NBC rush to renew

Peacock calls for more 'Scrubs,' 'Law' spinoff

NBC’s fall 2002 primetime sked is already falling into place: The network has given unusually early second-season renewal orders to frosh skeins “Scrubs,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and “Crossing Jordan.”

Peacock programmers also revealed their post-Olympics midseason plans Wednesday, scheduling the much-anticipated Julia Louis-Dreyfus laffer “Watching Ellie” for Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. rather than the cushier — but more high-profile — 8:30 p.m. Thursday slot. The latter time period will instead be filled by “Leap of Faith,” a half-hour from former “Sex and the City” scribe Jenny Bicks. A new comedy/variety skein from “Saturday Night Live” alum Colin Quinn also will bow this spring (Daily Variety, Dec. 13.)

Slew of announcements came at NBC’s portion of the semiannual Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena, where execs pointed to the pickups as evidence of the network’s core schedule strength. Of its seven fall 2001 freshmen — including reality-skein “Lost” — three will return, three have been axed, and the fate of one (“UC: Undercover”) is technically still up in the air.

“It’s safe to say no other network will renew more first-year shows (than) we’re doing today,” NBC Entertainment prexy Jeff Zucker predicted.

Not in a family way

One thing that probably won’t be on NBC’s schedule next fall is a family laffer. While NBC West Coast topper Scott Sassa tried to go family-friendly when he first got to the Peacock, he’s not as high on the idea these days.

“We don’t see them as the kinds of shows that are really in our wheelhouse,” Sassa said, noting that the network has either done a poor job producing family-themed laffers or Peacock viewers simply have not accepted them. He also said recent family-themed hits such as “Bernie Mac” and “According to Jim” don’t reach the upscale viewers NBC targets and thus wouldn’t be attractive.

Zucker said that while the net remains focused on “smart, upscale, urban comedies,” he wouldn’t rule out a family laffer in the future. “We should obviously continue to keep trying to develop those kinds of comedies and make them good.”

As for current development, Zucker said he’s been getting positive responses to his attempts to tweak the development process by asking scribes to turn in a second script for every pilot ordered and to create low-cost drama programming.

“We have been inundated with companies … and studios in this town that want to be in that (low-cost) business with us,” he said. “We have big priorities, and that is one of them.”

Zucker said NBC has no choice but to change: “If we don’t think differently, and (if) we don’t think we can think differently, then we are bound to fail.”

Daly news

Elsewhere, Sassa said he was happy that Carson Daly has signed a contract to host his new NBC late-latenight skein, “Last Call,” after originally balking. While a disagreement over NBC’s ability to repeat “Last Call” on a cable channel was part of the holdup, industry insiders said Daly’s camp wanted as much leverage as possible in working out final deal points.

Sassa said NBC erred by allowing Daly to tape test shows last month without a deal. “It won’t happen again,” he said.

NBC will begin its post-Olympics midseason rollout Feb. 26 with “Watching Ellie,” while “Leap of Faith” bows Feb. 28. There’s no airdate yet for Quinn’s show. “Ellie” and “Leap” are both from NBC Studios.

In other NBC press tour news:

  • Daytime sudser “Passions” has been renewed for a fourth season.

  • “Law & Order” exec producer Dick Wolf said he was pleased but not surprised by the “CI” renewal. He intends to stockpile some second-season episodes this spring so the cast and crew can take off in July and August.

    NBC also said Wolf’s latest skein, a reality-based hour called “Trial & Error,” will air this summer.

  • Matt Damon and Rosie O’Donnell will guest on “Will & Grace” next month.

  • NBC’s previously announced 75th-anni spec will air May 5. Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld, Kelsey Grammer and Tom Brokaw have been set as hosts; more will be named later.

  • Zucker said getting “Friends” back for another season was his top priority.

  • As part of its new relationship with Spanish-lingo web Telemundo, NBC is developing a laffer for one of Telemundo’s biggest stars.

(Melissa Grego contributed to this report.)

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