After what is turning out to be another disappointing season, NBC is understandably eager to focus on next year.
Monday afternoon, the Peacock network, currently mired in fourth place in the ratings, announced some surprisingly ambitious plans for the fall, a full two weeks before the other networks are to reveal their schedules for 2009-10.
NBC will feature six new scripted series:
“Mercy,” a medical drama centering on a hospital nursing staff.
“Parenthood,” a family drama featuring Maura Tierney, Peter Krause, and Craig T. Nelson. (The show had a brief incarnation in 1990 as a sitcom with the same title but a different cast.)
“Trauma,” a fast-paced saga about paramedics in San Francisco.
“Day One,” a limited-run post-apocalyptic series.
“Community,” a sitcom set at a sad-sack community college with Chevy Chase and Joel (“The Soup”) McHale.
“100 Questions,” a comedy about a woman’s misadventures with an online dating service.
“Everyone’s questioning NBC’s commitment to programming,” said Ben Silverman, the cochairman of NBC Entertainment, “but we’re quadrupling down.”
The network also announced it was renewing “Heroes,” “Southland,” and Amy Poehler’s sitcom, “Parks and Recreation,” for next season, even though all three are notching underwhelming ratings.
They join “Medium,” another marginal show that was renewed (at least tentatively) last week.
“NBC is showing a surprising degree of patience, bringing back a number of on-the-fence series,” says Mark Berman, the senior television editor at Mediaweek.
The fates of “Chuck,” the original “Law & Order” and “My Name Is Earl” are expected to be resolved at NBC’s official up-front event for advertisers on May 19. The other networks will unveil their new lineups the same week.
In addition to the six new series, NBC already had announced three new reality shows: “The Marriage Ref,” “Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Breakthrough With Tony Robbins.”
The challenge for the network will be fitting all this programming into a schedule severely squeezed by a number of factors, primarily the controversial decision to air Jay Leno’s new show five nights a week at 10 p.m. beginning in the fall.
“They’re only on Monday through Friday from 8 to 10 p.m.,” says Berman. “They don’t program on Saturday nights, and on Sundays they have football for half the season.”
NBC also revealed Monday that it would air, as it did sporadically during last year’s election cycle, special half-hour editions of “Saturday Night Live’s” “Weekend Update” on Thursdays this fall. That development is widely interpreted as the death knell for “My Name Is Earl.”
With this logjam of programming, a number of shows will not debut until mid-season. Among them, the new “Day One,” “Friday Night Lights,” and presumably “Law & Order” and “Medium” (if they make the cut).
Even those late arrivals will be delayed by NBC’s blanket coverage of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, which will consume the broadcast schedule Feb. 12-28.
The situations of many series, particularly the returning ones, could well change by the time the network reveals its official roster on May 19.
“Over the next two weeks, as we’re able to put the pieces of the schedule into place, the shows on the bubble will come in or out ... depending on where they fit,” said Marc Graboff, NBC Entertainment’s cochairman. “There are a lot of moving pieces.”
But by being the early bird, NBC is hoping to acquire a bigger share of the worm in 2009-10.