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NBC re-tinkers fall lineup

The network, after viewing competitors' pilots, makes changes to its programming on five nights.

May 26, 2006|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

Ten days after announcing its shiny new prime-time schedule to advertisers in Manhattan, NBC was forced Thursday to make some drastic changes to its fall lineup, a direct consequence of ABC's bold move of its hottest show, "Grey's Anatomy," to Thursday nights. But NBC did a lot more than counter-program that show: The network altered its programming five nights of the week.

NBC President of Entertainment Kevin Reilly acknowledged the moves were radical but said they were predicated by the network's fourth-place finish this season and his viewing of the competition's pilots this past week.

"We go first [in announcing the fall schedule to advertisers] and we're in fourth," he said. "Unusual circumstances lead to these kinds of measures.... I think it would be a little foolhardy to say we're rushing in, let reality be damned. We're saying we believe in our new shows. Now that we've got the competitive landscape, let's realign the schedule now in the light of day to what makes the most sense."

The network had announced with much fanfare a new Thursday lineup that executives hoped would reinstate "Must-See TV."

Hit comedies "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office" will still launch the night. But Aaron Sorkin's behind-the-scenes look at a late-night sketch show, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," is moving to Mondays at 10 p.m., a change that, sources said, was met favorably by Warner Bros. Television, which produces it. Reilly said that Sorkin is "relieved" by his new time slot.

"ER" will continue at 10 p.m. on Thursdays, except when it takes a hiatus in January so that Oscar winners Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco can launch their drama, "The Black Donnellys," in the slot for 13 weeks.

Conceding that juggernauts "Grey's Anatomy" and CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" are too monstrous to give any new show a chance, Reilly moved the game show "Deal or No Deal" against them at 9 p.m., pitting Dr. McDreamy (Patrick Dempsey) and Gil Grissom (William Petersen) against comic Howie Mandel.

"I'm Dr. McDealy," Mandel joked upon learning about his new time slot on Thursday. "Wow, you can't ask for a better vote of confidence to be on a network like this on Thursday nights. I trust NBC and Kevin because they knew what they had before I knew what I had."

The decision to launch "Studio 60" on Mondays after the 8 p.m. edition of "Deal or No Deal" and another new drama, "Heroes," pushed "Medium" out of the schedule entirely until midseason, after "Sunday Night Football" ends. Sources at Paramount Television, which produces the series, said the studio was pleased with the move because 22 episodes will air almost without interruption. The show's ratings have suffered this year because of its somewhat erratic schedule.

Reilly also made big changes to NBC's "Law & Order" franchise, moving the original to Fridays at 10 p.m. and running its two spinoffs, "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" and "Law & Order: SVU," back-to-back on Tuesday nights.

Asked how "Law & Order" executive producer Dick Wolf reacted to the scheduling changes, Reilly said, "We had a very pleasant conversation. He gets it. He likes the Tuesday play. We had openly discussed the idea of 'Law & Order' moving to Friday at some point anyway because he does believe that show could win on a Friday night and live there for a long time."

After viewing all of his competitors' new shows, Reilly said, he felt even better about his new drama-laden schedule.

"The challenge of doing a schedule is that you pull on one end of the string and the other end goes with it," he said. "Every one move creates two other ones. We are now making informed decisions, not decisions in a vacuum."


The new plan

Here is NBC's revised fall lineup:

Monday: "Deal or No Deal," "Heroes," "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip."

Tuesday: "Friday Night Lights," "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," "Law & Order: SVU."

Wednesday: "20 Good Years," "30 Rock," "The Biggest Loser," "Kidnapped."

Thursday: "My Name Is Earl," "The Office," "Deal or No Deal," "ER."

Friday: "Crossing Jordan," "Las Vegas," "Law & Order."

Saturday: "Dateline Saturday," drama series repeats.

Sunday: "Sunday Night Football."

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