Risky writing puffs up Peacock

NBC rookies dominate new series category

TV is often said to be a writer-driven medium. If that’s the case, NBC’s nom tally at this year’s WGA Awards would suggest the net is well on the road to recovery.

Peacock’s frosh class of 2006-07 accounts for all but one of the five skeins nominated for best new series. Laffer “30 Rock,” along with dramas “Friday Night Lights,” “Heroes” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” are all up for the honor.

NBC also scored well in the episodic comedy competition, with segs of “The Office” and “My Name Is Earl” taking three of six slots. “The Office” and “30 Rock” are also up for best overall comedy, making NBC the only broadcast net with current shows in the race (Fox’s canceled “Arrested Development” is up for an award as well).

There’s not always a correlation between kudos and ratings, but in NBC’s case, quality seems to be leading the net out of the ratings basement.

“Heroes,” in addition to its critical plaudits, is the year’s biggest breakout hit. And NBC’s Thursday comedy block has turned into solid counterprogramming opposite the big guns on CBS and ABC.

NBC Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly says solid writing is essential to the success of series television.

“You can package things and perfume them up, and maybe with the right charismatic actor you can bring something to the ‘good’ category from the ‘OK,’ ” Reilly says. “But nothing can fix a bad script.”

What’s more, good scripts — and a rep for nurturing writers — make it easy for nets like NBC to attract both top onscreen talent and other writers.

“The WGA Awards aren’t going to mean anything to a viewer in Cleveland, but it does inspire the community,” says Reilly, who adds that the first audience he’s had to wow is “the town.”

“They need to feel their work can be appreciated and understood by the network,” he says. “When these kinds of shows make it on the air and get support, the talent starts to believe in the network again. And once you get the talent in the door, the numbers will start going up.”

Producers credit Reilly with creating a scribe-friendly environment at the Peacock. Greg Daniels, creator of NBC’s “Office,” went so far as to thank Reilly by giving him a cameo on the show.

Robert Carlock, exec producer of “30 Rock,” says NBC “speaks the language” of writers trying to change the formula for the network sitcom.

“We’re doing something a little different, and every step of the way, they seem to have gotten the joke,” he says. “It’s gratifying to be on the same page creatively.”

Carlock says NBC’s support has been particularly welcome, given “30 Rock’s” slow start in the ratings. Many networks tend to push the panic button when shows don’t launch well.

But Jason Katims, showrunner on the critically hailed but still underviewed “Friday Night Lights,” says Reilly and his team have done just the opposite.

“What I’ve kept waiting for is the moment where they ask us to change this or change that — but that hasn’t happened,” he says. “What they’ve said is, ‘The problem isn’t the show. It’s that we haven’t found a way to get people to come sample it.’ ”

According to Katims, Reilly even sent a letter to the cast and crew five weeks into the show’s run: “He basically said, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing.'”

Reilly says he’s simply trying to get the Peacock back to its roots as the “quality” network, betting that ratings gains will follow critical plaudits.

“It was always part of NBC’s allure that you could do good shows here,” he says. “That had gotten a little diluted. I think that connection is back again.”

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