By Lisa de Moraes
Monday, May 14, 2007
Mothers of the Reporters Who Cover Television were abandoned in the middle of Mother's Day brunches yesterday when NBC hastily called a news conference to make a big announcement:
"Law & Order" is coming back to NBC!
"Law & Order: Criminal Intent" is moving to USA for its seventh season!
NBC will air reruns of those "CI" episodes after they've aired on USA!
"Law & Order: SVU" is coming back to NBC! We already knew that!
Yes, for this the reporters risked getting cut out of their parents' wills today. And yes, the people who run the television industry are godless people who do not love mothers.
Dick Wolf, the guy who's been perpetrating the "Law & Order" franchise on us for 17 years, started off the conference phone call with an apology, saying "I know it's Mother's Day and not a convenient time of day for these conference calls" and adding that he appreciated reporters' attention and indulgence.
But when he could have shown reporters just how sorry he was and how bad he felt for their mothers by answering questions like "What's the plan with probable presidential candidate/'L&O' thespian Fred Thompson for this coming season now that 'Law & Order' is coming back?" or "Did you personally take a big pay cut to make this deal work for NBC financially?" (you didn't really think that $4 million per episode that "Law & Order" reportedly costs all shows up on the TV screen, did you?) he went into "No comment, no comment, no comment!" mode. And yes, that is his actual quote.
Like I said -- no regard for mothers.
He did, however, want us to know that they are scheduled to celebrate their 400th episode of "Law & Order" next season: "We are now one year closer to my ultimate dream -- to become the longest running drama in the history of television, beating 'Gunsmoke.' " (That's from yesterday's announcement.)
He did insist that although belts were tightened, the viewer would not be able to detect anything on screen, lending credence to the Wolf-took-a-pay-cut notion, though it was intended to convey the sense that Wolf would not now begin wholesale whacking on "CI" and the mothership.
On the other hand, NBC Universal did agree to extend its relationship with Wolf to the year 2012. Wolf's production company is set up at NBC Universal.
Yesterday's Mother's Day announcement puts the kibosh on weeks of reports that only one -- two max -- shows from the "Law" franchise, would turn up on NBC's new prime-time slate when NBC unveils its new prime-time schedule today.
To be perfectly accurate, "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" is only a little pregnant -- it's coming back to NBC only in the form of reruns.
But since January, "Criminal Intent" has been the No. 1 prime-time off-network series on basic cable. So you see why USA would like to keep the series going. " 'Law and Order: Criminal Intent' is perfect for USA -- smart, character-driven programming that's already a proven hit with our viewers," USA Network President Bonnie Hammer said in yesterday's announcement.
NBC announced a while back that "Law & Order: SVU" had been ordered for another season on the broadcast network. "SVU" is by far the most watched of the three crime dramas these days. Airing Tuesdays at 10 -- the mothership's former time slot -- "SVU" has clocked about 12 million viewers this season. Meanwhile, "Law & Order," shipped off to broadcast Siberia -- Fridays at 10 -- is only snagging about 9 million viewers, and "CI" -- Mondays at 10 -- posts an average of around 8.9 million.
Both Wolf on the phone call and NBC Universal President and CEO Jeff Zucker in the announcement, made mention of this "CI" arrangement changing the paradigm of prime-time TV. Zucker said, "We have reinforced NBC Universal's forward-thinking approach to new programming strategies and our willingness to embrace bold thinking." Wolf may have actually called it "tip-of-the-spear thinking." We'll get back to you when we figure that one out. And, anyway, we think USA's "Monk" re-ran on ABC for a little while a few seasons back.
Once Wolf did his "no comment, no comment, no comment!" patter, the reporters quickly lost interest in asking any more questions and began to focus on how they were going to explain to Mom why the "Law & Order" news was so big it couldn't have waited one day. Because, as all smart Mothers of the Reporters Who Cover Television know, today is NBC's day to unveil its new prime-time schedule to advertisers.
* * *
Every year at this time, an eczema of television suits and Hollywood starlets erupts in Manhattan.
They're in town for the annual Broadcast TV Upfront Week -- a four-day orgy of optimism in which the five broadcast networks pitch the next season's prime-time slates to advertisers, in hopes the advertisers will buy time in those lineups -- up front.
Today, at Radio City Music Hall, NBC will announce it has renewed its critically acclaimed but barely watched "Friday Night Lights" and its critically acclaimed but barely watched "Scrubs," added to its previously announced pickups of its critically acclaimed but barely watched "30 Rock," "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office." Yes, NBC will be in high "First Be Best, Then Be First" gear at its dog-and-pony show. But that's what NBC has to sell to advertisers. It certainly doesn't have the viewers it once had -- the network has been posting record low prime-time ratings this spring.
On the bright side, NBC boasts the most successful new series of this season, the serialized sci-fi drama "Heroes." Not surprisingly, hoping to find the next "Heroes," the network went very high-concept, heavy on the space-time continuum, in its new-series choices. They include a remake of "The Bionic Woman," this time played by Katee Sackhoff, a.k.a. Starbuck of "Battlestar Galactica" fame.
Also ordered: "Chuck," a drama about a computer nerd who becomes a government agent after supercomputer data is somehow downloaded into his brain. That one's from Josh Schwartz of "The O.C." fame and Joseph McGinty Nichol of "Charlie's Angels" fame, who likes to be called McG.
But the new high-concept drama expected to get the coveted post-"Heroes" time slot in the fall is the time-travel "Journeyman," about a journalist who goes back in time, much to his chagrin, to fix events that didn't go so well the first time around.
NBC also has ordered a more straightforward drama called "Life," about a cop wrongfully sent to the slammer for a dozen years who is back on the force, as well as "Lipstick Jungle" from Candace Bushnell of "Sex and the City" fame, about a group of highly successful professional women in New York City.
That's just one of several "Sex and the City"-ish series that are going to be unveiled this week across the broadcast TV landscape. "Lipstick" stars Brooke Shields and Kim Raver, a.k.a. Jack Bauer's "24" gal pal.
NBC already has announced it would return "ER" to its schedule, as well as "Medium," "Law & Order: SVU" and "Las Vegas," which has signed Tom Selleck to replace James Caan in the role of the adult on the show.