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NBC looks forward -- to spring

Futures of `30 Rock,' `Studio 60' and `Lights' are up in the air.

January 18, 2007|Martin Miller | Times Staff Writer

WEDNESDAY was supposed to be NBC's day in the sun at the mid-season press tour, but Fox's "American Idol" managed to cast a shadow over the morning's executive session with the network's Entertainment President, Kevin Reilly.

"NBC will be ending our season as of yesterday," joked Reilly, whose hourlong comments focused primarily on this year's efforts to rebuild his network's prime-time schedule. "Fox disregards the fall because baseball interrupts their flow, so we're going to disregard the spring because 'Idol' interrupts our flow."

The barbs came in wake of massive ratings for Fox's cultural phenomenon "American Idol," which opened Tuesday night to the highest premiere numbers in the show's history. The show drew a whopping 37.3 million viewers. Reilly was jabbing Fox executives, who for months have explained away their anemic fall lineup, in large part, due to the inherent vicissitudes of broadcasting Major League Baseball's playoffs.

After the session, Reilly couldn't help taking another shot at the reality show that has reshaped television. "Nothing burns that bright forever. There will come a day when it will be uncool to watch the show."

Reilly offered no prediction when that day might be, but it can't come soon enough for NBC or the other networks whose programming against "American Idol" typically is squashed.

The bulk of Reilly's morning remarks, however, centered on the future of a trio of NBC shows that despite generating buzz, haven't logged impressive ratings: the broad comedy "30 Rock," the small-town drama "Friday Night Lights" and Aaron Sorkin's drama "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip."

Reilly has shown considerable patience with the struggling programs. He praised the shows and said he wanted them all to return next season, but stopped short of guaranteeing it.

"30 Rock," the raucous comedy within a comedy, enjoyed a publicity boost this week when Alec Baldwin took home a Golden Globe for his portrayal of an egomaniacal network executive. The show has also been helped by its recent move into the network's Thursday night comedy block.

And few shows bask in the critical success of "Friday Night Lights," which has been roundly lauded for its look into small-town life. The show has had particular trouble attracting female viewers, lamented Reilly, who said he was hoping the show's strong relationship themes would eventually draw them in. Part of the trouble has been scheduling too.

"I don't like the 'Friday Night Lights' time period," admitted Reilly of the show's early time slot at 8 p.m. Wednesdays.

The road may be toughest for "Studio 60," another show within a comedy show. Reilly conceded the Sorkin show had been "polarizing," but hoped it would improve in the ratings as the show began to emphasize its personal relationships more this spring.

He announced that NBC was renewing "The Office," "My Name Is Earl," "Heroes" and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" for next season.

"SVU" will be back, Reilly said, with or without its two leads, Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay, who are negotiating new contracts.

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