As it attempts to stanch the primetime bleeding, NBC is about to perform radical triage this midseason.
The focus in particular is on 10 p.m., where the network is still looking to recover — a year after “The Jay Leno Show” flopped in the time period. NBC hopes to shore things up by relying on two NBC standbys: laughs and “Law and Order.”
On Thursdays, Peacock will use its Emmy-winning comedy “30 Rock” to open up the 10 p.m. laffer frontier, pairing it with newcomer “Outsourced.”
Move comes with some risk — and the Peacock knows that, giving “30 Rock” an ultra-early pickup for the 2011-12 season as upfront combat pay.
“30 Rock” exec producer Lorne Michaels told Daily Variety the show’s producers were intrigued by the idea of a 10 p.m. home, which he said was first broached a few weeks ago. By getting the early pickup, Michaels said the show could go into the untested slot without worrying whether its future was on the line.
“Once they said ‘we believe in you, and we think we can make this work,’ we talked it over, and thought it sounded like a good idea,” he said. NBC brass also informed star/exec producer Tina Fey and fellow “30 Rock” thesp Alec Baldwin of the move before committing.
Meanwhile, “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” will slide back into its old Wednesday 10 p.m. slot, pushing newcomer “Law and Order: Los Angeles” to Tuesdays at 10.
NBC will also change up its 10 p.m. slot on Mondays, first with the new Kathy Bates drama “Harry’s Law,” from David E. Kelley. Later in the season, “Parenthood,” bumped off Tuesday by “Law and Order: Los Angeles,” will assume the spot.
Mega-shakeup is a reminder that NBC still struggles to regain its footing in primetime, having first constricted its schedule last year in the wake of “Leno” — and then having to turn around and suddenly fill those gaping holes when the talk strip was yanked.
Peacock managed to punt last spring, but in the fall launched with a whopping seven new shows, none of which broke out.
Newcomers “Outsourced” and “Law and Order: Los Angeles” nonetheless did well enough that NBC is relying on them to deliver viewers to its owned and affiliated stations’ 11 p.m. newscasts.
Shows set to launch in midseason, besides “Harry’s Law,” include comicbook drama “The Cape,” which will air behind “Chuck” (which targets a similar demo) on Monday nights. Relationship sitcom “Perfect Couples” joins NBC’s Thursday night sitcom lineup behind “Community.” And reality competish “America’s Next Great Restaurant” will air on Wednesday nights at 9 beginning in mid-March.
“The goal for our mid-season schedule was to keep us in original programming throughout the season and launch several promising new shows,” said Mitch Metcalf, NBC’s exec VP of program planning and scheduling. “We were looking to add more comedy to our schedule and we believe the best way to do so is to expand our already successful Thursday night.”
Metcalf said the decision to go with a three-hour Thursday laffer lineup made more sense than attempting to open a comedy block on Tuesday or Wednesday, where it would face difficult “Idol” competition.
Instead, by shifting “30 Rock” to 10 p.m., the net can slide in newcomer “Perfect Couples” at 8:30. And with “Outsourced” moving to 10:30, that opens up room for the return of “Parks and Recreation” behind “The Office.”
The networks have traditionally shied away from programming two half-hours at 10 p.m. As a matter of fact, no network has put comedies on their fall sked at 10 p.m. since 1992, when Fox aired two shows there on Sunday nights –“Flying Blind” and “Woops!” (back when it still programmed the 10-11 p.m. hour).
That’s because, as conventional wisdom went, you risked losing a chunk of audience at 10:30, leaving affiliates with a smaller lead-in to their 11 p.m. newscasts. Nets have stuck with hourlong dramas and newsmags in the hour since then, save the occasional all-night comedy stunts.
But with viewing patterns having changed so dramatically in recent years — and with some cable nets finding success with half-hours at 10 p.m. — those old rules continue to go by the wayside. FX, for example, already airs comedies on Thursdays at 10 and 10:30 p.m., with “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “The League.”
NBC’s midseason lineup will launch in two waves, in January and March.
As for “30 Rock,” show has averaged a solid 3.1 rating and 9 share among adults 18-49 this season, and 6.6 million viewers overall.
“It continues to be a bold, hilarious, sophisticated comedy that has become a classic in its own time,” said NBC Entertainment prexy Angela Bromstad, who announced the pickup.
Universal Media Studios is behind the three-time outstanding comedy series Emmy winner, which comes from exec producers Tina Fey, Lorne Michaels, Marci Klein, David Miner, Robert Carlock, Jeff Richmond and John Riggi.