NBC reverts to old formula for fall lineup


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Following a terrible season of unrest -- goodbye to the low-rated "Jay Leno Show" in prime time, goodbye to Conan O'Brien in late night and welcome back to Mr. Leno as host of "The Tonight Show" -- NBC finally has a foundation of scripted series to rebuild its tattered image.

Once known for thoughtful dramas and comfortable comedies -- former NBC slogan: "The quality shows" -- the peacock network has drifted in recent years as top executives tried to reinvent it as a new media venture built on "managing for margins" rather than ratings and entertainment value. That didn't take root, so now the network re-embraces its former identity.

In announcing its fall series yesterday, NBC canceled low-rated and mismanaged "Heroes" (there may be a two-hour wrap-up TV movie but don't hold your breath) as well as first-year dramas "Trauma" and "Mercy" and the long-running "Law & Order," which will have to be satisfied with tying the record 20-season run set by "Gunsmoke."

Reality shows "The Marriage Ref," "Minute to Win It," "The Apprentice," "Celebrity Apprentice" and "Who Do You Think You Are?" and the drama "Friday Night Lights" will return at midseason, along with low-rated, critically acclaimed "Parks and Recreation," which is being benched in the fall to allow NBC to introduce a new comedy, "Outsourced," starring 2002 Fox Chapel Area High School graduate Anisha Nagarajan.

NBC needs to refresh its Thursday lineup, especially with "Office" star Steve Carell making noises about leaving the show after the upcoming season.

"Steve is incredibly important to the show and we hope we can keep him for a long time," said Angela Bromstad, president of prime-time entertainment for NBC and Universal Media Studios. "Whether or not he stays with 'The Office,' it is a big priority for us to launch a comedy hit."

Jeff Gaspin, chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment, described "The Office" as "a great ensemble" and he said producers are preparing contingencies to keep the show going if Mr. Carell chooses to move on.

NBC's fall schedule has six new scripted, hour-long programs -- four airing at 10 p.m. weeknights -- a far cry from last fall when five hours a week were devoted to "The Jay Leno Show" at 10 p.m.

"One of the things we learned from this year is when it comes to 10 you have to put your very best content on," Mr. Gaspin said in a teleconference with reporters last night. "There's too much competition from cable and DVRs. We did put terrific shows on at 10 [for this coming fall] and we're doing our best to protect them."

Monday's action dramas will be promoted during "Sunday Night Football" and "Law & Order: Los Angeles" will follow "Law & Order: SVU" on Wednesday.

Here's NBC's fall schedule, with new series in bold:

SUNDAY

7 p.m.: "Football Night in America."

8 p.m.: "NBC Sunday Night Football."

MONDAY

8 p.m.: "Chuck."

9 p.m.: "The Event": Everyman Sean (Jason Ritter, "The Class") investigates the disappearance of his fiancee and stumbles upon a massive cover-up that affects his father-in-law-to-be (Scott Patterson, "Gilmore Girls"), the mysterious leader of a group of detainees (Laura Innes, "ER") and the U.S. president (Blair Underwood).

10 p.m.: "Chase": U.S. marshals, led by a cowboy boot-wearing deputy (Kelli Giddish, "Past Life") track down violent criminals in this series from producer Jerry Bruckheimer ("CSI"). Cole Hauser ("K-Ville"), Amaury Nolasco ("Prison Break") and Jesse Metcalfe ("Desperate Housewives") also star as members of the team.

TUESDAY

8 p.m.: "The Biggest Loser."

10 p.m.: "Parenthood."

WEDNESDAY

8 p.m.: "Undercovers": J.J. Abrams ("Lost") directed the pilot for this spy drama about a husband-and-wife team (Boris Kodjoe, "Soul Food"; Gugu Mbatha-Raw, "Doctor Who") who retired from working as CIA spies to run a catering company but they get drawn back into their former line of work.

9 p.m.: "Law & Order: SVU."

10 p.m.: "Law & Order: Los Angeles (AKA "LOLA"): The "Law & Order" brand moves out of New York and tells stories in la-la land. No casting has been announced and Ms. Bromstad said it was too early to say if any characters from elsewhere in the "Law & Order" universe will show up. She did promise the show's trademark "dun-dun" sound effect will be retained.

THURSDAY

8 p.m.: "Community."

8:30 p.m.: "30 Rock."

9 p.m.: "The Office."

9:30 p.m.: "Outsourced": An American novelty company outsources its call center to India and transfers new manager Todd (Ben Rappaport, off-Broadway's "The Gingerbread House") to run the operation. Former Pittsburgher Anisha Nagarajan (Broadway's "Bombay Dreams") plays one of the members of Todd's team.

10 p.m.: "Love Bites": Writer producer Cindy Chupack ("Sex and the City," "Men in Trees") created this one-hour romantic comedy anthology series about finding love in modern times. Best friends Annie (Becki Newton, "Ugly Betty") and Frannie (Jordana Spiro, "My Boys") anchor the series while guest stars play couples who come into their orbit.

FRIDAY

8 p.m.: "School Pride": Cheryl Hines ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") executive produces this reality series that's essentially "Extreme Makeover: School Edition" as community members come together to renovate aging and broken public schools.

9 p.m.: "Dateline NBC."

10 p.m.: "Outlaw": Jimmy Smits stars as a Supreme Court justice who quits the bench to return to private practice to represent "the little guy." Conan O'Brien (!?!) is one of the show's executive producers (only in Hollywood, folks).

SATURDAY

Reruns

Midseason

"The Cape": A presumed dead good cop (David Lyons, "ER") takes on the guise of his son's favorite comic book character to protect Palm City. Summer Glau ("Firefly") plays an "investigative blogger" who writes about city corruption while James Frain ("The Tudors") stars as The Cape's billionaire nemesis.

"Friends With Benefits": Twentysomething friends try to find love. Ryan Hansen ("Party Down," "Veronica Mars") stars.

"Harry's Law": Fans of "Boston Legal," rejoice: Creator David E. Kelley returns with a new legal drama starring Kathy Bates as Harriet, an ex-patent lawyer who starts a new law firm with a couple of younger partners.

"The Paul Reiser Show": The star of "Mad About You" plays a version of himself in this single-camera comedy as he tries to move on to something new after starring in a hit TV show.

"Perfect Couples": Three couples have misadventures in this romantic comedy. Kyle Howard ("My Boys"), Christine Woods ("FlashForward"), Dave Walton ("100 Questions") and Olivia Munn ("Attack of the Show") star.

Of course, you never know if all of these programs will make it to the screen. A year ago at this time NBC announced a series called "Day One" about survivors of a global catastrophe. By January, NBC executives said the show would not air as a series but would be a mini-series. Yesterday Ms. Bromstad said even the mini-series is not scheduled to air.

NBC is the first of the broadcast networks to announce a fall schedule as part of the annual "up front" week when networks sell advertising time in advance of the fall TV season. Fox will announce its new schedule this morning; look for that release first in Tuned In Journal at post-gazette.com/tv. ABC follows with its fall schedule announcement Tuesday with CBS on Wednesday and The CW on Thursday.


TV editor Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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