NBC shifts through shows at ‘Infront’

Network presentation touts potentials

NBC execs will tout the potential of a handful of new and nearly new skeins at its “Infront” presentation to advertisers Monday in Gotham.

After days of pilot screenings, the Peacock’s hottest pilot prospects include Sony Pictures TV laffer “Community,” Universal Media Studios’ first-responder drama “Trauma” and the UMS/Imagine TV adaptation of “Parenthood.” All three are expected to get a big push at Monday’s event.

Peacock on Friday gave a 13-episode pickup to Warner Bros. TV’s cop drama “Southland,” which bowed last month to respectable ratings. Fledgling comedy “Parks and Recreation,” from UMS, is also said to be a lock for a renewal. “Parks” co-star Aziz Ansari is expected to appear at today’s event from the “Saturday Night Live” stage in Studio 8H.

During the weekend, NBC execs were in a typical pre-upfront cone-of-silence mode, but they let it be known that decisions on the fate of some other pilots and bubble shows, including “Chuck,” wouldn’t be made for at least another week. However, word spread Sunday that the Peacock had given a pickup to CBS Paramount Network TV drama “Medium.”

NBC had already planned to unveil only its program lineup for the 2009-10 season Monday, while holding the release of its schedule for the week of May 19, when the rest of the broadcast nets host their upfronts.

Insiders said that pickup and renewal conversations at NBC and other nets this year have revolved entirely around budgets and license fees and how much can be trimmed from both sides. The belt-tightening caused by the expectation that upfront ad coin will be down sharply this year has made the grueling process of negotiating series agreements that much more difficult, execs and talent reps bemoaned during the weekend.

Among NBC’s half-hour contenders, the comedy to watch for the past week has been “Community,” which stars Joel McHale as a guy who becomes part of an offbeat extended family after he enrolls in a community college course. Single-camera project hails from scribe Dan Harmon and is exec produced by Harmon, Anthony and Joe Russo (who helmed the pilot) and Russ Krasnoff.

Also high on the buzz radar is “100 Questions for Charlotte Payne,” from Universal Media Studios, which stars Sophie Winkleman as a young woman living in New York and using a dating service. It’s understood to be seen by many inside NBC as a next-gen “Friends.” Buddy cop comedy “Off Duty,” starring Bradley Whitford and Romany Malco, is also still kicking.

On the drama side, the action-driven paramedic drama “Trauma” is said to have screened well with execs across the board. Project, from scribe Dario Scardapane and “Friday Night Lights” vets Jeff Reiner, Peter Berg and Sarah Aubrey, is seen as a good fit with the network’s needs next season, when its drama real estate will shrink with the launch of “The Jay Leno Show” in the Monday-Friday 10 p.m. slot. Introducing the new-model Leno will also be a top priority for Monday’s presentation.

The pilot for “Parenthood,” from UMS and Imagine TV, is not completed but NBC execs are supremely confident in what they’ve seen so far and in showrunner-exec producer Jason Katims and helmer-exec producer Thomas Schlamme.

Returning shows facing tough cost-driven renewal negotiations include UMS’ own “Law & Order,” which is poised to reach its 20-year milestone in 2010. Although laffer “My Name Is Earl” looked to be kaput at the Peacock as recently as last week, NBC and 20th Century Fox TV are wrangling over the financials for a fifth-season pickup.

Peacock’s scripted skeins already locked in for next season include “The Office,” “30 Rock,” “Heroes,” “Law & Order: SVU” and “Friday Night Lights.” Gumshoe drama “Life,” from UMS, is not expected to return, nor is comedy “Kath and Kim.”

The fate of “Chuck,” the cult-fave dramedy from Warner Bros. TV, was said to be part of a larger conversation between Warners and NBC about “Southland” and the hourlong pilot from David E. Kelley, “Legally Mad.” The Kelley pilot reportedly had mixed reviews from execs, but the feeling is that there’s potential in the premise and the cast, and there’s also a big penalty payment due if NBC does not order it to series.

Dick Wolf’s UMS femme detective pilot “Lost & Found” is also said to still be in the mix for a possible midseason order. There’s speculation in the biz that NBC will put a number of new and returning dramas on the midseason bench as a hedge against the possibility that Leno is a ratings dud.

Even though NBC’s not announcing its schedule on Monday, speculation is already swirling that the Peacock may be planning on doing theme nights. Monday, likely more male/action-oriented, with “Heroes” at the very least already confirmed to return. On Tuesdays, “Biggest Loser” could possibly run 90 minutes into a comedy at 9:30. Wednesdays are looking like “Law and Order: SVU” at 8, perhaps paired with “Southland” (which could also end up on Monday). Thursdays, the net will stick with a two-hour comedy block. Fridays will likely see more dramas; Sundays, NBC is already committed to “Sunday Night Football.”

In other words, their fall is going to be easy to figure out. It’s NBC’s midseason that remains a question mark.