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NBC Juggles Lineup to Boost Conan's 'Tonight' Debut

Originally slated to air in early-2009, NBC's
Originally slated to air in early-2009, NBC's "Merlin" will now premiere in June. (NBC)

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By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, March 13, 2009

Nearly one year after we told you NBC's new high-concept dramas "The Philanthropist" and "Merlin" would debut in early 2009, NBC announced that the two shows will debut in June -- part of a comprehensive plan to nestle Conan O'Brien in the ample bosom of original programming as he takes over "The Tonight Show."

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That plan also includes the network debut of the former ABC reality series "I'm a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here" on June 1 -- the day Conan assumes the "Tonight Show" gig, which Jay Leno will vacate in May.

NBC's biggest gift to Conan: It will hold off the season finales of three 10 p.m. dramas until his first week at the "Tonight Show" desk. Season finales typically air during the May sweep ratings derby.

The season finale of "Medium" will air at 10 on June 1 -- Conan's first night.

The season mop-up of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" will air at 10 on June 2 -- Conan's second night. The season so-long of "Law & Order: The Mothership" will air at 10 on June 3 -- Conan's third night.

"The Listener," a new internationally produced drama about a paramedic who's a telepath, will debut at 10 p.m. on June 4 -- Conan's fourth night.

The long-awaited "Merlin" debuts at 8 p.m. on June 21 -- Conan's day of rest.

And the long-awaited "The Philanthropist" debuts at 10 p.m. Wednesday, June 24 -- Conan's 24th day.

"The Philanthropist" stars James Purefoy as a hedonistic billionaire renegade vigilante philanthropist. Instead of spending $25,000 a plate at some rubber-chicken fundraiser, the Philanthropist instead dodges bullets in underdeveloped countries to hand-deliver vaccines -- because just going there with Brangelina wouldn't give him the adrenaline rush that helps him exorcise the inner demons that have been festering ever since his young son died and he lost everything he truly loved.

"The Philanthropist" was developed for NBC by Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson and it was supposed to have been one of NBC's bigger-ticket projects for the 2008-09 TV season. But it was apparently developed for the network on an American Indian burial ground, because it's been one darned thing after another with this show.

First: NBC announces the show in April, though it has not been cast.

Then, later in April, Fontana, who got the show off the ground, and producing partner Levinson bailed, over creative differences with the network. Word was they wanted "edgy" and NBC was looking for "less edgy." New guy is brought in, in May; Peter Horton joins as exec producer. Purefoy isn't cast until July. In late summer, NBC decides to look for an international production partner because it's a really expensive show, but finding that partner doesn't go very quickly. November: There's the writers' strike, and come December, Fontana is rehired and the new guy is transferred elsewhere. Somewhere in there, Purefoy gets hurt while shooting the pilot.

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