NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The struggling NBC network is turning to science fiction this fall in a bid to lift ratings and appease advertisers and investors, announcing several new dramas whose story lines range from robotics to time travel.
Taking the wraps off its fall prime-time schedule on Monday, NBC executives made it clear they were hoping to build on the success of the network’s supernatural hit “Heroes” by introducing sci-fi dramas “Journeyman,” “Chuck” and “The Bionic Woman” for the 2007-08 broadcast season.
The lineup is crucial for NBC, which has languished in a ratings rut since longtime comedy favorites “Friends” and “Frasier” ended three years ago. The network trails in fourth place behind News Corp.’s Fox, CBS and Walt Disney Co.’s ABC in the Nielsen rankings.
“I really feel great about what we’re going to be rolling out today,” NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly said during a conference call before the network officially unveils its new programming schedule to advertisers later on Monday.
“We’ve got quality, and we’re going to build out and add some breadth to our schedule, which is what we’ve needed,” he added in introducing the lineup of five new dramas and one new comedy show.
The General Electric Co.-controlled broadcaster is kicking off the annual “upfront” advertising market, in which some $9 billion in prime-time commercial commitments for the 2007-08 broadcast will be booked.
Negotiations between advertisers and the networks are likely to take longer than usual this year as both sides try to find out how to best structure deals to fit the changing TV landscape.
The spread of digital video recorders and the broadcast of shows over the Internet have transformed the way Americans watch TV. Audience measurement standards are also changing. New ratings, slated for wide availability this year, will count how many people watch commercials or recordings of shows.
NBC executives have responded by aggressively pushing digital deals, saying on Monday that all programming will carry features such as virtual tours of show sets.
The company’s move toward digital was underscored recently when parent NBC Universal reached a deal with News Corp. to launch this summer a free online video site featuring movies and TV shows. Analysts see the venture as an attempt to challenge Google Inc.’s highly popular YouTube.
NBC’s schedule will get close scrutiny, given the pressure it is under to improve ratings. Some Wall Street analysts have even floated the idea that GE spin off NBC Universal because of its lackluster performance.
New shows will include a remake of the 1970s series “The Bionic Woman,” a drama about a time-traveling journalist called “Journeyman, and “Chuck,” about a young computer whiz who becomes a government agent after espionage secrets are downloaded into his brain.
NBC also has ordered a second season of its critically praised but low-rated teen football drama, “Friday Night Lights,” which won the prestigious Peabody Award last month.
Other shows coming back next season include weight-loss reality show “The Biggest Loser,” workplace satire “The Office,” network TV parody “30 Rock,” game show “Deal or No Deal,” blue-collar comedy “My Name Is Earl,” casino drama “Las Vegas,” hospital comedy “Scrubs,” medical melodrama “ER,” and the legal hours “Law & Order” and “Law & Order: SVU.”
Another “Law & Order spinoff, “Criminal Intent”, will move to NBC Universal’s USA cable network for original broadcasts. Repeats will then run on NBC, a reversal of the normal pattern where shows first air on broadcast and then move to cable.
NBC canceled the veteran coroner drama “Crossing Jordan” and a new series from “The West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin, “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” while saying it has not yet decided on the fate of real estate mogul Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice.”
Besides “The Bionic Woman,” “Journeyman” and “Chuck,” NBC is picking up a new cop drama, “Life,” about a wrongly imprisoned police officer returning to the force.
NBC is also picking up variety and game shows “1 Vs. 100” and “The Singing Bee,” which will run for eight and six weeks, respectively, in the fall.
Later in the year, NBC will roll out “The Lipstick Jungle,” based on a best-selling book by “Sex and the City” writer Candace Bushnell. It will also introduce the “IT Crowd,” a comedy about misunderstood techies, during the 2007-08 season.