|Perhaps NBC has a new tradition: Announce a fall schedule, then tear it up 10 days later. |
On May 15, the Peacock network, with its traditional flourish, again was the first network to publish its September lineup. Highlighting the schedule at 8 p.m. Thursday was Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, the most-talked-about new fall series.
Created by Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme (The West Wing), the series will dramatize the backstage happenings of a storied late-night weekly comedy series (think Saturday Night Live).
But 10 days later, after examining the fall schedules of network rivals, NBC made major revisions. The changes included moving Studio 60 to 9 p.m. Monday and bumping Law & Order from its Wednesday perch to 9 p.m. Friday. That latter time period is considered a "Death Valley" time slot because series (particularly NBC shows) have problems establishing audience roots on that night.
In another curious move, NBC will shift Law & Order: Criminal Intent to 8 p.m. Tuesday, preceding Law & Order Special Victims Unit, meaning viewers can have consecutive hours of "chung chung" sounds. (Fans of Medium should know the Monday series will be benched until January in favor of Studio 60.)
NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly admits Studio 60 was bumped from Thursday after ABC announced the move of Grey's Anatomy into the 8 p.m. time period opposite CSI, CBS' top-rated show. Reilly knows that any new series, even one of high quality, would have trouble finding a decent audience in that competitive hour. So Reilly will instead program Deal or No Deal, the network's hot new game show, against CSI and Grey's Anatomy.
While many perceive fourth-place NBC's schedule revision as a sign of weakness, Reilly's Thursday decision makes sense. Why squander an expensive, potentially high-quality series? Considering the competition, Studio 60 probably would have been moved early in the season, anyway.
During a conference call, Reilly defended the changes, saying: "We go first. We're in fourth." (Will that slogan replace "It's must-see Thursday night on NBC"?)
What doesn't make sense: the shift of Law & Order to Friday. Premiering in 1990, the "mother ship" of the L&O franchise aired the first two seasons at 9 p.m. Tuesday. Since the fall of 1992, L&O has been anchored at 9 p.m. Wednesday.
Five years ago, NBC's Wednesday-night lineup (Ed, The West Wing and Law & Order) had a waiting list of upscale advertisers who wanted to be part of that lineup. Times and schedules have changed. L&O has lost viewers to CBS' CSI: New York in the past two seasons. And the network has high hopes for Kidnapped, a new drama taking over the 9 p.m. Wednesday period.
How many dedicated fans will follow Law & Order to Friday? Will mediocre audience ratings kill off the series before it reaches or passes Gunsmoke as network TV's longest-running (at 20 years) weekly drama?
Meanwhile, creator Dick Wolf is wrestling with two casting issues. Dennis Farina, who has played Det. Joe Fontana for two seasons (replacing the late Jerry Orbach), announced he won't be back so he can pursue other roles. Annie Parisse, who portrayed assistant district attorney Alexandra Borgia for 18 months, previously had left the series when her character was killed during the season finale.
OFF THE AIR: For those wondering about the status of some of their favorite series, here's a list of canceled shows not returning in the fall.
• ABC: Commander in Chief, Crumbs, The Evidence, Freddie, Hope & Faith, Hot Properties, In Justice, Invasion, Less Than Perfect, Rodney, Sons & Daughters.
• CBS: CBS Sunday Night Movie, Courting Alex, Still Standing, Out of Practice, Love Monkey and Yes, Dear.
• NBC: Conviction, E-Ring, Joey, Surface, Teachers.
• Fox: The Bernie Mac Show, Head Cases, Killer Instinct, Reunion, Stacked.
• The WB: Bedford Diaries, Charmed, Everwood, Just Legal, Modern Men, Pepper Dennis, Twins.
• UPN: Eve, Half and Half, One on One, Sex, Love & Secrets. (Note: The WB and UPN have combined for a new network, the CW, premiering in September.)
• Not on the fall schedule but returning in mid-season: American Idol, 24, King of the Hill, The Loop (all on Fox); The Apprentice, Medium, Scrubs (all on NBC); The King of Queens (CBS); Reba (CW)