'Earl,' 'Office,' 'Deal' building buzz for fourth-place net

In the face of continued ratings declines and the certainty of another fourth-place finish this season, NBC brass nonetheless put on a brave face Thursday and told advertisers the Peacock is firmly on the comeback trail.

At a pre-upfront presentation on the Culver City set of the net’s “Las Vegas,” NBC Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly pointed to 2005-06 success stories such as “My Name Is Earl,” “The Office” and “Deal or No Deal” as signs that the net has started building some mild momentum. He served up a slew of gaming metaphors to get the message across.

“I’m beginning to feel the odds are going to fall in our favor” next season, he said. And while the net isn’t one hit away from first place, “I do think we have the ability to hit the jackpot.”

Peacock’s presentation was distinguished by the large number of clips the network was able to show off. Because pre-upfronts take place when pilot production is just getting under way, such events are usually heavy on hype and short on footage.

NBC’s push toward year-round programming, however, enabled the net to preview scenes from already-ordered skeins, including the Delroy Lindo/Jeremy Sisto-led ensemble “Kidnapped,” “The Black Donnellys,” “Windfall” and “Treasure Hunters.” Indeed, net took the unusual step of giving advertisers and journos DVDs featuring the pilots of all four shows.

Peacock also pushed some star power, bringing out Oscar winners Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco to tout “Donnellys.” The cast of Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme’s star-packed “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” — including Matthew Perry, D.L. Hughley and Bradley Whitford — also showed up to kibitz with Reilly.

“I thought I was here to promote ‘The Black Donnellys,’ ” Hughley said, provoking the biggest response from the aud of ad buyers. “A brother can’t even get a job on that one.”

Big names and clips were all chosen to reinforce the net’s theme of the day: NBC is back to producing quality shows again, replacing an old generation of hits with new players.

“The face of NBC is changing,” Reilly said. “We’re rebuilding the future show by show.”

Peacock’s focus on hope could even be heard in the music the net used for a sizzle reel of its current successes: Natasha Bedingfield’s new single “Unwritten.” Song’s lyrics speak of breaking with tradition and “reaching for something in the distance, so close you can almost taste it.”

While Reilly noted the net’s strength in upscale viewers on Thursday night and the strong growth story for “The Office,” lack of strong ratings left little time for the usual array of ratings stats nets like to throw at advertisers at such events.

Instead, Peacock brought out research guru Alan Wurtzel to make the net’s case that homes with digital video recorders shouldn’t be discounted in the ratings since such auds actually watch more commercials, on average, than those who watch shows live. Many advertisers have been arguing the opposite.

Net also turned over the mic to its cross-platform and digital chief, Jeff Gaspin, to announce plans for a 10-episode Web-based spinoff of “The Office” that will air this summer, as well as a Web-based game tied to summer skein “Treasure Hunters.”

Peacock wrapped its presentation by having its execs, including sales chief Keith Turner, come onstage to take questions from advertisers. Madison Avenue types weren’t in a chatty mood, however, asking just two questions — including what sort of growth Reilly was hoping for next season.

“Any,” he deadpanned.

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