Network gambles on 13 new series

After years of “managing for margins,” NBC is now breaking the bank.

The Peacock ordered a stunning 13 new series for the 2010-11 TV season, including big-budget series from top producers like J.J. Abrams, Jerry Bruckheimer, Dick Wolf and David E. Kelley. If that doesn’t cause the NBC bean counters a few heart palpitations, the sheer cost of marketing those shows might.

“Six new dramas!” one rival exec exclaimed after glancing at the Peacock’s fall sked. “What’s interesting is they have quite a few high-profile producers who will expect A-plus promo treatment for their shows. Something has to give.”

But NBC Universal TV Entertainment chairman Jeff Gaspin has said that the net’s aggressive plan involves nothing less than restoring the Peacock’s quality patina — and that the only way to do that is to spend a little more money. That’s in contrast to the margin-conscious mantra articulated three years ago by former NBC Entertainment chief Ben Silverman.

“We wanted to make sure this season that we had good shows to choose from,” Gaspin said. “We also know that repeats are not as strong as they have been in the past. And we want to be in originals as much as possible. We also had great development and felt we had the shows to pick this year.”

According to Gaspin, the network has already increased its marketing budget for fall 2010. But the Peacock is likely to add even more dollars to those efforts.

Among the network’s key priorities: getting Monday tentpole drama “The Event” launched.

“You don’t treat every show equally,” he said. “Certainly a show like ‘The Event’ is going to get a lot of our attention. We need to get as many viewers as possible there on the first day. ‘Chase,’ which follows ‘The Event,’ will benefit that we’re trying to drive so many people to that Monday 9 p.m. timeslot. So that combo of two new shows is going to get one of our priorities.”

It’s no coincidence that “The Event” is airing in the slot long held by Fox’s “24.” NBC is also emulating that strategy on Wednesdays at 8 p.m., where Abrams’ “Undercovers” will launch. Abrams’ “Lost” bowed in that same slot in 2004.

NBC believes Abrams’ rabid fan following will help promote that show; the competition is also relatively weak in that hour, giving NBC an opportunity to leap in.

Also on Wednesdays, net decided to drop “Law and Order: SVU” back down to 9 p.m. — to the likely disappointment of that show’s creative team

– in order to launch “Law and Order: Los Angeles” at 10.

“SVU” has been winning its time slot since moving back to 10 p.m., but will once again face tougher competition as it slides back.

Why a new “Law and Order” series? NBC/Universal Media Studios primetime entertainment prexy Angela Bromstad said she hopes the net, studio and Wolf can use the show to reinvent the aging franchise “in a modern way.”

The network also decided to hold back “Parks and Recreation” for midseason. Although not a hit, the show is seen as harboring real growth potential — particularly with the recent arrival of thesps Rob Lowe and Adam Scott.

NBC is pushing “30 Rock” into the Thursday 8:30 p.m. slot held by “Parks” this season to make room at 9:30 for newbie “Outsourced,” another workplace comedy that’s seen as a good fit with “The Office.”

“Parks” has already been shooting episodes for next season, in order to accommodate star Amy Poehler’s August due date. According to exec producer Mike Schur, six episodes of “Parks” will be in the can before the show goes on an August hiatus.

Decision to put “Parks” on the bench came after NBC nixed plans to open up a second night of comedy.

“That was one of our longest debates,” Gaspin said. “But we were launching so many hours of drama, the idea of opening another night of comedy, and what that would need in terms of support, felt daunting.”

“Parks” has already been shooting episodes for next season, in order to accommodate star Amy Poehler’s August due date. According to exec producer Mike Schur, six episodes of “Parks” will be in the can before the show goes on an August hiatus.

“This is not because of Amy’s pregnancy,” Schur wrote on Twitter. “She’s been working super hard (at seven months) to make sure the show’s ready for fall.”

The coming season also reps likely the last year that Steve Carell stars on “The Office” and, therefore, the last opportunity the network has to launch something new behind the hit before it undergoes a radical change.

The network toppers said they hope to keep Carell on the show — but Gaspin admitted that “the producers are preparing in the event that he chooses to move on.”

Gaspin and Bromstad said they’ll program the two-hour Thursday comedy block as a wheel, cycling in shows like “Parks” and newcomers like “The Paul Reiser Show” at various points in the season.

The execs also pointed to the night’s 10 p.m. hourlong anthology series “Love Bites” as a sign of their commitment to the comedy genre. But the nets haven’t had much luck through the years with anthologies, and “Love Bites” presumably will have to face off against established shows on ABC and CBS and deal with what will likely be a weak lead-in from “Outsourced.”

On Fridays, Gaspin and Bromstad said they believed the crime stories on “Dateline” will serve as a decent lead-in for the new Jimmy Smits drama “Outlaw,” which comes from Conan O’Brien’s Conaco shingle. The thought of O’Brien showing up to NBC’s portion of the summer summer’s TV Critics Assn. press tour could make things interesting… if not a tad awkward.

Besides “Law and Order,” NBC also pulled the plug on “Heroes.”

Bromstad said she was talking to series creator Tim Kring about wrapping the show up with a two-hour movie next season.

Also dead: NBC’s attempt this past season to field a mega event series, “Day One.” Eventually reduced to a longform project, “Day One” will not see the light of day at the network.

Much of NBC’s new fare will wait until midseason, including dramas “The Cape” and David E. Kelley’s “Harry’s Law” and comedies “Friends With Benefits,” “Perfect Couples” and “Paul Reiser.”

Unscripted series on tap for midseason include newcomer “America’s Next Great Restaurant,” as well as returnees “The Apprentice” and “The Marriage Ref.”

Overall, Peacock will add a whopping five new comedies, seven new dramas and one new reality show (“School Pride”) to the mix at some point next season. Four of the five weeknight 10 o’clock slots are new.

“They probably see 10 p.m. as an opportunity, especially since ABC didn’t capitalize on Jay Leno last year,” said Horizon Media’s Brad Adgate. “But 10 p.m. has also been a tougher time period to program in recent years.”

As for the ones that got away, in not picking up “The Rockford Files,” Bromstad said the pilot wound up in the “A-minus, B-plus range,” and that she needed to see an “A-plus pilot” to get it right. Project may be retooled — although most believe that means a recasting of the lead role played by Dermot Mulroney.

Overall once observers got past the sheer weight of NBC attempting to launch so many shows next season there was optimism that NBC may have a few real contenders.

“While they are in fourth place in adults 18-49, they are in striking distance,” Adgate said. “If a few of these shows click, they will be back in the ratings race.”

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