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Laugh track muted on NBC’s fall slate

Net to sked no more than 6 laffers; Tuesday may see reality lineup

With two of its most expensive series off the air, NBC is investing in a whole bunch of potential new “Friends.”

As it begins life in the post- “Friends” and “Frasier” era, the Peacock has given series orders to no fewer than a dozen new series for the 2004-05 season. Where and when all of the shows will premiere remained somewhat hazy Sunday afternoon, in part because NBC is expected to make a big deal out of its desire to unveil original programming year-round.

What does seem likely, however, is that NBC will start off next season with no more than six scripted comedies on its schedule — the smallest fall laffer tally for the Peacock in at least two decades. Unscripted fare will also take on new importance if, as expected, NBC decides to forgo a four-comedy Tuesday lineup and instead schedule reality fare — think “Average Joe,” “Plain Jane,” “The Good Life,” “The Contender” — on the night.

NBC will also stress the importance of event programming by highlighting “Revelations,” an eight-episode limited series that could serve as a sweeps tentpole.

Peacock appears ready to write off its entire 2003-04 comedy development, however, with not a single laffer from this season making it to a sophomore year. “Las Vegas” is the only drama expected to be back for a second year; reality smash “The Apprentice” and the “Average Joe”/ “Average Jane” franchise will also return.

Changes are expected on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights; Saturday and Sunday should stay the same; and the only question on Friday is whether NBC will immediately launch a new drama or stay with a two-hour “Dateline” and “Third Watch.”

As expected, comedies snagging greenlights include “Joey,” “The Office,” “Men’s Room” and “Crazy For You.” On the drama tip, Peacock has approved “Hawaii,” “LAX” (formerly “Hub”) and “Medical Investigations” (formerly “The Cure”).

Calling on ‘Medium’

In addition to “Revelations,” NBC has ordered an eight-episode run of supernatural-tinged “Medium,” with five backup scripts ordered as well. And “Law & Order: Trial by Jury” is set to join the sked next year.

New unscripted contenders include the previously announced boxing skein “The Contender” and “The High Life,” featuring Kathy Hilton and a cast of wannabe social divas (Daily Variety, April 27).

Not picked up — but still in contention for midseason — are the laffers “My 11:30” and “Nevermind Nirvana.” Both shows will be retooled and resubmitted for consideration.

Scheduling-wise, industry insiders expect NBC to keep “Fear Factor” at 8 p.m. Monday, followed by “Las Vegas” and “Hawaii.”

On Tuesdays, an hour of reality is likely at 8 or 9 p.m., with “L & O: SVU” staying at 10.

If reality airs at 9, “Scrubs” and “Father of the Pride” seem natural for the 8-9 hour. Night could also kick off with reality, with “Scrubs” and “Crazy For You” airing from 9-10.

Most believe NBC will continue with “The West Wing” and “L&O” Wednesdays from 9 to 11. That leaves “LAX” as a strong contender for the 8 o’clock slot — though “Father of the Pride” and “Men’s Room” or “Crazy” could work from there as well.

NBCU TV topper Jeff Zucker has been saying for weeks that Thursday will kick off with “Joey,” followed by “Will & Grace,” “The Apprentice” and “ER.”

On Fridays, NBC might slot “Medical Investigations” at 9 in between “Dateline” and “Third Watch.” A two-hour “Dateline” could also push a drama launch back to later in the year.

If the Peacock decides to try a six-comedy sked with three hours per week of reality, either “Hawaii,” “LAX” or “Medical Investigations” will have to wait until midseason. Conversely, if the net wants to put on all three new dramas in fall, two comedies would have to benched.

This assumes, of course, that NBC will continue to air repeats and movies on Saturdays and keep Sunday the same, with “Dateline,” “American Dreams,” “Law & Order: CI” and “Crossing Jordan.”

Goodbye ‘Coupling,’ ‘Ed’

Canceled skeins include “Boomtown,” “Coupling,” “Ed,” “Frasier,” “Friends,” “Good Morning Miami,” “Happy Family,” “The Lyon’s Den,” “Miss Match,” “The Tracy Morgan Show” and “Whoopi.”

As for what’s new:

  • “Joey” stars Matt LeBlanc as his dimwitted “Friends” character, who moves to Los Angeles to pursue his acting career.

    Warner Bros. TV laffer comes from exec producers Scott Silveri, Shana Goldberg-Meehan and Kevin Bright, who also directed the pilot.

  • Production has been under way for some time on the first 13 episodes of “Father of the Pride,” the most ambitious primetime CGI-animated series to date. John Goodman, Cheryl Hines, Carl Reiner and Orlando Jones are some of the voices behind the show, which revolves around the lives of the white lions from the Siegfried & Roy show in Las Vegas. Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jonathan Groff, Peter Mehlman and Jon Pollack executive produce the DreamWorks TV skein.

  • “Crazy for You” stars Josh Cooke and Jennifer Finnigan as two eccentric New Yorkers who fall for one another; Deann Heline and Eileen Heisler exec produce. Laffer, from NBC Studios, also stars Darius McCrary and Tom Poston.

  • Testosterlaffer “Men’s Room,” from exec producer Danny Zuker, revolves around a multi-generational group of guys and their lives. NBC Studios comedy stars John Cho, Scott Cohen, Eric Lively, Shelly Cole, Suzanne Cryer and Maitland Ward.

  • “The Office” — subtitled “An American Workplace,” to distinguish this version from the Golden Globe-winning BBC original — follows the inner workings of a typical, dysfunctional workplace. Steve Carrell stars in this version, which comes from exec producers Greg Daniels, Ben Silverman, Howard Klein and original creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Universal, Reveille and 3 Arts produce the skein, which has been given a six-episode order.

  • “LAX” revolves around doings at the Los Angeles International Airport; Heather Locklear stars. Mark Gordon and Nick Thiel exec produce the NBC Studios drama.

  • Jeff Eastin exec produces “Hawaii,” a cop drama set in the tropical state. NBC Studios produces; stars include Ivan Sergei, Sharif Atkins, Eric Balfour and Michael Biehn.

  • Briefly known as “The Cure,” the newly retitled “Medical Investigations” stars Neal McDonough as a man who solves medical mysteries. NBC Studios and Paramount produce the show, which comes from exec producers Jason Horwitch, Bob Cooper, Scott Vila and Michelle Ashford.

  • “Revelations,” from Pariah and exec producers David Seltzer and Gavin Polone, is an end-of-days thriller.

  • Medium,” from Paramount and Kelsey Grammer’s Grammnet, stars Patricia Arquette as a housewife who’s also psychic. Glenn Gordon Caron, Grammer and Steve Stark exec produce.

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