Three new comedies and a show starring Heather Locklear as an executive at an airport -- a show that, believe it or not, is not a comedy -- are among the new series NBC will unveil Monday when it presents its fall schedule to advertisers.
NBC is the first of the broadcast networks scheduled to unveil its 2004-05 prime-time slate this week, culminating what the industry likes to call The Very Best Development Season Ever, as it does every year (which trade paper Variety duly noted a couple weeks ago).
If only they served alcohol at these things, we think we could get quite a nice little drinking game going every time an NBC suit says "stability" from the stage at Radio City Music Hall Monday. Sadly, they don't serve booze until the party afterward. Instead of liquor, NBC used to use comics to warm up the crowd before it launched into its presentation, until one year when NBC late-night regular Triumph the Insult Comic Dog was the opening act and told a Lincoln Center theater packed with advertisers and station execs that NBC CEO Bob Wright was about to give it to them "doggie style," and that was the end of that. Since then, they've opened with production numbers from the cast of "Will & Grace."
This year, NBC is expected to treat the ad execs and station suits to the entire pilot episode of "Friends" spinoff "Joey," to loosen things up. This is also NBC's way of planting the flag right away on its all-important Thursday night. Thursday nights next season are considered more up for grabs than usual, what with "Friends" gone, no established sitcom hit ready to take its place on NBC's lineup, and "ER" running low on catastrophe story lines. We hear "Joey" will be NBC's only new Thursday series, joining "Will & Grace," Donald Trump's starring vehicle, "The Apprentice," and the aforementioned "ER."
The gross-out reality series "Fear Factor" will be back on NBC's Monday slate, as will the drama "Las Vegas," because "stability" (glug, glug) is the name of the game at NBC. Only one new Monday drama is anticipated, and the odds-on fave is a "Hawaii Five-O" update called "Hawaii." You've probably noticed that this leaves NBC's Monday reality series "Average Joe" without a time slot; we did too. NBC/Universal King of all Things Television Jeff Zucker has said NBC will have three hours of reality programming on its schedule, but without this show, that's not likely to be the case. Bear in mind that advertisers prefer scripted series to reality on the fall lineup, with rare exceptions.
Our spies say three new sitcoms are heading to Tuesday night, where NBC has had so little luck with comedy for so many years. The list looks to include "Father of the Pride," an animated comedy about what home life is like for the Siegfried and Roy white lions (or is it tigers) when they are not being trotted out on Vegas stages like pets or going for the throats of their handlers.
Also new for Tuesday is a sitcom about a crazy-in-love couple whose biggest problem is themselves. NBC has been having a problem of its own coming up with a name for this one, temporarily calling it "The Heisler/Helene Project" after its two creators; then "Crazy for You," which we hear they're also not happy with. Why don't they just call it "Rachel and Ross" and have done with it?
And how about a new sitcom called "Men's Room," about men in their twenties, thirties and forties -- which, in one of those odd coincidences that make it so exciting to cover the television industry, is exactly the age span of the audience NBC targets. We're going to hear a lot about shows focusing on men in their twenties, thirties and/or forties this week. (Another good drinking game gone to waste.) This is because early this season young men abandoned the broadcast networks in pretty significant numbers, and the networks are trying to woo them back.
Returning on Tuesdays are the comedy "Scrubs" and Dick Wolf's drama "Law & Order: SVU," which, along with Wolf's two other "Law & Order" shows, has been re-upped for two more seasons because "stability" (slurp) is what it's all about at NBC.
With "Ed" having sailed off into the sunset, NBC on Wednesdays is looking for an 8 p.m. series that will provide a big lead-in to the ailing "The West Wing" at 9 p.m. You know how Heather Locklear did so much to boost viewership on Fox's "Melrose Place" back in its day, when she joined the cast? And how successfully she stopped the bleeding on ABC's "Spin City" and, more recently, goosed "Scrubs" every time she guest-starred on that NBC show? Well, we hear that NBC has recruited Locklear for her most challenging uplift ever, making her airport drama series, "Hub," the White House drama's lead-in. We wish instead they'd added Locklear to the cast of "The West Wing," maybe as secretary of defense, but life is a series of disappointments. "Law & Order: The Original" returns Wednesday nights, our spies report, because "stability" (hiccup) is king at NBC.
Friday nights, along with "Dateline" and "Third Watch," we're told by industry spies, NBC may add a medical mystery, one of several medical mystery series developed during The Very Best Development Season Ever.
Saturdays, NBC will continue to air what we and suits at other networks like to call "What the (Expletive) Theater," which is to say feature films and, during sweeps periods, reruns of various "Law & Order: Original/SVU/CI" episodes.
And finally, on Sunday, NBC is not expected to make any changes to its lineup because "stability" (burp) rules at NBC.