RPT-NBC banks on new dramas to fill prime-time holes

Mon May 17, 2010 8:33am EDT

* NBC adds 5 dramas, 2 comedies, 1 reality show for fall

* Banks on known hitmakers J.J. Abrams, Jerry Bruckheimer

* To unveil full 2010-11 lineup to advertisers on Monday

By Paul Thomasch

NEW YORK, May 16 (Reuters) - NBC will make a big return to drama next season, adding a political thriller, two police procedurals, a legal drama and a romantic spy adventure to a fall TV schedule left with gaping holes when Jay Leno's show was jettisoned from prime time.

The dramas, including ones from hitmaking producers Jerry Bruckheimer and J.J. Abrams, are among eight new shows NBC announced for its fall TV lineup on Sunday. It will premiere six more shows in the back half of the 2010-11 season.

NBC, the flagship TV network of NBC Universal, is badly in need of fresh hits to rebound from a management shake-up, another season of low prime-time ratings, and the failed experiment of putting "The Jay Leno Show" on TV at 10 p.m Monday through Friday last season.

Among the shows that NBC will use to fill the hole left by Leno is "Chase," a police procedural from Bruckheimer, the executive behind TV's "CSI" and "Cold Case" as well as movies "Top Gun," "Black Hawk Down," and "Pearl Harbor." His newest offering, "Chase," centers on a group of U.S. marshalls hunting down criminals, and is scheduled for 10 p.m. on Mondays.

Also on Monday is "The Event," a thriller that revolves around a regular guy caught up in a series of conspiracies, which ultimately pose a threat to the U.S. president.

NBC will also look to Abrams, another brand-name executive whose hits include "Lost" and "Alias," for the drama "Undercovers," about a husband and wife who get back into the spy game after years of retirement.

As a replacement for "Law & Order," the 20-year-old crime drama that was canceled, NBC said on Sunday it would try to refresh the franchise by launching a spin-off, "Law & Order: Los Angeles."

WHEN ONLY THE BEST WILL DO

Jeff Gaspin, chairman of NBC Universal Entertainment, said in a conference call that the schedule "builds on the progress we've made since the Olympics," when it transitioned from Leno to new shows like the popular "Parenthood."

"One thing we learned this year is if you're going to compete at 10 o'clock, you're going to have to put on your very best content."

He also said NBC would try on Thursdays to build on the success of comedies like "The Office" and "30 Rock." It plans to introduce two new comedies to fill out the night, "Outsourced," about a customer service manager whose department is outsourced to India, and "Love Bites," an hour-long romantic comedy told through a series of stand-alone vignettes.

"The message to the viewer is, 'You want to watch comedy? We have it on Thursday all night long,'" Gaspin said.

Friday night will see the addition of "Outlaw," a legal drama starring Jimmy Smits, star of "NYPD Blue" and "The West Wing." A reality show about making over schools, "School Pride," will also be introduced on Fridays.

NBC could use some breakout shows, given it is once again in jeopardy of finishing last among the broadcast networks in ratings for the season. In addition, NBC is facing an ownership change. Comcast Corp. (CMCSA.O) in the process of buying out a majority stake from General Electric Co (GE.N), and a strong prime-time schedule for 2010-11 would go a ways toward calming any jitters in either the NBC or Comcast camps, analysts said.

A RETURN TO RAZZLE DAZZLE

NBC will officially introduce its new prime-time lineup to advertisers and affiliates during a presentation in New York on Monday. After that, network executives and advertisers will start negotiating over roughly 75 percent of the season's ad time. Ad dollars could be up 20 percent to over $8 billion in total for the big four broadcast networks, analysts said.

For NBC, this year's so-called "upfront" will mark something of a return to tradition -- or viewed another way -- a retreat from its unsuccessful attempt to change the way new shows are selected and presented to advertisers.

Indeed, NBC this year ordered about twice as many pilots as it did a year ago, when it tried to cut costs.

Last year, it also eschewed much of the extravagance that often accompanies the upfront presentations -- excesses like bringing in popular bands to entertain advertisers, or hosting sprawling parties. Signaling a different mindset, NBC has rented space this year in the Hilton New York.

"They were greenlighting series based on just scripts," said Brad Adgate, a senior vice president and researcher at Horizon Media. "They've gone back to the old model. And they are going about it the right way, and they are showing the advertising community that they are committed to quality." (Reporting by Paul Thomasch; Editing by Jan Paschal)