This article was updated at 3:35 p.m.
For the second year in a row, NBC is attempting to climb out of fourth place on the back of new dramas, turning its back on the Thursday night four-comedy block it had just reinstated.
The Peacock kicked off upfront week Monday by unveiling what it calls its “9 p.m. tentpole strategy,” launching shows there Monday through Thursday and targeting marketing dollars to the timeslot.
“This schedule is very focused,” NBC Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly told reporters Monday at a press conference. “We don’t want to bite off more than we can chew.”
The new shows debuting at 9 p.m. include “Heroes” on Monday, “Kidnapped” on Tuesday, the John Lithgow laffer “20 Good Years” and the Tina Fey starrer “30 Rock” on Wednesday.
Aaron Sorkin’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” a show Reilly described as a “light, sexy soap” that could have some of the comedic appeal of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” will anchor NBC’s Thursday night. Leading into “Studio” will be returning laffers “My Name Is Earl” and “The Office,” airing from 8-9. “Earl” reps the only scripted skein from last season to make it back for a soph sesh.
Like last year, NBC will enter the fall with just four comedies — a far cry from the Peacock’s once-dominant laffer edge.
“You have to shelter comedy to grow it,” Reilly said. “We don’t have many opportunities to do that. We need to bulk up (via hourlongs).”
Net also will reduce its reliance on “Deal or No Deal,” skedding the gameshow Monday and Friday at 8 p.m. And newsmag “Dateline NBC” has been relegated to a lone hour on Saturday night.
Reilly didn’t rule out the possibility of eventually moving “Studio 60” and returning to the four-sitcom tradition. But for now, “Studio 60” reps the first 9 p.m. drama on NBC’s Thursday sked since 1976’s “Quincy, M.E.”
“We had comedies that we liked, but to be honest with you it’s a challenged genre,” Reilly said. “The No. 1 thing to do was, let’s make this exciting, the best night we’ve got. … ‘Studio 60’ blew us away.”
Thursday is the most desirable night for advertisers, and NBC is attempting to address ratings erosion for “ER” by pulling the hospital drama off midyear, rather than airing repeats. The season will start with 13 “ER” originals followed by 13 episodes of Paul Haggis’ “The Black Donnellys,” and then back to a second batch of “ER” segs.
John Rash, director of broadcast negotiations at buying firm Campbell Mithun, said he wasn’t surprised by the Peacock’s Thursday comedy retreat.
“The diminution of comedies in favor of dramas is reflective of overall audience trends,” Rash said. “Dramas are hooking viewers the way comedies used to.”
Peacock will leave several of its new and returning skeins on the bench for midseason — including vets “Crossing Jordan” and “Scrubs,” as well as new comedies “Andy Barker, P.I.” and “The Singles Table.”
The net also is holding “The Apprentice” until the end of the NFL season. Moving forward, Reilly said “The Apprentice” will air only once a year on the net.
Also airing on Sunday after the NFL season will be “Idol” impresario Simon Cowell’s “America’s Got Talent,” hosted by Regis Philbin, and police drama “Raines,” starring Jeff Goldblum. “Talent” debuts this summer; Peacock is betting the competish will do well enough to merit a second cycle.
On Tuesday NBC debuts high school football skein “Friday Night Lights” at 8, followed by Sony’s “Kidnapped” at 9. “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” will continue to anchor at 10. It’s the first time NBC has gone into fall with no comedies on Tuesday in 14 years.
Peacock has instead moved its Tuesday hour of laffers to Wednesday, where it will launch newbies “20 Years” and “30 Rock.” NBC hopes to repeat the success it had last year in launching “Earl” behind “The Biggest Loser” as it relocates that reality skein to Wednesdays at 8.
After last year’s brief flirtation with moving “Law & Order” back an hour, the mothership remains at 10. Reilly said creator-exec producer Dick Wolf would be making several changes to the show, including new cast members who will be announced shortly.
Meanwhile, Reilly confirmed that “Fear Factor” has been canceled. Also gone are “Conviction,” “Teachers,” “Heist,” “Four Kings,” “Joey,” “Surface,” “The Book of Daniel,” “The E-Ring,” “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart,” “Inconceivable,” “Three Wishes” and retirees “The West Wing” and “Will & Grace.”
NBC has long presented its schedule first — a holdover from the “Must See TV” years. But announcing its fall sked before everyone else now puts the Peacock at a bit of a disadvantage, as it may have to react to scheduling moves by the other, stronger nets.
Even more so this year, Reilly said the schedule is a work in progress and changes are likely.
As buzz grows that ABC might move its hit “Grey’s Anatomy” to Monday night, Reilly may want to move “Heroes” out of the way.
“You have to anticipate some moves on Monday,” Reilly said. “Obviously ‘Grey’s’ is one of the tougher challenges wherever it ends up. It’s very hot.”
Media buyers generally called this year’s sked an improvement over last fall for NBC.
“Compared with development from last year, it’s so much better,” said Shari Ann Brill, VP of programming at media firm Carat Americas. Nevertheless, “I question their scheduling decisions.”
Brill believes NBC is missing an opportunity to create a four-comedy block by adding “Scrubs” and “30 Rock” to Thursday. Brill also believes Tuesday’s “Friday Night Lights” will have to move out of the way once “American Idol” starts again and football ends, diminishing interest in a pigskin-themed serial.
Also Monday, NBC took the wraps off its “TV 360” digital plan, announcing a wide-ranging roster of interactive and Web components that will be launched in conjunction with its fall fare. That includes full comedy sketches that are seen only in part on “30 Rock”; Webisodes of “The Office”; an online “Deal or No Deal” competish; an online comicbook in conjunction with “Heroes”; and a weekly “Friday Night Lights” Webisode.
NBC also will launch the broadband comedy channel DotComedy.com, which will include episodes of classic skeins like “Leave It to Beaver,” “The Munsters” and “Late Night With David Letterman,” as well as clips from “Saturday Night Live” and other shows.
Peacock will release a new Flash-based media player for viewing the NBC Universal properties.
NBC also announced several initiatives with its new iVillage arm, including partnerships with “Today” and “Access Hollywood.” The iVillage acquisition, announced in March, officially closed in the middle of NBC’s scheduling press conference. NBC U TV CEO Jeff Zucker raced out of the room to welcome the staff of the dot-com to the company.
(Michael Schneider in Hollywood contributed to this report.)
New shows in caps (except for ER)
8-9 p.m. “Deal or No Deal”
9-10 p.m. “HEROES”
10-11 p.m. “Me-dium”
8-9 p.m. “FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS”
9-10 p.m. “KIDNAPPED”
10-11 p.m. “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”
8-9 p.m. “The Biggest Loser”
9-9:30 p.m. “20 GOOD YEARS”
9:30-10 p.m. “30 ROCK”
10-11 p.m. “Law & Order”
8-8:30 p.m. “My Name Is Earl” (new time)
8:30-9 p.m. “The Office” (new time)
9-10 p.m. “STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP”
10-11 p.m. “ER”/(“THE BLACK DONNELLYS” in January 2007)
8-9 p.m. “Deal or No Deal”
9-10 p.m. “Las Vegas”
10-11 p.m. “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (new day and time)
8-9 p.m. “Dateline Saturday”
9-11 p.m. Drama Series Encores
7-8 p.m. “FOOTBALL NIGHT IN AMERICA”
8-11 p.m. “SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL”
Post NFL on Sundays:
“America’s Got Talent” (8-9 p.m.) NEW REALITY
“The Apprentice” (9-10 p.m.) RETURN-ING
“Raines” (10-11 p.m.) NEW DRAMA
“The Singles Table”
“Andy Barker, P.I.”