Peacock goes long

Only five of 12 new series to bow in fall

This article was updated at 6:44 p.m.

See lineup

NEW YORK — NBC has cut down on its rerun diet, unveiling a fall schedule Monday that keeps several of its most potent new players on the bench until midseason.

Announcing the sked to advertisers at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, NBC U TV Group topper Jeff Zucker and new Peacock entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly stressed the net’s desire to air mostly originals throughout the year.

That means series that don’t repeat well, such as “The West Wing,” will share their timeslots throughout the year. And the limited-run nature of reality fare like “Average Joe” also will give the net a chance to try out other shows in those time periods.

Hence, Peacock will hold off until the second half of the year to trot out heavily hyped Sylvester Stallone boxing competish “The Contender” as well as apocalypse thriller “Revelations” and the fourth member of the “Law & Order” family, “Trial by Jury.”

By cutting down on repeats and airing extended seasons of reality hits such as “The Apprentice” (which will clock in at a whopping 34 episodes this year), Peacock execs hope to goose the net’s ratings.

“This is tactical. It’s no longer just about the fall season,” Zucker said. “It’s all season.”

But going practically all original all year doesn’t come cheap; that’s why the network has already announced future homes for several of its midseason shows — NBC’s sales force can then go ahead and sell time on them.

“If you don’t announce the shows that are going to air, you can’t monetize it,” Zucker said.

For starters, limited-run entry “Revelations” will share a timeslot with Wednesday night staple “West Wing,” while new reality entry “Contender” will slide into the “Average Joe” slot when that show completes its run.

Also, as of now, NBC promises to restore its four-comedy Thursday night block in mid-April, after “Apprentice” fires its last employee for the year.

NBC execs are also preaching stability, making changes on just five hours out of the net’s 22-hour sked. Also, of returning shows, just one will flip time periods: “Third Watch,” which moves down to 9 (from 10) Friday nights.

Still, with the debuts and timeslot swaps spread out through the week, only Saturday and Sunday return intact.

Peacock will enter fall with just five new shows — “Father of the Pride,” “Joey,” “LAX,” “Hawaii” and “Medical Investigation.” NBC Universal TV Group topper Jeff Zucker said that’s the least number of fall premieres at the net in four years.

For midseason, besides “Revelations,” “Contender” and “L&O: Trial by Jury,” new entries include comedies “Crazy for You,” “The Men’s Room” and “The Office” as well as drama “Medium.”

Meanwhile, as had been rumored, Peacock will launch this season with just four comedies — two of them new, “Father of the Pride” and “Joey.”

NBC execs admitted that the small number of laffers — the least of any network, including UPN and the WB — is a sign of the times.

“Today comedy is in a challenged state,” Reilly said. “That led us to a strategy of ‘Let’s play in other genres that might give us traction in the fall.’ The best way to get comedy on the schedule right now is to keep it off in the short term.”

Meanwhile, as expected (Daily Variety, May 11), NBC screened the entire pilot of “Joey” for the aud of media buyers.

Zucker and company admit they’re in much better shape today than they thought they would be five months ago, prior to the midseason successes of “The Apprentice,” “Average Joe” and “Crossing Jordan.” With those shows in his arsenal, Zucker predicted that NBC would finish next season on top in the 18-49 demo.

“All of the momentum is here,” he said. “No one is finishing the season in such good shape. The wind is at our backs.”

Zucker assured that the loss of “Friends” won’t actually hurt next year, predicting that the net would actually improve its Thursday night performance by the time the 2004-2005 season closes.

“It went great. I feel like we have answered a lot of questions today,” NBC U prexy of sales and marketing Keith Turner said at the post-upfront bash.

Madison Ave. media buyers said the Peacock successfully conveyed great confidence, deftly leveraging their successes.

“It was long, but the presentation was impressive and very good. To their own credit, they don’t have to jigger the sked too much,” one top buyer said.

Here’s NBC’s fall 2004 lineup:

MONDAY: 8 p.m., “Fear Factor”; 9 p.m., “Las Vegas”; 10 p.m., new drama “LAX”

TUESDAY: 8 p.m., “Average Joe” (with “The Contender” in midseason); 9 p.m., new CGI-animated comedy “Father of the Pride”; 9:30 p.m., “Scrubs”; 10 p.m., “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”

WEDNESDAY: 8 p.m., new drama “Hawaii”; 9 p.m., “The West Wing” (with “Revelations” in midseason); 10 p.m., “Law & Order”

THURSDAY: 8 p.m., new comedy “Joey”; 8:30 p.m., “Will & Grace”; 9 p.m., “The Apprentice 2”; 10 p.m., “ER”

FRIDAY: 8 p.m., “Dateline NBC”; 9 p.m., “Third Watch” (new time); 10 p.m., new drama “Medical Investigation”

SATURDAY: 8 p.m., “Apprentice 2” repeats; 9 p.m., “NBC Saturday Night Movie”

SUNDAY: 7 p.m., “Dateline NBC”; 8 p.m., “American Dreams”; 9 p.m., “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”; 10 p.m., “Crossing Jordan”

(Pamela McClintock contributed to this report.)

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