Declaring NBC “stable” after a couple years of ratings freefall, Peacock entertainment topper Kevin Reilly Sunday unveiled plans for an ambitious post-Olympics programming push — and some potentially risky schedule shifts.
Speaking to scribes on the final day of the 2006 TV Critics Assn. winter press tour, Reilly also made news by announcing NBC planned to join CBS and ABC in the push to bring telenovelas to the Big Six. Peacock has turned to sister net Telemundo to develop and produce an English-lingo version of the net’s telenovela “Body of Desire” that could be on the air as soon as this summer.
In addition, NBC officially nixed “The West Wing” and is giving young laffers “My Name Is Earl” and “The Office” major votes of confidence, renewing them for second and third seasons, respectively. NBC also picked up 13 episodes of “Crash” helmer Paul Haggis’ Irish crime drama “The Black Donnellys” for next fall.
Flurry of announcements was designed, no doubt, to give scribes something to write about other than NBC’s current standings in the ratings. That said, Reilly didn’t shy from addressing the Peacock’s primetime woes — and made a strong case that, in fact, the net’s worst days may be behind it.
“I’d say that NBC is stable and our vital signs are encouraging,” Reilly said, noting the net has met is goal of matching its ratings from last spring (though vs. last fall, the net is still down sharply).
Exec pointed to the successful move of “Earl” to Thursdays, the continued growth of “The Office” and the solid numbers for “Deal or No Deal” as reasons for optimism. “All of this stuff has given us the will to live,” Reilly quipped.
With a measure of stability, Reilly plans to use the Olympics to promote a series of major sked changes and the launch of two big new dramas: “Heist” and “Conviction.”
Biggest shifts are on Monday and Friday nights, as well as the surprise move of original recipe “Law & Order” to Wednesdays at 9 p.m.
Mondays at 8, starting Feb. 27, Peacock brings back “Deal” as a weekly series, using it as a lead-in to “The Apprentice” at 9 p.m. Latter skein displaces longtime timeslot occupant “Las Vegas,” which is moving to Fridays at 9 p.m. on March 3.
“Las Vegas” will serve as a lead-in to Dick Wolf’s new “Conviction,” which will air Fridays at 10 p.m.. “Dateline NBC” is being shuffled off to Saturday nights, leaving ABC as the only net with a primetime newsmag on a weeknight.
Reilly said he believes there’s opportunity on Fridays. “Some of the shows winning on Friday (now) are winning by default,” he said. “We’re going to stop giving the competition a free pass.”
Another motivating — but not determining — factor in shifting “Las Vegas”: The NFL, which has strict anti-gaming philosophies, won’t allow NBC to hype the show during the Peacock’s fall broadcasts of “Sunday Night Football.” It wouldn’t make sense for NBC to have a tentpole show on Monday it couldn’t promote on Sunday, Reilly said.
Later in March, NBC will move “Law & Order” from its longtime 10 p.m. Wednesday slot to launch helmer Doug Liman’s “Heist,” which bows March 22. Shift means “L&O” will now face ABC’s “Lost” and Fox’s “American Idol” results show.
Wolf seemed OK with the shift, if not particularly excited. “When you have four shows on the air, you’re not going to be happy with all the moves,” he told Daily Variety, adding he was very upbeat about how NBC plans to launch “Conviction.”
Final sked play is the launch of new laffer “Teachers,” which will air Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. starting April 6 after “Earl” once “The Office” wraps its season March 30.
NBC will try to kick-start its new sked by stripping “Deal or No Deal” Monday through Friday at 8 p.m. the week of Feb. 27.
Not landing a slot on the spring sked is the drama “Windfall,” which will now air in the summer. Reilly offered no specifics for what’s all-but-certainly the final batch of episodes of “Joey” or the six episodes of Lorne Michaels’ “Thick and Thin” that the net has on its shelf.
Also on life support: Friday drama “The Book of Daniel,” which missed in the ratings again this weekend and may not make it another week. Not helping matters: Advertisers have all but abandoned the show, forcing NBC to air promos instead.
Reilly said a sixth season of “Scrubs” is a definite possibility, but he wasn’t willing to commit just yet. He was nearly as noncommittal to “Kidnapped,” a drama that had been expected to get an early series greenlight — the current issue of Entertainment Weekly labels it a 2006 hot property. Instead, the series had to make due with strong praise from Reilly, who said he expects the show will be a “contender” for the fall.
As for telenovela “Body of Desire,” Reilly didn’t formally announce its order, but Peacock insiders suggested the show is very likely to go forward with a roughly 40-episode summer run. NBC and Telemundo execs believe they can produce the show for less than $5 million overall — an unheard of sum for primetime fare.
Existing scripts for “Desire” will be translated into English, and no-name actors will be used. Skein revolves around an aging J.R. Ewing-like ranch owner who dies and then comes back into the body of a studly peasant.
In other news:
- “The West Wing” will end its six-year run Sunday, May 14 at 8 p.m., with a one-hour retrospective at 7 p.m. News had been expected, particularly given the skein’s ratings this season.
- Reilly confirmed that Ghen Maynard, his former No. 2, will not be returning to the net in an executive role. It’s still not clear whether he’ll ink a production deal with the net.
- “Will & Grace’s” previously announced finale has an airdate: May 18 at 9 p.m. Clip show will air at 8 p.m.
- Because 416 hours just wasn’t enough, NBC is adding two more hours to its Olympics coverage, with extra programming on Feb. 12, Feb. 19 and Feb. 20.