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Early bird NBC hopes to build on 'Friends'

Network to open fall season early, with spinoff 'Joey' in a treasured time slot; 'L&O' adds a new show.

March 26, 2004|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

Not content to wait for May to unveil its fall lineup, NBC took the unusual step Thursday of announcing part of its upcoming schedule, almost two months ahead of its competitors. Among the highlights are that "Joey," the "Friends" spin-off starring Matt LeBlanc, will take that departing show's 8 p.m. Thursday slot, followed by "Will & Grace," "The Apprentice" and "ER."

In addition, Dick Wolf's "Law and Order" franchise will unveil its fourth installment, "Trial by Jury," a courtroom drama that uses an omniscient narrator to get into the minds of prosecutors, defense lawyers, police officers and jurors.

Jeff Zucker, president of NBC's entertainment, news and cable group, said the network's fall season will begin on Aug. 29, four weeks ahead of time, to take advantage of the expected boost in viewership from the Summer Olympics in Athens.

Zucker and other NBC executives outlined the network's other drama and comedy pilots and two new unscripted shows during a session with the media.

The most original of the scripted lot is sure to be "Father of the Pride," a computer-generated animated series that centers around the lives of a pride of white lions that perform in the "Siegfried and Roy" show.

The lead characters are voiced by John Goodman, Cheryl Hines, Orlando Jones, Carl Reiner, Danielle Harris, Julian Holloway and Dave Herman. Eddie Murphy guest-stars in one episode as Donkey, the "Shrek" sidekick. Executives did not announce the show's placement in the lineup.

In January, producer Mark Burnett hopes to capitalize on the success of "Survivor" and "The Apprentice" with his new unscripted series, "The Contender," which is to star Sylvester Stallone and focus on 16 boxers who will vie for a $1-million prize.

Following the success of "Average Joe," NBC will debut "Plain Jane," which uses the same premise but reverses the gender roles, Zucker said.

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