NEW YORK — While the focus this spring centered on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff, NBC was quietly developing one of its own. The Peacock confirmed Monday morning that frosh drama hit “Heroes” has spawned a second series.
“Heroes: Origins” will air in “Heroes'” Monday night timeslot, most likely after the original completes its season run (but possibly when it takes a hiatus). The net has ordered six segs of “Origins,” which combined with “Heroes” makes for 30 hours.
NBC Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly said “Heroes: Origins” will allow the regular show to air virtually uninterrupted through the season.
“I’m calling it the ‘Bulk-Up Challenge,’ ” Reilly said. “We’re trying to stay more consistent in the scheduling for our audience … so we’ll fill out the year, with not a lot of repeats or a long hiatus. We’ll keep the pedal to the metal next year on ‘Heroes.'”
Reilly credited “Heroes” creator-exec producer Tim Kring with pitching the spinoff. Kring will oversee a second crew that will write and produce the episodes simultaneously with the original skein.
“Heroes: Origins” will air as stand-alone episodes that center each week on a different character not yet seen on the original show. Peacock has also added an interactive element to the show: Viewers will be asked to pick their favorite character from “Origins,” who will then join the cast of the full-blown “Heroes” skein the following year.
With repeats dipping to record lows on all five nets — and long hiatuses on hits like “Lost” killing those shows’ ratings momentum — reruns are fast becoming a thing of the past. Besides the 30-seg “Heroes” and “Heroes: Origins” stretch, Peacock is picking up 30 eps of “The Office” — including five hourlongs (Daily Variety, May 14) — and 25 segs of “My Name is Earl.”
NBC is also waiting until January to launch the 18th season of “Law & Order” (sans Fred Thompson, who’s not expected to return, regardless of his presidential run), as well as the return of “Medium.” Both will bow on Sunday nights after “Sunday Night Football” completes its run (allowing the two skeins to remain in originals for the full stretch).
NBC West Coast prexy Marc Graboff said the net also hopes to enlist new shows like “Chuck” or “Journeyman” to produce additional episodes, should the audience demand warrant such episode-order supersizing. Not only does it help the network, he said, but the incentive is there for the studio: More episodes means the producers can hit the magic off-network number of 80-100 episodes that much faster, getting the show into syndication, and profits, faster.
“Let’s strike while the iron’s hot,” Graboff said. “Extended episode orders are good business for everyone if you can pull it off.”
With the threat of labor strife in Hollywood still looming over primetime next season, Graboff said the mega-orders also rep a part of the Peacock’s strike prep, should there be a work stoppage involving SAG or WGA.
“We have to face reality there might be one,” he said. “We started to staff up shows a little earlier to get them started a little earlier, and to get as many eps produced as possible before a potential strike.”
NBC’s other strike prep plans include airing more reality, tapping into its library titles and repurposing more product from its sibling cable nets.
Meanwhile, the net announced that it has pacted with Peacock alum Jerry Seinfeld and DreamWorks to air 20 “minisodes” featuring the comedian and his pals. The shorts were shot during production for the upcoming ani feature “Bee Movie,” in which Seinfeld provides the lead voice. NBC has rights to air the interstitials on the net, as well as its Web site.
DreamWorks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg first approached NBC with the shorts. NBC is paying only a nominal fee to help cover the production expense, and may potentially package several of the clips into a one-hour special.
Seinfeld was among the presenters at NBC’s Radio City Music Hall presentation. He noted with characteristic deadpan how much has changed in TV, and for the Peacock’s fortunes, since he last took the stage at an NBC upfront 10 years ago to unveil the final season of “Seinfeld.”
“A lot of things are different,” he said. “TV is different. Ratings are … different.”
Another thing that was different was the speedy 90-minute duration of NBC’s presentation — a far cry from the three-hour affairs of the past. This time around, however, the show on stage was plagued with technical snafus, including a clip package on the 2008 Olympics that kept restarting during the presentation and an AWOL final sked-grid graphic that never appeared when Reilly tried to wrap up the night.
Peacock’s new 2007-08 season so far includes five new dramas, one new laffer, a new gameshow and one new reality competish. (Reilly hinted that Peacock may still pick up a few more dramas and comedies in the coming weeks.)
“We’ve got quality, now we’re going to build out and add some breadth to our schedule, which is what we needed,” Reilly said.
Net is also coming off a tough spring, in which it posted record low ratings. Reilly was humble about the net’s performance during the Radio City presentation.
“Why aren’t our ratings better? Well, frankly we have to be more better. We didn’t have enough steam,” said Reilly, who called the spring “a big fat disappointment — and one we’re going to put behind us.”
Peacock was conservative with its scheduling moves, refraining from taking any huge gambles. Reilly said he didn’t want to overwhelm the schedule with too many new shows.
“Look historically at networks in down cycles, and loading up on product is not necessarily a recipe for success,” Reilly said. “With a fragmented audience, you simply can’t market all of them. I take comfort in quality, not quantity.”
Despite speculation that “Heroes” and Thursday staple “ER” might move, net also opted for stability and kept those shows in their regular homes. Also, as anticipated, critical fave drama “Friday Night Lights,” which secured an 11th-hour reprieve for a sophomore season in spite of its low ratings, will move to its namesake high school football night. (Peacock marketers can breathe a sigh of relief at long last of being able to promote “Friday Night Lights,” finally on Friday.)
As expected, “The Office” will move into the key Thursday 9 p.m. tentpole slot, with “30 Rock” (yes, Alec Baldwin’s still in the cast) behind “My Name is Earl” while “Scrubs” slides behind “The Office.” Because “The Office” will expand to an hour on five occasions, the Peacock ordered only 18 segs of “Scrubs.”
That means the net will head into fall with no new comedies. Reilly said NBC wasn’t ready to open up a new comedy block, so its needs were limited. He noted that while the net underwent major scheduling surgery on Thursday this past season, “we’re not moving that this year — no matter what.”
Nor did Reilly feel that NBC needed to gamble on new shows given the assets it had in hand. Peacock does have one new half-hour on deck for midseason, the geek-themed “IT Crowd,” but show wasn’t mentioned during presentationn; execs later said the show would undergo retooling and possibly some cast changes.
“We had several great comedies that would have made it on the schedule,” he said. “But we set the bar high. We’ve got four great comedies — why fix it if it’s not broke? We have been methodical with comedy development. You can’t lead with your chin in comedy these days, and we didn’t contemplate opening another comedy night. But we’ll work some comedies in opportunistically.”
Toughest night for the Peacock? Wednesday, where the net will attempt two new shows, dramas “Bionic Woman” and “Life.” NBC clearly believes there’s an opening on the night, now that ABC has said that “Lost” won’t return until January. In a huddle before the presentation with reporters, Reilly vowed to “market the hell out of ‘Bionic Woman,'” which he touted as having a “built-in audience.”
John Rash, senior VP and media buyer with Minneapolis-based Campbell Mithun, said the biggest surprise about the sked NBC unveiled was the decision not to pair “Bionic” with “Heroes.”
“It may be a pleasant surprise for audiences, and advertisers,” Rash said. Rash also gave thumbs up to the extra-episodes tactic. “Particularly with such a drama-heavy schedule it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to maintain audience with repeats,” Rash said. “Trying to get more episodes out of the programs that do work is a more sound strategy than going with untested programs.”
On Fridays, a long-troubled night for webs, NBC is promoting “Game Night” at 8 p.m., with “1 vs. 100” airing for six weeks, followed by new gamer “The Singing Bee.” Another unscripted newcomer is “World Moves,” a talent competish from “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson and follows dance teams competing for a touring contract.
Still up in the air: “The Apprentice.” Reilly said the net will meet with Donald Trump and Mark Burnett later this fall about the show’s future.
“Donald’s been declared dead before in many ways,” Reilly said. “It’s news he’ll never accept on any front. He’s unbelievable — still pitching away and still good to go. We love him and want to stay in business with him.”
Michael Learmonth in New York contributed to this report.