NEW YORK — Jeff Zucker is playing it safe.
At the Peacock’s upfront presentation for advertisers held at Radio City Music Hall, his first since being named NBC Entertainment prexy in December, Zucker emphasized stability.
NBC officially announced Monday a 2001-02 lineup boasting three new comedies, three new dramas series, and, as expected, two editions of “Weakest Link.” Three nights– Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, –will be kept intact.
Zucker said one of the net’s main goals is to develop strong comedies. “I’m confident that we’ve done that,” he said, mentioning “Inside Schwartz” and “Scrubs” in particular.
“Emeril,” starring Food Network host Emeril Lagasse, is the other comedy.
While Zucker said that “Emeril” tested extremely well, he acknowledged, “We’re rolling the dice a little … given that he’s never starred in a situation comedy before.”
“Inside Schwartz” is this year’s winner of the post-“Friends” timeslot lottery. Zucker pointed out how difficult the 8:30 p.m. Thursday slot can be.
“The bar is so high, it’s an almost impossible timeslot, referred to by some as ‘time to walk the dog.’ ” Zucker added that unlike previous occupants of the slot, “Inside Schwartz” is worthy of Must-See TV.
Zucker also announced that Woody Harrelson will return next season for five episodes of “Will & Grace.”
Sources said “Third Watch” exec producer John Wells is unhappy about the drama’s new Monday 9 p.m. timeslot, where it will likely go head-to-head with “Ally McBeal” and “Monday Night Football.”
In a pre-upfront conference call, Zucker said, “John Wells acknowledged that he would have preferred Monday at 10 to Monday at 9. Monday at 9 is an incredibly difficult timeslot.”
Zucker credited “Third Watch” with performing well this year “without much of a lead-in” and said he is optimistic that “Third Watch” will be the only “pure drama” in the Monday 9 p.m. timeslot.
Also, Dick Wolf was reportedly disappointed that his new “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” would air at 9 p.m. Sundays, rather than 10 p.m. Mondays.
“When you make decisions like this, not everybody is going to be happy,” Zucker said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to do what you think is best for the network and the viewer.”
Sunday movie adieu
Zucker said the net opted to nix its Sunday night original movie because “made-for-TV movies and miniseries are a vestige of the past. The viewers just aren’t there for those types of programs. This genre is just over.”
Advertisers were bullish on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” even though it will air opposite “The X-Files,” if that show returns. “The other extensions of it have worked fairly well, so I don’t see why it won’t work again. It’s quite a brand name. It’s got every reason to succeed,” said Chris Geraci, director, national TV buying, BBDO OMD USA.
Media buyers also were relieved that NBC opted to air “Weakest Link” on only two nights. Last year, ABC hurt its 18-to-49-year-old demos by airing four hours of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
“The trend is that these quizshows become pretty old-skewing pretty quickly. But with just two hours on the sked, it can’t hurt them too badly,” said one ad buyer.
Zucker had previously said it would take courage to air “Weakest Link” only once a week.
“We don’t know what the lifespan of these programs are. Given how successful it’s been for us in this one timeslot, I chickened out and decided we should take advantage of its strong success now and not wait until it’s too late,” Zucker said.