The TV Column: Lisa de Moraes on NBC, USA and Spencer and Heidi Pratt

From left, Jeffrey Donovan, Bruce Campbell, Van Holt and Gabrielle Anwar in the USA series "Burn Notice."
From left, Jeffrey Donovan, Bruce Campbell, Van Holt and Gabrielle Anwar in the USA series "Burn Notice." (By Glenn Watson -- Usa Network)
By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, June 10, 2009

NBC Universal studio took another giant step toward turning its once-great broadcast network NBC into a competitive cable network when it allowed MTV's "The Hills" stars Spencer and Heidi Pratt to hijack hours and hours of its prime-time schedule on "I'm a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here!" Meanwhile, NBC's basic cable outfit USA continued to pursue its innovative programming strategy -- emulating a broadcast network.

Speidi is the self-proclaimed super-celebrity star of MTV's three-year-old reality series "The Hills," which, in its fifth season, averaged a whopping 2.45 million viewers -- a lousy number for NBC even on Saturdays. But the concentration of 12-to-34-year-olds among those 2.45 million viewers is the stuff of NBC yes-men's dreams.

NBC sells young viewers to advertisers these days -- not overall audience. NBC also programs for margins these days and reality series are generally much cheaper to produce than scripted dramas. Particularly reality series shot in Costa Rica that are about eating worms and hanging from poles and that star C- and D-listers like Stephen Baldwin, Janice Dickinson -- and Speidi.

So NBC last week turned over five hours during the course of four nights to Speidi-world with the idea that on Thursday, Speidi would funnel viewers into the unveiling of NBC's latest scripted drama, a knockoff of "The Mentalist" called "The Listener."

At the same time, over at USA, they've been busy developing dramas that will appeal to a wide swath of the American public. A so-called "broad" audience. The kind of show you used to see on broadcast networks. Dramas such as "Royal Pains," about a cute young doctor, played by former NBC prime-time star Mark Feuerstein, who loses it all after making a lousy call in the ER and has to become a concierge doctor in the Hamptons. (Paolo Costanzo, the guy who plays the doctor's brother, is also a former NBC player -- remember him from "Joey"?) And "Burn Notice," another drama series of the sort you used to see on broadcast networks. It's about a former spy who got sacked and is trying to find out why while, in his spare time, helping out ordinary people in Miami with their problems and putting up with his whiny mother, played by Sharon Gless -- remember her from CBS's "Cagney & Lacey"?

"Royal Pains" did not have Spencer-and-Heidi in a reality series for its lead-in. It had "Burn Notice" for its lead-in.

NBC's Speidi delivered 5.24 million viewers Thursday night.

NBC's "The Listener" logged 5.3 million viewers after Speidicast.

USA's "Burn Notice" clocked 6 million viewers Thursday night.

USA's "Royal Pains" logged 5.6 million viewers after "Burn Notice."

USA wins.

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