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NBC cancels ‘Playboy,’ picks up comedies

'Whitney,' 'Up All Night' get full-season orders

NBC has put away its bunny ears and canceled “The Playboy Club.”

Focusing on the bright spots of a struggling fall schedule, however, the network also has given full-season orders to “Up All Night” and “Whitney.”

With 20th Century Fox-produced “The Playboy Club” now off the air, NBC will air repeats of “Prime Suspect” to run at 10 p.m. Mondays until Oct. 31, when it launches newsmag “Rock Center With Brian Williams.” “Rock Center” will continue until Feb. 6, when “Smash” is set to make its debut.

“The Playboy Club,” which is the first series cancellation by any of the broadcast nets, was a big ratings disappointment for NBC, registering a 1.2 rating/3 share in the 18-49 demo and 3.4 million total viewers Monday night. The series never got any traction after getting off to a slow start Sept. 19 and was immediately condemned by the Parents Television Council for what it considered racy content.

Peacock has intended to build a comedy front on Wednesdays where “Up All Night” resides, but has had little success from lead-out “Free Agents,” which has struggled.

Despite being off to a tough start, NBC entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt has confidence in “Prime Suspect,” the Maria Bello starrer that hasn’t garnered much traction in the 10 p.m. Thursday slot. With “Prime Suspect” reruns airing in the former “Playboy” slot, Greenblatt believes the show can build up a steadier following.

Next big programming decision Peacock will need to make is the fate of “Free Agents,” which needs to perform better in order to remain on the air.

“Whitney,” starring standup comedian Whitney Cummings as an unmarried woman living with her boyfriend, has performed well at 9:30 p.m. Thursday following “The Office.” In its two airings, skein has held steady by averaging a 2.9/7, with 6.1 million total viewers.

“Up All Night,” which NBC launched a week earlier than its other new programs in order to give it a head start on the competition, airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday and is a marked improvement over “Undercovers,” the hourlong spy drama that NBC ran in that timeslot last year. In its first two regularly scheduled airings, “Up All Night” averaged a 2.3/7 in 18-49 and 5.8 million viewers.

“Up All Night,” starring Will Arnett and Christina Applegate as struggling new parents, has performed well against tough competition and could be considered NBC’s most promising new show. “The Middle” is a steady performer for ABC while CBS offers up reality powerhouse “Survivor” and Fox counters with musical competition skein “The X Factor.”

“We made comedy an important goal for us this season and I’m very pleased to be making full-season commitments to both ‘Whitney’ and ‘Up All Night,’ ” said Greenblatt. “We’re thrilled with the creative direction of both shows as well as the potential for them to continue to build loyal audiences over the coming months.”

What also satisfies Greenblatt is that both series are produced by the net’s inhouse studio, the newly named Universal Television. As laffers “Modern Family” and “The Big Bang Theory” have proved in recent years, half-hour comedies can be quite profitable for both the network and studio if they become hits and have the potential to be renewed for several seasons.

“Up All Night” is exec produced by Emily Spivey, Lorne Michaels, Jon Pollack and Erin David. Exec producers for “Whitney” are Cummings, Scott Stuber, Quan Phung, Betsy Thomas Barry Katz and Andy Ackerman.

Looking ahead, NBC has a lot of faith in “Smash,” the Debra Messing-Katherine McPhee starrer about the makings of a Broadway show. Critics reacted positively when the pilot made the rounds a few weeks ago. Also in midseason will be the return of “30 Rock,” which could return to the Thursday lineup or NBC might opt to move it to Wednesday and help build that night.

“Rock Center,” which will be televised live from the net’s midtown Manhattan headquarters, is the first primetime program launched by NBC News in nearly 20 years. Correspondents will include former “Today” co-host Meredith Vieira, current hosts Matt Lauer and Ann Curry as well as recent CBS News castoff Harry Smith.

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