Despite acclaim, NBC continues rebuild

Network hopes viewers follow trail of awards

While NBC recently enjoyed a 17-day Olympic glow, the reality of being a fourth-place finisher is once again front and center. The mission in this upcoming season for the Peacock is to regain some of that past swagger, by focusing on the small battles, one night at a time.

Take Monday, for example. While Thursday has the most high-profile series, a case can be made that Monday is the most competitive night of the week. And NBC thinks it has the goods to stay in the race.

“We have a nice combo of returning shows, with ‘Chuck’ and ‘Heroes’ in their time periods, which is increasingly important in today’s world of diversions,” says Mitch Metcalf, the net’s scheduling guru. “‘My Own Worst Enemy’ is the best shot we can take to capture on the success of ‘Heroes.'”

Yet Thursday is where NBC spends much of its marketing dollars, and even with back-to-back Emmys in 2006 and 2007 for comedy skeins “The Office” and “30 Rock,” there

hasn’t been the surge of viewership the Peacock has hoped for.

“There’s frustration with all comedies,” Metcalf admits. “We’d love to see blockbuster levels of the days of ‘Cosby’ and ‘Seinfeld,’ but that’s hard to match.”

Metcalf agrees that with so few shows seen by critics this fall — none of NBC’s freshman programs were screened by Sept. 1 — it can make the job of spreading the word to the public that much more difficult.

“It does make it tougher,” he says. “We just can’t make a bunch of pilots in the winter and spring anymore and see what happens.”

SPOTLIGHT: MY OWN WORST ENEMY

Christian Slater has long been a movie star, but it’s not like TV is foreign to him: He cut his acting teeth on the soap “Ryan’s Hope.”

Now he returns to the smallscreen in a big way — actually, a double-sided one. His character is living a split life: One side of him is a mild-mannered husband and father, the other a murderous spy.

“That made it very challenging and kept my energy up,” Slater says. “It’s perpetual motion.”

What also seems to be a moving target is who will be in charge of “Enemy.” NBC had original showrunner Jason Smilovic step aside in favor of John Eisendrath, who recently signed a two-year deal with series producer Universal Media Studios.

NEW FOR 2008-2009

CRUSOE

Sticking with stories that don’t need a lot of introduction — see “Knight Rider” — NBC combines a little bit of the island drama of “Lost” with “Survivor” in this retelling of the Daniel Defoe tome. Looking to grab a family audience in a sea of adult-oriented 8 p.m. fare is a tricky proposition, but with financial backing from three production shingles, NBC isn’t on the hook for much if “Crusoe” sinks rather than swims.

KATH & KIM

“Kath & Kim” has been a sizable hit in Australia, with the fourth-season premiere episode drawing huge numbers. The Stateside version of this dysfunctional mother-daughter team — played by Molly Shannon and Selma Blair, even though Shannon is only eight years older — will try to capture that same wave. With Reveille producing, NBC is hoping it can catch the same import magic it did with “The Office.”

KNIGHT RIDER

After 22 years on the blocks, KITT is ready to purr again. Whether it comes out of the garage as a muscle car — full of verve and high octane — or a jalopy remains to be seen, but if NBC can squeeze more mileage out of the “Knight Rider” franchise, the net would be thrilled. Plus, the concept is a known commodity, as evidenced by the healthy ratings of the two-hour backdoor pilot that aired in February.

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