Less than two weeks after lavishly unveiling its fall schedule to advertisers, NBC had a new message for Madison Avenue on Thursday: Never mind.
Prompted by ABC’s game-changing shift of “Grey’s Anatomy” to Thursdays, the Peacock has basically opted to throw out its previously announced 2006-07 grid. Moves started out as an effort to protect the net’s new Aaron Sorkin drama “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” but soon morphed into a radical rethinking of NBC Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly’s overall sked strategy.
Just a week ago, Reilly was touting the wisdom of slotting hot newcomers at 9 p.m. Now, NBC plans to position existing hits there and instead shake up its 10 p.m. anchors on Monday, Wednesday and — come January — Thursday.
What’s more, instead of slotting a potentially critic-friendly Sorkin show on a high-profile night, NBC will now fill the 9 o’clock Thursday slot once home to “Cheers” and “Seinfeld” with the Howie Mandel quizzer-cum-sobfest “Deal or No Deal.”
Plan protects NBC’s frosh skeins from any of Fox’s or ABC’s megahits, but it may also make some affils nervous since it means untested shows will serve as lead-ins to late local newscasts.
“Every one move creates two others,” Reilly told reporters during a hastily assembled conference call. “This was about competitiveness and trying to advantage our new series.”
Having to make wholesale changes to a lineup so soon after an upfront presentation is both embarrassing and unprecedented in the recent annals of network history. One reporter even asked Reilly if the changes risked making NBC appear “desperate.”
“I wouldn’t say that at all,” Reilly responded. “I would hope people would say they’re being practical.”
Indeed — like Fox’s widely panned and problem-plagued upfront presentation last week — it’s unlikely NBC’s sked flip-flop will have much negative impact on the net’s upfront ad haul. Advertisers mostly buy based on shows and sked strength, and in many cases, version 2.0 of the Peacock sked improves upon last week’s beta version.
Brad Adgate, director of research for Horizon Media, said Madison Avenue should be happy NBC made the changes now rather than wait until after the upfront buying season passed.
“One of the big complaints that buyers have with the networks is that you buy shows and the schedule moves around and you have no idea what you’re getting when you negotiate over the summer,” he said.
Even before the “Grey’s Anatomy” shift, NBC had telegraphed its intent to rethink its sked post-upfront. That’s because the net is in the awkward position of announcing its new lineup before its rivals, a tradition that dates back to the era of “Must-See TV” dominance, prior to Peacock uber-boss Jeff Zucker’s arrival at the network’s entertainment division.
Reilly said NBC is mulling the idea of delaying its sked announcement until later in upfront week.
Breathing a sigh of relief after Thursday’s changes were Sorkin and Warner Bros. TV, which is producing “Studio 60.” Rather than facing “CSI” and “Grey’s Anatomy” (both top-five shows), skein will now air Mondays at 10 opposite “CSI: Miami” and the young “What About Brian.”
“Deal or No Deal” and new drama “Heroes” will remain in their previously announced Monday slots.
“Our competitors have left the door open on Monday,” Reilly said. “This is going to be a very, very big night for us.”
Exec also predicted “Studio 60” will steal away female viewers from “CSI: Miami,” saying the crime show “is going to be another year older.”
Move means “Medium” — one of only three non-“Law & Order”-branded drama successes NBC has launched this decade — is being kept off the fall sked. Reilly said skein will move to 10 p.m. Sunday in January, though given the likelihood that one of NBC’s new shows will fail, skein could return much sooner.
Because he’ll have to launch two dramas on Monday, Reilly decided to shift “Kidnapped” off Tuesdays and shore up the night with a double dose of “Law & Order” skeins. “Criminal Intent,” which had been headed for Friday, will air at 9 p.m. Tuesday, leading into “SVU.”
“Kidnapped” will air Wednesdays at 10 p.m., forcing “Law & Order” out of its longtime timeslot and on to the more low-profile 10 p.m. Friday slot. He said CBS’ “Numbers” had been given a “free pass” in that timeslot.
Reilly seemed to indicate that “Law” boss Dick Wolf was initially wary of the shakeup but seems on board. “He has plenty of opinions,” Reilly said of Wolf. “We’re good to go today. … He likes the Tuesday play. He thinks we can win there.”
“Shit happens,” the producer told Daily Variety. “I lost a timeslot. … It would be unseemly to complain.”
That said, Wolf said he “liked the first schedule better” and noted that NBC’s decision proved something he’s said for years: “Producers have no power. They really don’t. We serve at the pleasure of the network. It’s their air.”
“This is a long-term Catholic marriage,” Wolf said. “There’s no divorce. We’re stuck with each other.”
As for Reilly, the head of TV’s fourth-place network also took a shot at Fox, saying he was surprised the adults 18-49 leader didn’t shift “House” to an earlier Tuesday timeslot.
“Maybe they didn’t feel they had the show to put behind it,” Reilly said.
A Fox rep declined to respond to Reilly’s crack.
NBC is taking advantage of the 8 p.m. Wednesday drama glut by shifting new laffers “20 Good Years” and “30 Rock” to the hour, where they’ll be the only comedies in the slot. “Biggest Loser” moves up to 9 p.m. hour and away from ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.”
As for the Thursday “Deal” play, move again defers Reilly’s dream of re-establishing the night as the home of the Peacock’s signature scripted skeins. There’s little flow between the net’s comedy duo of “My Name Is Earl” and “The Office” and 10 p.m. tentpole “ER.”
In addition, “Deal” underindexes among upscale auds with $100,000-plus incomes vs. NBC’s primetime average.
“In a perfect world, I’d like to go with a four-comedy block, or at least the strongest Tiffany shows,” Reilly conceded. “But to put four comedies in right now would be doing a disservice to shows I like.”
Reilly also had to be realistic: Odds are, “Deal” will draw more eyeballs than Sorkin’s show. While critical darlings, his past two skeins were not out-of-the-box ratings hits.
“People love (‘Deal’),” Reilly said. “We’re putting shows on that people love. Does it exactly fit what I’d ideally like to do there? No, but it’s the reality of where we are.”
In order to keep “Deal” to a twice-weekly sked, Reilly opted to pull the Friday edition of the skein. That means “Crossing Jordan,” which had been set to return in January, will cross paths with CBS’ “The Ghost Whisperer” Fridays at 8.
(Michael Learmonth in New York contributed to this report.)