LOS ANGELES NBC said on Tuesday will use the summer Olympics to promote its new fall television shows, running sneak previews and pilot programs and making several comedies available early online to help lure viewers to the struggling network.
NBC entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt told TV writers that, after a rough start to last year's season in September and the cancellation of high-profile shows such as "The Playboy Club" and "Prime Suspect," the network saw a better spring and he was optimistic about the coming fall.
"I think we have really done a great job of stacking the deck in our favor to take advantage of the great platform of the Olympics," Greenblatt said.
"Given where we are with our ratings ... we have to do everything we can possibly do."
NBC, majority-owned by cable operator Comcast Corp, has ordered 16 new shows for the 2012-13 season beginning in September, as it seeks to rise from the bottom among viewers of the major U.S. TV networks. Six of the new programs will debut in the fall.
Greenblatt said NBC created promotions specifically for its coverage of the London Olympics, starting on July 27 and running for about three weeks. It plans to keep the momentum going after the Games conclude by premiering some shows early and offering others on websites such as Hulu, ahead of their official broadcast debuts in September.
In what Greenblatt said was a first, NBC will air commercial-free pilots of Matthew Perry's new comedy "Go On" on August 8 and "Animal Practice," featuring a playful monkey and a grouchy veterinarian, after the Olympic Games closing ceremony.
A six-minute teaser version of sci-fi drama "Revolution" will air following a swimming final on August 4 in which U.S. gold medalist Michael Phelps is expected to compete.
"I don't think NBC has ever run full pilots inside the Olympics before," Greenblatt said.
The 2008 Olympics in Beijing attracted an average audience of some 27 million viewers to NBC - more than three times larger than the network's average viewership for its regular prime time programs last season.
"I believe when you are in this position of trying to revitalize your schedule and bringing audiences back, you have to reach out as much as you can," Greenblatt said.
The NBC entertainment chairman dismissed concerns that offering new shows for free online would cannibalize the audience for traditional broadcasts favored by advertisers.
NBC's digital strategy is "a top priority for us as we look at every aspect of our business," he said. "I believe the more we can get people to sample these shows, the better the buzz."
(Reporting By Jill Serjeant; editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Andre Grenon)