decision. NBC Universal also is backing a separate daytime vehicle for Stewart in the fall.
"There's a tremendous curiosity for Martha in the wind right now," said Reilly, who expects each "Apprentice" to attract different audiences. "We want to strike while the iron is hot and the curiosity is piqued."
"E-Ring" finds itself inheriting the time slot formerly occupied by "West Wing," a switch Reilly characterized as being part of NBC's attempts to better focus its counterprogramming strategy for "Idol." With star wattage supplied by lead actor Benjamin Bratt, "E-Ring" is seen at NBC as a strong alternative to "Idol." "We think it can be used as a battering ram for the time period," Reilly said.
Reilly also regarded his own conservatism on Thursdays as something of a risk. But he said that one of the tenets of being in a rebuilding phase is not to mess with what works.
"We had some moves that would have been splashier in the short run," said Reilly, who acknowledged that NBC considered building a new comedy block on Thursdays.
Reilly stood firmly behind "Joey," which he believes has gotten too much attention because it is on Thursday. He said the series' cast would be tinkered with but that no overhaul is necessary. "I have never felt the show's broken; I felt it was uninspired at times," he said. "There's something working on 'Joey,' and we're going to get it right next year."
Reactions to NBC's upfront presentation were mixed. The network got high points for being frank about its struggles from the likes of Carolyn Bivens, president and chief operating officer of Los Angeles-based media buying agency Initiative Media. "They didn't come in here and try to hide the fact that they were No. 4," she said. "I thought they handled it with class."
"It's not a very risk-taking schedule at first blush," said Bob Flood, executive vp and director of national electronic media at Optimedia International. "The stability in their schedule is still evident. Obviously, it's still a work in progress."
None of the new series generated particularly strong buzz from those in attendance, though clips of "Wishes" drew more than a few tissues to moistening tear ducts with footage of lives undone by various tragedies.
But Bivens was high on "Thick," a comedy about a woman whose life is transformed by weight loss, because of its timely subject matter. "Obesity is such a major issue in this country that it can really strike a chord," she said.
"Thick" certainly managed to do that in the final seconds of the clip NBC exhibited from the series, which features a character using a slang word for vagina that could be a concern for the network's standards and practices department.
Overall, NBC's upfront was a peppy affair, punctuated by celebrity-filled skits. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler of "Saturday Night Live" opened the presentation by anchoring their "Weekend Update" segment. Unafraid to toss a few zingers at its employer, Fey touted an alleged benefit of watching "Joey" in high-definition television.
"The picture is so clear, you could actually see Matt LeBlanc's panic," she joked.-quote&
"All human arrogance and ego can be expressed in two words. 'You Should'. "
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