Must C-TV: NBC relies on comedy

NEW YORK — NBC has officially unveiled an “aggressive” new fall schedule that drops its Monday movie, moves hit “3rd Rock From the Sun” to anchor Wednesday’s sitcom lineup and adds a fourth primetime news hour.

Advertisers attending the 2-1/2-hour presentation Monday at Lincoln Center — marred only by a brief power outage — were skeptical about a few moves, particularly ones on Wednesday and Sunday, but few doubt the Peacock web will once again win the season next year.

Still, NBC is gambling with six new comedies, two new dramas and seven returning first-year series, which NBC Entertainment prexy Warren Littlefield acknowledged was an “unusually high number of freshmen.” Five of the eight new series are owned or partly-owned by NBC.

But perhaps the most important scheduling move was the return of “Seinfeld” following intense negotiations, for which Littlefield said he was “very, very relieved.” (As an aside, he said his 12-year-old son told him he could now go to school without being beaten up.)

Put to the test

Of the 18 sitcoms on the schedule — up from 16 this season — buyers believe only five are standalone hits, not dependent on time periods to ensure success. More sitcoms than ever, including a new foursome on Monday nights, will face their first true tests in unprotected territory.

“There are a large number of scavenger shows,” said media buyer Paul Schulman, president of the Paul Schulman Co. “The question is how many can survive on their own.”

While some interpret parts of the new sked as risky, the bolder moves prove NBC is “continuing our aggressive strategy,” West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer said.

“We have seen what has happened to the No. 1 network when they’ve played it safe, and we have been that network,” Littlefield said. Taking an apparent swipe at the new program chiefs at rivals Fox and ABC, he boasted that the “stability, maturity and experience” of NBC’s “veteran organization” would help it “manage success.”

Monday movies nixed

A key component of the new lineup is the cancellation of “NBC Monday Night at the Movies” (Daily Variety, May 12), a longtime franchise that has enabled the network to reach younger women with miniseries and made-fors opposite ABC’s “Monday Night Football.”

In place of the movie, NBC will add two additional sitcoms to the night, followed by another installment of successful newsmag “Dateline NBC,” which also appears Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.

The now two-hour female sitcom block, which some are dubbing “Must-She TV,” may help NBC’s demos on the night, giving it an ad-revenue advantage over CBS. The lineup includes “Suddenly Susan,” “Fired Up,” “Caroline in the City” and “The Naked Truth.”

“CBS has owned Monday with female comedies,” said Bob Igiel, exec VP at Young & Rubicam. “Now (NBC) is targeting a narrower slice of that segment, and that can be very profitable.”

The new schedule also features the risky strategy of launching three new sitcoms on Wednesday, where the web wound up in third place this season with a tepid lineup for its newest comedy block. This time around, family sitcoms “The Tony Danza Show” and “Built to Last,” along with “Working” — an ensemble sitcom starring Fred Savage — will be supported by “3rd Rock,” an instant midyear hit last season which is moving from Sunday.

In its place Sunday, the struggling “Men Behaving Badly” will air at 8 p.m., following “Dateline” at 7 p.m. and leading into “Jenny” at 8:30 p.m., a new sitcom starring former MTV hostess Jenny McCarthy as a small-town girl in Hollywood.

Other new shows are “Union Square,” a “Friends”-like sitcom set in a New York diner, and “Veronica’s Closet,” with Kirstie Alley as a lingerie mogul, getting the top berths at 8:30 and 9:30 Thursday, respectively; “Players,” a Dick Wolf police drama in place of “Unsolved Mysteries” at 8 p.m. Friday; and “Sleepwalkers,” filling out the Saturday drama “thrillogy.”

Promising pilots

Based on pilot clips, ad buyers said “Veronica” and “Working” showed the most promise.

The complete lineup is as follows:

Monday: 8 p.m., “Suddenly Susan”; 8:30, “Fired Up”; 9, “Caroline in the City”; 9:30, “The Naked Truth”; 10, “Dateline NBC”.

Tuesday: 8, “Mad About You”; 8:30, “NewsRadio”; 9, “Frasier”; 9:30,

“Just Shoot Me”; 10, “Dateline NBC”.

Wednesday: 8, “The Tony Danza Show” (NBC Studios/TriStar Television); 8:30, “Built to Last” (Warner Bros.); 9, “3rd Rock From the Sun”; 9:30, “Working” (NBC Studios); 10, “Law & Order.”

Thursday: 8, “Friends”; 8:30, “Union Square” (NBC Studios); 9, “Seinfeld”; 9:30, “Veronica’s Closet” (Warner Bros.); 10, “ER.”

Friday: 8, “Players” (Universal/NBC Studios); 9, “Dateline NBC”; 10, “Homicide: Life on the Street.”

Saturday: 8, “The Pretender”; 9,

“Sleepwalkers” (Sony/NBC Studios); 10, “Profiler.”

Sunday: 7, “Dateline NBC”; 8, “Men Behaving Badly”; 8:30, “Jenny” (Paramount); 9, “NBC Sunday Night at the Movies.”

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