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MOMENT OF ‘TRUTH’

NBC sets show in 'Susan' slot; 'Guy' on hold

NBC made it official that it plans to get “Naked” on Thursday nights beginning in January, rewarding the ABC-defected midseason comedy “The Naked Truth” with the coveted 9:30 p.m. timeslot after “Seinfeld.”

The move, announced Thursday, is effective Jan. 16, with the time period’s current inhabitant, the Brooke Shields vehicle “Suddenly Susan,” getting bumped to hiatus after the Jan. 9 broadcast. NBC’s plan is to then return “Susan” to Thursday nights at 8:30 starting Feb. 27, with “The Single Guy” shelved until further notice.

NBC Entertainment chief Warren Littlefield is known to be high on “The Naked Truth” and its charismatic star, Tea Leoni (who also starred in the short-lived Fox comedy “Flying Blind” and had a role in this year’s much-praised comedy feature “Flirting With Disaster”).

Brad Grey, executive producer of the second-year Brillstein-Grey series, which was broadcast on ABC last season, is known to have been lobbying Littlefield and NBC West Coast prexy Don Ohlmeyer for a long while to snare the most sought-after slot in primetime.

“It’s wonderful that Warren and Don share our enthusiasm,” Grey said. “We’re going to work hard to prove that the show deserves this. But there was no twisting anyone’s arm. There is only asking politely. They either believe in it or they don’t. NBC has clearly shown a tremendous sign of good faith here.”

“Naked Truth” returns with some changes to its original concept as well as a key cast addition, George Wendt of “Cheers” fame. Leoni’s character, divorcee Nora Wilde, will switch this season from being a photojournalist to an advice columnist, and the celebrity magazine where she works, the Comet, will carry a less-tabloid tone.

Wendt is being installed as Les Polonsky, who leaves the family meat business to become the new editor in chief for Nora’s mag.

“We are confident that our revamped presentation of ‘The Naked Truth’ is well-suited for an NBC launch in the coveted post-‘Seinfeld’ timeslot,” said Littlefield, who added that the network’s picking up its entire primetime schedule for the full season gives NBC “an opportunity to launch some of our midseason shows in strategic time periods.”

“Suddenly Susan” has been slipping about 25% off the “Seinfeld” lead-in in households since premiering in September, earning an 18.7 rating and 29 share to “Seinfeld’s” 21.7/33 for the season to date. “Susan” ranks third for the season in total viewers and adults 18-49 and is TV’s top-rated new series.

Littlefield stressed in a statement that both “Suddenly Susan” and “The Single Guy” “are performing well for us” and that he hasn’t lost confidence in either, noting that similar launch strategies accompanied the comedies “3rd Rock From the Sun,” “NewsRadio” and “Boston Common.”

One industry source, however, speculated that “The Single Guy” must improve in quality and ratings before the end of February or risk losing its 8:30 post-“Friends” slot for good.

“Overall, this strategy allows us to get shows sampled prior to announcing our schedule in May,” Littlefield said.

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