NBC's Barely Retools Its Reality Shows to Fill the Gaps

The Donald will preside over the two-hour
The Donald will preside over the two-hour "Celebrity Apprentice." (By Ali Goldstein -- Nbc Universal)
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By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, December 4, 2008

In what might be a broadcast-TV first, NBC appears to have run out of shows.

Two one-hour series that the network had set for its midseason schedule -- "The Philanthropist" and "Merlin" -- are nowhere to be found: Now it appears that the former might not debut until next season and the latter not until the summer.

To fill the rather large hole, NBC announced yesterday that it would supersize "Celebrity Apprentice" into a weekly two-hour show. And instead of airing Thursdays at 10 after "ER" buys the farm, as originally announced, the show will instead air Sundays from 9 to 11 p.m., starting March 1.

Because midseason "Merlin" -- which NBC said would air Sundays at 8 -- is not to be, the network will instead air two-hour "Datelines" Sunday from 7 to 9 p.m.

We'll give you a minute to contemplate two hours of Ann Curry, followed by two hours of Donald Trump.

Trade mag TV Week noted that "supersizing" "Celebrity Apprentice" is a great way for NBCUniversal2.0 to cut the broadcast network's programming costs. That's because adding an hour of an already-produced reality series is ever so much cheaper than airing a one-hour "CA" followed by another one-hour show -- scripted or not.

"CA" creator Mark Burnett told the mag that The Donald is particularly pumped about his extra on-air time, though we would expect no less. That, Burnett explains, is because the boardroom scenes, in which Trump verbally pummels the show's contestants and then sacks one of them, can sometimes go on for hours. But regardless, the boardroom scene has always been whacked down to nine minutes of screen time.

We'll give you a minute to contemplate boardroom scenes with Donald Trump going on for hours.

A two-hour "Celebrity Apprentice" on Sundays squeezes out the return of "Medium," which NBC had announced was going to come back midseason on Sunday nights at 9.

That's okay, because it's returning instead to its old Monday 10 p.m. time slot. And that's because the midseason Monday 10 p.m. show that NBC announced way back in April, "The Philanthropist," is not ready to air.

In fact, it has only just started shooting, NBC's scheduling chief Mitch Metcalf told the trade publication Hollywood Reporter, although he assures the Reporter that the cast has "come together" and "it's a great script."

"We're going to take a look at 'The Philanthropist,' " Metcalf told the paper.

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