Weekend warrior

Peacock determined to add Sunday to its throne

For the past five years, NBC’s competitors have started each new fall season by predicting the Peacock’s imminent ratings demise — only to be disappointed nine months later when the net again finishes on top.

Don’t expect any changes to that pattern this year.

Thanks to a strong bench of returning powerhouses such as “Friends,” “ER,” “Law & Order” and “Frasier” — as well as a newfound strength in the reality arena — most industry insiders believe that NBC is the odds-on favorite to emerge in May as the No. 1 network in the all-important adults 18-49 demographic.

A win among total viewers is also a good bet, though CBS is expected to be a strong challenger in the bragging-rights race.

With a demo victory all but in the bag, NBC Entertainment prexy Jeff Zucker seems focused on how to make that win as big as possible. He believes some extra padding can be found by working on the weekends.

“Last season, we finished No. 1 Monday through Friday,” Zucker says. “This year we need to make more of an inroad on the weekends. It’s our weekend performance that kept us from finishing stronger (last season).”

Since NBC still has a considerable number of feature film titles it needs to burn off, a makeover of Saturday is probably another six months to a year away. As a result, Sunday is without question the biggest priority, Zucker says.

Peacock is reshaping half the night, adding the feel-good drama “American Dreams” at 8 and the “Rashomon”-like cop drama “Boomtown” at 10.

“Boomtown” is already drawing critical buzz, and it shouldn’t be hard for NBC to improve upon the dismal perf of last fall’s “UC: Undercover.” “Dreams” will face a tougher challenge from Fox’s comedies, but the skein’s retro feel might be the kind of fare post-9/11 auds are seeking.

Elsewhere on the sked, NBC should continue to do quite well with its Wednesday drama lineup, while Thursdays should get a boost from what’s being billed as the final season of “Friends.” Zucker also hopes putting the critically loved laffer “Scrubs” at 8:30 will finally end the slot’s rep for what he calls “walk the dog” shows.

“No show is ever going to maintain the ‘Friends’ audience, but we’ve done a disservice to ourselves by putting some clunkers there,” Zucker says. By moving “Scrubs” into the slot, “we’ve put in a successful show and a good one.”

Other slots likely to challenge NBC programmers include 10 p.m. Mondays, where frosh success story “Crossing Jordan” must now face the Eye’s “CSI: Miami.” Also, “Providence,” which is beginning its fourth season, has been showing its age at 8 p.m. Fridays.

Most vexing, however, could be Tuesdays, which kick off with the untested “In-Laws” at 8.

“We haven’t been able to open up Tuesdays (at 8) since God invented it,” Zucker quips. “We’re sensitive to the fact that it’s going to be an uphill battle.”

Thankfully for Zucker, the rest of the season shouldn’t be nearly as tough.

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