NEW YORK — With the eventual demise of “Seinfeld” still fresh, NBC execs are mulling short-term scheduling moves to take advantage of its powerful lead-in.
The idea is to use the sitcom’s remaining 12 original episodes to build another Thursday hit, by moving an emerging series there and aggressively promoting other contenders.
It’s still early in the process, and NBC’s top scheduling and programming execs are on hiatus this week.
But already vulnerable to being knocked from its throne, the heat is even more intense on NBC’s vaunted promotion department to make modest performers into must-see material.
“Will our job be harder without a 35-share show as a lead-in? Uh-huh,” said Vince Manze, senior VP of advertising and promotion. “But we have time, we have good shows, and ‘Seinfeld’ wasn’t a hit until it was on Thursday (following powerhouse ‘Cheers’),” he said.
Still, “The pressure is really on for some lightning this year,” Manze added. “It’s more important to make whatever we have a hit.”
Manze said NBC hasn’t decided how quickly to begin promoting remaining “Seinfeld” installments as “final episodes,” and he wouldn’t comment on proposed changes.
But others say the biggest casualty is likely to be NBC-owned “Union Square,” which has proved both a critical and ratings disappointment at 8:30 p.m. and is expected to be canceled earlier than planned.
Season to date, “Square” has lost 18% of its “Friends” lead-in and 5 share points, and some Peacock execs expect the sitcom to be gone by February.
Biggest benefit is likely to go to “Just Shoot Me,” the Brillstein-Grey comedy now emerging as a modest hit behind “Frasier” on Tuesdays. The series is being considered for a spring shift to one of the two hammock slots on Thursdays, as is “3rd Rock From the Sun,” which had started strongly on Sundays only to languish this fall with a move to Wednesdays opposite ABC’s “Drew Carey.”
It’s obvious that “Frasier” is the strongest choice to replace “Seinfeld” at 9 p.m.: It’s the only show to build on “Seinfeld’s” lead-in as a former 9:30 p.m. series on Thursdays, as “Seinfeld” was to “Cheers” in 1993. “Frasier” was NBC’s Plan B last May in the event “Seinfeld” hadn’t renewed for the current season.
But a “Frasier” move to Thursday risks upsetting NBC’s carefully nurtured Tuesday, which this season has beaten once-invincible ABC on that night. Web execs also are eyeing a pairing of “Frasier” with the new, as-yet untitled Nathan Lane sitcom — also from Paramount Network Television — on either Tuesdays or Thursdays.
But “NewsRadio” — and even, some believe, “3rd Rock” — have lost early momentum and are seen as increasingly incapable of building into anything that comes close to the “Seinfeld” phenomenon. NBC this week is testing rerun episodes of “NewsRadio” and “Just Shoot Me” on Thursday.
Needless to say, rival network execs were ecstatic over the news of the end of “Seinfeld’s” demise, fulfilling their dream of last spring, when “Seinfeld” was renewed in a nail-biting negotiation that concluded just before its fall schedule announcement in May.
Over at the Alphabet web, “This opens up a whole new realm of possibilities than didn’t exist before,” one exec crowed gleefully. Although Fox is rumored to be discussing a new Thursday night built around “King of the Hill,” it’s ABC that demographically stands to gain most from the certain erosion of NBC’s must-see powerhouse.
“On a household basis, NBC was going to have trouble holding onto first place next season anyway,” said Steve Sternberg, senior partner at BJK&E Media Group. “Now it’s going to be tougher.”
Other media buyers, however, believe the departure of “Seinfeld” alone won’t drop NBC from first to worst.
“I don’t know what the panic is about,” said Bill Croasdale, chairman of media operations at Western Intl. Media. “NBC lost ‘Cosby’ and didn’t crash and burn, and they lost ‘Cheers’ and didn’t crash and burn. I’m not going to put the nails in their coffin until I see what they’re going to put on Thursday night.”