NEW YORK — With each star on TV’s top-rated sitcom “Seinfeld” locked in for a ninth season, NBC today will uncloak a new primetime schedule for fall that’s jam-packed with 18 comedies, including six new ones.
In one of the web’s boldest moves, NBC is expected to knock out its successful Monday movie franchise and run four returning female-driven sitcoms from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., followed by a fourth “Dateline.” The strategy is seen as a direct challenge to CBS’s long-standing Monday comedy stronghold.
NBC will also move the hit comedy “3rd Rock From the Sun” from Sunday to Wednesday at 9 p.m. to shore up its new night of “Must-See-TV,” launched this season without tremendous success. “3rd Rock” will be paired with three new sitcoms, led off by Tony Danza at 8 p.m.
On Sundays, the network will take the unusual step of airing the racy sophomore comedy “Men Behaving Badly” at 8 p.m., leading into a new sitcom starring MTV’s Jenny McCarthy. A new NBC Studios comedy, “Union Square,” and a new Warner Bros. sitcom starring Kirstie Alley have snagged the coveted Thursday night hammock slots after “Friends” and “Seinfeld.”
While NBC appears to be heading toward a strategy of all comedies all the time, the network has also ordered two new dramas, one starring rapper Ice-T for Friday night, and “Sleepwalkers” for its Saturday drama “thrillogy.” Of the eight new shows ordered, NBC owns a stake in four.
Gone from the schedule are Universal’s comedy “Something So Right,” which last week appeared would make the cut; Castle Rock’s “Single Guy” and “Boston Common”; “Unsolved Mysteries,” “The Jeff Foxworthy Show,” which NBC poached from ABC last season, and “Dark Skies.” NBC will pay a penalty for passing on 20th Century Fox’s pilot “Our Place,” which had received a prior 13-episode commitment.
Leading off the women’s comedy Monday nights is sophomore Brooke Shields sitcom “Suddenly Susan,” which replaces “The Jeff Foxworthy Show,” followed by Paramount’s midseason sitcom “Fired Up,” “Caroline in the City” at 9 p.m. and “Naked Truth.” At 10 p.m., NBC will likely plug in a fourth night of its newsmag “Dateline NBC.”
The web is gambling that its women’s comedies, all originally launched on its Thursday powerhouse schedule, will stand on their own against CBS’s comedy lineup, led by “Cosby.” The move is gutsy, but in character with NBC’s past expansion of its comedy brand.
The web has done well with its female-targeted movies on Mondays, and sources predict that the movie could return quickly if the new all-sitcom strategy doesn’t work.
NBC senior VP of movies and miniseries Lindy DeKoven fought hard but unsuccessfully to keep the Monday movie alive, sources said.
Without a Monday movie, the web will have to preempt regular series during sweeps periods to air miniseries.
On Tuesday night, “Mad About You” will remain at 8 p.m., and “Frasier” will stay at 9 p.m., with “Newsradio” moving from Wednesday to the more protected Tuesday 8:30 p.m. slot.
Many had anticipated that “Fired Up,” which is produced by “Frasier” star Kelsey Grammer, would get the 9:30 p.m. post-“Frasier” post. But midseason comedy “Just Shoot Me” was expected to win the slot instead. “Dateline NBC” will remain at 10 p.m.
NBC is also being ballsy with its decision to launch three new comedies on Wednesday nights, although the move of “3rd Rock” from Sunday should mitigate the risk. The night will lead off with Columbia TriStar’s Tony Danza sitcom, which probably will face tough competition against “The Nanny” on CBS and “Drew Carey” on ABC.
It’s unusual to start a night with a freshman show, but Tony Danza’s name could bring in viewers, at least initially. After Danza, NBC will launch a new Warner Bros. ethnic comedy called “Built to Last,” and following “3rd Rock” will be new NBC Studios ensemble sitcom “Working,” which stars Fred Savage. “Law & Order” will remain at 10 p.m.
Although the “Seinfeld” salary saga was a nail-biter, the hit sitcom will return for at least another season, letting NBC retain its powerful Thursday platform for launching new shows. Between “Friends” at 8 p.m. and “Seinfeld” at 9 p.m., the web will launch the NBC Studios sitcom “Union Square.” At 9:30 p.m., leading into “ER,” is the Warner Bros. Kirstie Alley comedy from the creators of “Friends.”
Fridays and Saturdays won’t change much, with the exception of two new drama additions. Disappearing from the Friday lineup is the long-running reality show “Unsolved Mysteries.” Universal’s new Dick Wolf cop drama with Ice-T, “Players,” is expected to lead off the night in its place, followed by “Dateline,” although there’s some speculation those two shows may flip timeslots. “Homicide” will stay at 10 p.m.
Sticking with strategy
NBC is sticking with its triple drama strategy on Saturdays, with “Pretender” moving to 8 p.m. and “Sleepwalkers,” from Columbia and NBC Studios at 9 p.m. “Profiler” will stay at 10 p.m., and “Dark Skies” won’t be back.
Raising the most eyebrows, perhaps, is NBC’s new Sunday lineup. While “Dateline” will stay at 7 p.m., the web is expected to run sophomore sitcom “Men Behaving Badly” at 8 p.m. Paramount’s new “Jenny McCarthy” comedy, which had been shooting for a Tuesday or Thursday berth, will air at 8:30 p.m. Sundays instead, followed by a movie.
An odd choice
“Men Behaving Badly” is an odd choice for an early Sunday evening slot because it was designed as a 9:30 show, and it’s new home might be perceived as politically smug at a time when lawmakers are calling for a return to the family hour. Some also question the show’s compatibility with the McCarthy project and its lead status, given struggles and anticipated cast changes.
One of the more interesting features of the new schedule is that NBC has an ownership stake in half of the new shows on its schedule: The Tony Danza sitcom, “Union Square,” “Sleepwalkers” and “Working.” Industry watchers say NBC has become more aggressive in demanding a stake in its shows because it is not partnered with a studio like Fox and ABC-Disney. With ownership, NBC can reap the benefits of backend syndication profits on shows that become hits.
No backups announced
NBC won’t be announcing any backup shows but sources say possible contenders include Warner Bros.’ “You Send Me” sitcom from Yvette Lee Bowser, and “House Rules” from Columbia and NBC Studios. NBC’s “Welcome Home, Mr. Evans” sitcom may be redeveloped. Sources also say ABC may try to make a play for the Par sitcom “Lateline,” which NBC declined to order.
The WB network will announce its schedule Tuesday, ABC on May 19, Fox and UPN May 20 and CBS May 22.