NBC’s new fall schedule heavy on fantasy

[15 May 2007]

By Aaron Barnhart

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

The good news from NBC’s Monday announcement of its fall schedule is that “Friday Night Lights,” “Scrubs” and “Law & Order” are all coming back next season.

The bad news is they’re all coming back to NBC.

Such is the double-edged sword of being on a network that is currently fourth place in the ratings. Indeed, if NBC doesn’t get its act together, we’ll soon be referring to it as the fifth-place network, behind Spanish-language juggernaut Univision.

The return of these three critical favorites will be accompanied by new shows, including five dramas, four of which have futuristic or fantasy elements. It’s as though SciFi, which is owned by NBC Universal, has taken over the network, “Body Snatchers”-style.

Gone from the NBC lineup are “The Apprentice” (which may be headed to another network) and “Crossing Jordan.”

In what may become a trend among all networks this week, NBC is taking steps to ensure that viewers don’t lose interest because their favorite shows are on vacation. NBC ordered 30 episodes of its comedy “The Office,” six more than this season. That will include five one-hour episodes.

NBC is also going to pad the weeks when its rookie hit “Heroes” is off the air with a spin-off, “Heroes: Origins,” that will introduce new characters. “Heroes” had a troublesome drop- off in viewership this spring, when it returned from a midseason siesta.

The biggest buzz in the days leading up to the NBC upfront concerned the fate of two “Law & Order” shows said to be on the bubble: the “Criminal Intent” version, starring Vincent D’Onofrio; and the original, which creator Dick Wolf is keen to see extended until 2010, matching “Gunsmoke’s” 20-season run on network TV.

Wolf got his wish, though at a price: “Law & Order” won’t return until January, when NBC plans to move it to Sunday nights (along with the Patricia Arquette thriller “Medium”). And “L&O” may well be down a major cast member or two, because concerns about the show’s cost had been expressed in recent days.

As for “Criminal Intent,” it’s heading to cable. USA Network, which is owned by NBC Universal, will take ownership of that show, and again, fans should expect to see the effects of budget-cutting on screen.

Repeats of “Criminal Intent” will re-air on NBC, most likely on repeat-heavy Saturdays, a night that ABC and CBS also have given up on.

The new NBC shows include “Journeyman,” a “romantic mystery-drama” about a San Francisco newspaper reporter who starts traveling through time, and “Chuck,” a thriller about a computer geek who accidentally downloads terabytes of government secrets into his brain. “Life” stars Damian Lewis as a cop who returns to the force after serving years in prison for a Crime He Did Not Commit.

On paper, many new-show announcements look either so impossibly loopy or so hopelessly derivative that you wonder why anybody would tune in.

You’ve probably heard about the “Bionic Woman” remake starring Michelle Ryan; perhaps you didn’t hear that Miguel Ferrer, straight from the freshly cance led “Crossing Jordan,” is in the cast, or that producers from “The X-Files” and “Battlestar Galactica” are involved.

The other new scripted shows - “Lipstick Jungle,” based on the novel by “Sex and the City” author Candace Bushnell; and “The IT Crowd,” a workplace comedy - will be added to the NBC schedule midseason.

“Friday Night Lights” is, at last, on Friday nights, at 10 EDT, where it will either swim or, more likely, sink in a traditionally low-rated time period.

Last year NBC shuffled its schedule after getting a peek at other networks’ new fall lineups, so don’t be surprised if it makes a couple of moves next week.

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NBC PRIME-TIME SCHEDULE FOR FALL 2007-08

(All times p.m. and EDT)

MONDAY
8: “Deal or No Deal”
9: “Heroes”
10: “Journeyman”

TUESDAY
8: “The Biggest Loser”
9: “Chuck”
10: “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”

WEDNESDAY
8: “Deal or No Deal”
9: “Bionic Woman”
10: “Life”

THURSDAY
8: “My Name Is Earl”
8:30: “30 Rock”
9: “The Office”
9:30: “Scrubs”
10: “ER”

FRIDAY
8: “1 vs 100”/“The Singing Bee”
9: “Las Vegas”
10: “Friday Night Lights”

SATURDAY
8: “Dateline NBC”
9: Drama Series Encores

SUNDAY (Fall 2007)
7: “Football Night in America”
8: “NBC Sunday Night Football”

SUNDAY (January 2008)
7: “Dateline NBC”
8: “Law & Order”
9: “Medium”
10: “Lipstick Jungle”

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/nbcs-new-fall-schedule-heavy-on-fantasy/