tampabay.com

Changing tactics

Stuck in fourth place among the major TV networks, NBC tries a new approach: limiting risks and eschewing the big names.

By ERIC DEGGANS
Published May 15, 2007


Once upon a time, NBC was the 800-pound gorilla of network TV, powered by critically acclaimed hit shows with loads of rich, youthful viewers bringing record profits along with a steady stream of awards.

Now its hope for climbing out of fourth place among the major networks rests with a time-traveling journalist, a gussied-up karaoke competition, a version of Sex and the City for rich, career-driven yuppies and a remake of the Bionic Woman.

That's because NBC played it safe in developing its schedule for the 2007-08 season, announced Monday to advertisers in New York City.

Instead of unleashing the same tide of movie stars, ambitious concepts and innovative storytelling techniques that powered so many new shows that tanked this season, NBC is nurturing the good stuff it has, though some of its scheduling decisions strain that concept a bit.

Exhibit A: the critically acclaimed high school football drama Friday Night Lights. Any praise NBC gets for sticking with this well-done and inexplicably low-rated gem fades once you notice it moved the series to Friday at 10 p.m., when most high school football fans will be out watching real games in the fall.

Avoiding the public relations nightmare of canceling its longest-running series, NBC moved Law & Order to Sunday, where it won't premiere until Sunday Night Football ends in January and will likely decline enough in the ratings to make cancellation easier. Its sister series Law & Order: Criminal Intent moves new episodes to the USA Network, where the show has always played better anyway.

By the numbers, NBC approved five new drama series, including Journeyman, with the time-traveling journalist, and Lipstick Jungle, the Sex and the City revamp; one new comedy; and two new reality series, including the super-sized karaoke competition The Singing Bee.

Winners include surprise hit Heroes, which will plug its inevitable midseason break with a six-episode spinoff called Heroes: Origins, with characters picked by fans online. Big losers Crossing Jordan, Identity, Raines, Thank God You're Here and Aaron Sorkin's ambitious dramedy, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, were canceled.

But those series died so NBC could give another chance to Lights and other well-done, under-watched series such as Tina Fey's occasionally brilliant Saturday Night Live sendup, 30 Rock, and the absurdist hospital comedy Scrubs.

Hey, even Seinfeld, Cheers and All in the Family took a year or more to catch on. But the clock's ticking, guys; you can punt only so many times before the game is lost for good.

Eric Deggans can be reached at (727) 893-8521 or deggans@sptimes.com See his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/media.

TV PREVIEW

NBC 2007-08

Here is next season's schedule that was released Monday. New shows are in capital letters:

Monday: 8 p.m., Deal or No Deal; 9, Heroes; 10, JOURNEYMAN.

Tuesday: 8 p.m., The Biggest Loser; 9, CHUCK; 10, Law & Order: SVU.

 

Wednesday: 8 p.m., Deal or No Deal; 9, BIONIC WOMAN; 10, LIFE.

Thursday: 8 p.m., My Name Is Earl; 8:30, 30 Rock; 9, The Office; 9:30, Scrubs; 10, ER.

Friday: 8 p.m., 1 vs 100/THE SINGING BEE; 9, Las Vegas; 10, Friday Night Lights.

 

Saturday: 8 p.m., Dateline NBC; 9, drama series encores.

Sunday (fall): 7 p.m., Football Night in America; 8, NBC Sunday Night Football.

Sunday (January): 7 p.m., Dateline NBC; 8, Law & Order; 9, Medium; 10, LIPSTICK JUNGLE.