NBC: Must try TV

Peacock sez it'll take calculated risks to woo auds

NBC will try to regain some lost ratings momentum with a fall 2001 development slate that combines traditional elements of the Peacock on-air brand and a healthy dose of risk-taking.

Speaking to advertisers from the Burbank set of “The West Wing” Monday, NBC Entertainment toppers Scott Sassa and Jeff Zucker said the net, which has suffered serious aud erosion this season, will try to get back on track by taking more chances in all genres, including unscripted fare.

“We’re not going to take anything for granted. We can’t do the same thing over and over again and expect to be successful,” Sassa said.

Sassa also said the net was prepared for WGA or SAG strikes, with a trio of “Law & Order” series prepping episodes, “Dateline NBC” and assorted unscripted series. That said, he added, “We really don’t want a strike to happen.”

Comedy, reality

As for development, Peacock plans to be most adventurous in two genres where it hasn’t had much luck in recent years: comedy and reality programming.

Zucker repeated previous proclamations that “comedy is our No. 1 priority,” and said that in addition to developing more “traditional” laffers along the lines of “Friends” and “Frasier,” NBC is trying some more left-field approaches to the form.

“It’s important to take some calculated risks,” he said.

Pilots in that category, according to Zucker, include the midseason real-time comedy starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus; a Bruce Helford/Drew Carey/Sam Simon-led live skein that mixes element of improv and sitcom; a half-hour starring superchef Emeril Lagasse; and the Sisqo/Bob Newhart laffer.

Zucker also singled out the Jenny Bicks-penned comedy “Leap of Faith” as the laffer he’s “most excited about”; he said a half-hour from Judd Pillot and John Peaslee, dubbed “True Love,” is the best script he’s read.

Getting dramatic

On the drama front, Zucker said he’s hyped up about “U.C.,” a crime drama from Shane Salerno (“Armageddon”), Don Winslow and Thomas Carter.

As expected, Zucker confirmed NBC is largely getting out of the Sunday movie business (Daily Variety, Feb. 21) in favor of a two-hour block of dramas from 9-11 p.m.

Net will still do a handful of event projects every season, including a five-hour “Law & Order” miniseries called “Terror.” Project, which will focus on a terrorist attack on Gotham, will start with a two-hour movie on Sunday and then air hourlong installments over three nights in May 2002.

“It will cover an awful lot of very, very scary bases,” said “L&O” exec producer Dick Wolf.

Sat., Mon., Tue.

Zucker also repeated the oft-heard NBC desire to open up Saturday nights to new forms of programming, whatever the fate of the XFL next season. For the fall, at least, NBC will stick to theatricals.

Monday nights and Tuesday 8-9 p.m. are also priorities for NBC, exec said.

As for unscripted fare, Zucker is hopeful that Brit import “The Weakest Link,” bowing April 16, will become NBC’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” albeit with younger demos. Sassa said he and Zucker will resist the temptation to air the quizzer four nights a week if it becomes a hit.

“We agreed to shoot one another if we run it more than two times a week,” Sassa said.

Specials

Zucker said new alternative/longform topper Jeff Gaspin will try to breathe new life into the nonfiction form. Still, “We’re not going to do reality just to do reality,” he said.

One possibility may be a behind-the-movie hour that could precede or follow NBC theatricals.

Specs in the works at NBC include a two-hour primetime spec marking 50 years of NBC latenight skeins and a three-hour spec feting the net’s 75th anniversary as a broadcaster, dating back to the radio era.

Peacock will also expand its Golden Globes kudocast to four hours, adding a pre-show arrivals spec.

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