In what has to be a broadcast network first, NBC on Monday trotted out a partially paralyzed mauling victim as part of its dog-and-pony show to promote its new prime-time lineup to advertisers.
Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn talked to advertisers at Radio City Music Hall via satellite about NBC's new animated Tuesday comedy, "Father of the Pride." It's about a pride of white lions that perform in the "world famous 'Siegfried and Roy' show," NBC Universal's king of all things television, Jeff Zucker, told the packed hall.
Of course he meant their former Vegas show; it's been shut down since one of the couple's rare white felines mauled and very nearly killed Horn during a performance in October; Horn suffered a stroke as a result of the attack. But, through the magic of CGI animation and General Electric, the "Siegfried & Roy" show lives on in a cartoon that seems frozen in a time before the attack. In clips shown to advertisers, jokes took on a tacky inappropriateness, as when Animated Roy says to Animated Lion Family, "Goodbye my lions, or should I say 'GRRRRRR!,' " as he crouches down and tries to look like a wild cat.
On an enormous screen at Radio City, the extremely made-over cat tamers prattled on merrily about this and that. Both men were seated; Horn's left arm and parts of the left side of his face appeared paralyzed. In truth, he, too, looked computer-generated in his eyeglasses with rainbow-colored frames.
It was virtually impossible to tell what the two were saying, but that didn't matter to NBC; it just wanted advertisers to see that Horn was able to speak. "Father of the Pride" is, after all, the 9 p.m. tent pole of its Tuesday lineup -- the latest attempt to get some traction on the night.
After Siegfried and Roy's short, uncomfortable-making appearance, Zucker announced that NBC will broadcast a special about Horn, the tiger incident and his recovery, right before "Father of the Pride" debuts. Reportedly, California first lady Maria Shriver will conduct the interview with Horn, and because she stepped down from NBC News after her husband's election, it will be produced for NBC Entertainment. Clever how NBC got around that one, yes?
Like soldiers just following orders, none of the audience members at Radio City dared risk censure by leaping up and shouting, "Are you out of your *&#!@$ minds?!" as the S&R scene played out. That was left to Conan O'Brien, NBC's late-night star -- and, apparently, the only sane person at the network. During a seventh-inning-stretch standup routine, he marveled at the network's decision to go ahead with the animated show after the attack.
"He's been horribly mauled -- let's make a show about it!" O'Brien said, pretending to be an NBC suit, to nervous tittering in the audience.
"He might die!
"If that show works, they're going to make another show -- about Billy Joel's car!"
"Father of the Pride" is one of only four "comedies" on the fall lineup of the network that once boasted 16 sitcoms.
"Scrubs," which Zucker announced Monday has been picked up for two more seasons, follows "Father of the Pride" at 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays. "Friends" spinoff "Joey" will kick off Thursday nights, followed by returning "Will & Grace."
NBC had hoped that the screening of the entire pilot of "Joey" would make headlines. Zucker noted that the network hardly ever screens an entire pilot at one of these presentations; most recently it did so with "Cosby" and "Golden Girls."
Imagine an episode of "Friends" if everyone else in the cast had negotiated to do one less episode than Matt LeBlanc and the network asked the producers to take the show on the road like ABC takes the cast of its sitcoms to Disneyland during sweeps periods, and they got Drea de Matteo from "The Sopranos" as a very special guest star, and NBC suggested they also add a younger guy as Joey's nephew because the cast of "Friends" is getting a little too old for the target demographic. "Joey" was like that.
In other scheduling news, NBC has three new dramas on its fall lineup. Heather Locklear has been cast as a "tough as nails" head of Los Angeles International Airport in "LAX." NBC also bought a show based on true accounts from the National Institutes of Health, "America's most elite unit of medical experts," the network says. It's called "Medical Investigations," but as critics chatted while waiting for Zucker to get on a phone call to discuss the new lineup, one of them encouraged the others to use the more descriptive name "CSI: NBC." That describes the show pretty well, judging by the clips shown to advertisers.
"Hawaii" is a sort of "Hawaii: Five-O" meets "Miami Vice."
"Revelations," starring Bill Pullman as a cynical scientist seeking to explain signs that indicate the apocalypse, as foretold in scriptures, is in motion, gets to share the Wednesday 9 p.m. slot with "The West Wing."
Zucker also announced several other midseason shows, including the fourth "Law & Order" series, in which Jerry Orbach will reprise his long-running character from the drama that started it all. Dennis Farina, meanwhile, has joined the cast of "Law & Order."
NBC also has ordered three more comedies, just in case. They are: "Crazy for You," about a couple who drive each other nuts; "The Men's Room," about guys in their twenties, thirties and forties; and "The Office," based on the Brit hit.
"The bottom line is we are so much stronger than we expected to be at this point," Zucker told advertisers, citing the ratings success of reality series "The Apprentice," which will be back for two more rounds next season; the resurgence of "Crossing Jordan" on Sunday night; and the better-than-expected performance of Monday's "Las Vegas."
O'Brien's translation: "NBC: At Least We're Not ABC."
And speaking of ABC, that network is scheduled to announce its prime-time lineup Tuesday. It has ordered a sitcom from Mel Gibson about a dad raising his sons, a drama about desperate housewives living in a cul-de-sac, and a drama about teenage boys obsessed with sex. The last used to be called "Doing It," but we hear it is now called "Life as We Know It," which reminds me of when NBC had a show called "Smoldering Lust" but chickened out and changed the title at the last minute to "Black Tie Affair."
And speaking of desperate housewives in a cul-de-sac, ABC may put on its fall lineup another reality series based on a Brit hit about families who swap moms for a while, but I'm just guessing it won't wind up being called "Wife Swap."
ABC probably will make the most changes to its schedule -- no surprise considering it's finishing the season in fourth place. The spinoff of "The Practice" is considered a sure thing for the original series' Sunday time period. And, like NBC, ABC plans to cut the number of comedies on its lineup. Among the series on life support are "Life With Bonnie," "It's All Relative" and "I'm With Her."
And in CBS schedule news, the network has greenlighted its sitcom based on Washington Post sports columnist Tony Kornheiser's life. We hear it may be headed for Wednesday night, leading into one of the "CSI" series.