NBC execs believe that momentum is finally on their side.

Coming off another difficult year, which ended with the Peacock’s second consecutive fourth-place finish, but with several high-profile new shows and the addition of “Sunday Night Football,” NBC entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly calls his lineup “potent” and says he’s sure the network will see a Nielsen bump this fall.

“I’m not going to make any hard predictions about what our ratings will be or what our ranking will be next season,” Reilly says, “but I will commit to this: Our ratings will definitely be better. We will not be mired in fourth, week after week. We are going to be a challenger in many time periods, and, most importantly, I believe we have new series that will emerge as amongst the best on television.”

Reilly is bullish on new dramas including the Aaron Sorkin entry “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” Peter Berg’s “Friday Night Lights” and Tim Kring’s “Heroes” as well as the Tina Fey laffer “30 Rock.”

“All of the shows represent the personal points of view and vision of their creators,” Reilly says. “These are the kind of shows that audiences get passionate about. Whether or not they find broad audiences, I believe that quality pays dividends.”

Of course, the network still faces an uphill battle. Once a comedy powerhouse, the Peacock enters the fall again with just four laffers. Franchises such as “Law & Order” and “The Apprentice” continue to fade. And the network doesn’t have a returning cult fave in the vein of ABC’s “Lost” or “Desperate Housewives.”

But it does have a not-so-secret weapon: the surprise reality hit “Deal or No Deal,” which will return to NBC in September for a full week of episodes before settling into its weekly Monday and Thursday timeslots. Peacock execs took care — and plenty of patience — to rest “Deal” over the summer (having learned a lesson from ABC’s quick “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” burn) and believe they’ve built up anticipation for the show’s return.

NEW SHOWS

HEROES
When: 9, Mondays
The plot: Ordinary people discover they possess extraordinary powers.
Exec producers: Tim Kring, Dennis Hammer, Allan Arkush, David Semel
What works: Original concept and diverse cast makes it look like nothing else on TV.
What doesn’t: Pilot is darker than expected, which could turn some viewers off.
Bottom line: Could very well hit the sweet spot among young males; question is whether other viewers will join in.

STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP
When: 10, Mondays
The plot: Behind-the-scenes goings-on at a “Saturday Night Live”-style sketch show.
Exec producers: Aaron Sorkin, Thomas Schlamme
What works: Matthew Perry commands the screen once his character is introduced halfway through the pilot; his interactions with Bradley Whitford make the show.
What doesn’t: TV industry talk may be too inside for most viewers.
Bottom line: “Studio 60″ will open big, but will have to get past viewers’ general disinterest in TV shows about TV.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
When: 8, Tuesdays
The plot: Based on the movie about high school football in small-town Texas.
Exec producers: Peter Berg, Jason Katims, Brian Grazer, David Nevins, Sarah Aubrey
What works: One of the best-looking pilots of the year, with sharp cinematography, strong editing and a feature-quality feel.
What doesn’t: With so many edits and a large cast, viewers may have a hard time keeping up at first.
Bottom line: TV shows based on features rarely work, but this one has a better shot than most.

20 GOOD YEARS
When: 8, Wednesdays
The plot: Mismatched buddies realize they need to seize life before it’s too late.
Exec producers: Marsh McCall, Tom Werner, Eric Gold, Jimmy Miller
What works: It’s a good concept, and nice to see Jeffrey Tambor back in primetime so soon after “Arrested Development.”
What doesn’t: John Lithgow’s over-the-top shtick is getting stale.
Bottom line: “20 Good Years” may have a difficult time riding out one.

30 ROCK
When: 8:30, Wednesdays
The plot: Behind-the-scenes goings-on at a “Saturday Night Live”-style sketch show.
Exec producers: Lorne Michaels, Tina Fey, JoAnn Alfano, Marci Klein, David Miner
What works: Alec Baldwin steals every scene he’s in, and the show overall manages to be clever without taking itself too seriously.
What doesn’t: Pilot spends too much time taking Fey away from the action; like “Studio 60,” may suffer from viewer disinterest in TV shows about TV.
Bottom line: “Rock” doesn’t quite rock, but it’s still one of this year’s better new comedy offerings.

KIDNAPPED
When: 10, Wednesdays
The plot: The kidnapping of a wealthy family’s teenage son is shrouded in mystery.
Exec producers: Jason Smilovic, David Greenwalt, Michael Dinner, Sarah Timberman, Carl Beverly
What works: Stellar cast, which includes Delroy Lindo, Timothy Hutton, Dana Delaney, Jeremy Sisto and Mykelti Williamson.
What doesn’t: “Kidnapped” is so loaded with story, it may be difficult to join the show midway through.
Bottom line: Show starts strong, but a serialized thriller with a complicated backstory? Get in line.

RETURNING SHOWS

THE BIGGEST LOSER
Premiere: Sept. 20 (season 3)
Timeslot: 8, Wednesdays for the first two weeks, then 9, Wednesdays (new)
Cast changes: Kim Lyons is the new red team trainer.
Storyline: This season, there are 50 contestants, one from every state in the country. Fourteen will train at the ranch with Bob and Kim, the rest will train at home.

CROSSING JORDAN
Premiere: Oct. 20 (season 6)
Timeslot: 8, Fridays (new)
Cast changes: Brooke Smith and Jeffrey Donovan join the cast.
Storyline: Trouble is in store for Jordan and her colleagues when a special prosecutor is appointed to investigate the morgue, and a prickly M.E. and a rogue cop are added to the cast.

DEAL OR NO DEAL
Premiere: Sept. 18 (season 2)
Timeslot: 8, Mondays and 9, Thursdays (new)
Cast changes: None.
Storyline: Gameshow where contestants must battle between logic and greed, in hopes of becoming a millionaire.

ER
Premiere: Sept. 21 (season 13)
Timeslot: 10, Thursdays
Cast changes: John Stamos joins the cast; Forest Whitaker, John Mahoney, Sally Field and Paula Malcomson have guest story arcs.
Storyline: The ER staff copes with the aftermath of last season’s shoot-out. Sam’s ex and his cohorts make their way to Canada with Sam and her son as hostages.

LAS VEGAS
Premiere: Oct. 20 (season 4)
Timeslot: 9, Fridays
Cast changes: None.
Storyline: Delinda, still caught in a love triangle, makes a life-changing decision.

LAW & ORDER
Premiere: Sept. 22 (season 17)
Timeslot: 10, Fridays (new)
Cast changes: Milena Govich and Alana De La Garza join the cast. Dennis Farina and Annie Parisse are exiting.
Storyline: When a cop is murdered in a failed burglary attempt, Green and his new partner, Det. Cassady, are led to a “stalkerazzi” photographer hot on the trail of a tabloid sensation and her estranged husband. McCoy and new A.D.A. Rubirosa find themselves in the media spotlight as they argue the use of the Shield Law to protect celebrity journalism.

LAW & ORDER: CI
Premiere: Sept. 19 (season 6)
Timeslot: 9, Tuesdays (new)
Cast changes: Julianne Nicholson and Eric Bogosian join the cast. Nona Gaye exited the series and will be replaced by Theresa Randle.
Storyline: A new captain takes over. Logan gets a new partner.

LAW & ORDER: SVU
Premiere: Sept. 19 (season 8)
Timeslot: 10, Tuesdays
Cast changes: Connie Nielsen guests for six episodes while Mariska Hargitay is on maternity leave.
Storyline: Stabler finds himself partnered with Det. Dane Beck, a warrants officer.

MY NAME IS EARL
Premiere: Sept. 21 (season 2)
Timeslot: 8, Thursdays
Cast changes: None.
Storyline: Randy enters the world of dating, Catalina considers a career change, and Crab Man has to deal with his past when the fact that he is in the witness protection program is revealed.

THE OFFICE
Premiere: Sept. 21 (season 3)
Timeslot: 8:30, Thursdays (new)
Cast changes: None
Storyline: Did Pam get married or dump her fiance for Jim? More painfully funny and awkward intraoffice interactions at the paper-supply company.

– returning show capsules compiled by Paula Hendrickson

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