NBC is betting on star power to propel its slate of new shows for the fall. In a splashy presentation at New York City's Metropolitian Opera House, the network rolled out six new series for the 2003-2004 season that include such marquee names as Whoopi Goldberg, James Caan, Rob Lowe, Alicia Silverstone, Ryan O'Neal, Christine Baranski and John Larroquette.
"Obviously, [NBC Entertainment president] Jeff Zucker is making an effort to be the network of quality," says Jon Mandel, co-CEO of the media buying giant Mediacom. "You see it in the stars, and the pedigrees of the people behind all the new shows."
Indeed, the network, with the exception of its Monday hit Fear Factor, is staying clear of low-road reality shows this fall. It was evident too, in Zucker's decision to bring back Boomtown and Ed, two critically acclaimed but marginally rated shows.
"Zucker is to be commended for going with quality," says Mandel. "The question is will enough viewers support those quality shows to make them work?" Here's hoping. Meanwhile, here's a night-by-night analysis of the new schedule:Monday NBC is going after a young male audience on Mondays, even though it faces the testosterone of ABC's Monday Night Football in the fall. Fear Factor opens the night at 8, followed by Las Vegas, one of three new dramas. Las Vegas stars Caan and All My Children hunk Josh Duhamel as security agents in a swank Vegas casino. Molly Sims of MTV's House of Style plays Caan's daughter and McCoy's love interest. This hour drama got the most tepid response from the media-buying community, despite a presentation tape with Caan doing his tough-guy thing. Third Watch moves to a new 10 pm slot in its fifth season, a time period previously occupied by Crossing Jordan. NBC announced Crossing Jordan will return some time later in the season (time period unknown) when its star Jill Hennesy returns from maternity leave. Tuesday Here NBC is gambling big, opening the night with two new sitcoms, both featuring veteran stars. Whoopi, at 8, stars Whoopi Goldberg as a one-hit-wonder singer who runs a small hotel in New York. It comes from the creators of 3rd Rock from the Sun and That '70s Show. The clip shown drew some laughs, but Goldberg's rambling monologue on-stage at the Met afterward worried some in attendance about how committed to the project she really was. "Chances are her monologue will last longer than the show," quipped the executive producer of one NBC show. Still, Goldberg has her fans and the show has an even shot. Same, too, for Happy Family, a comedy staring Larroquette and Baranski as empty nesters whose grown children return home. Frasier will continue at 9 with sophomore comedy Good Morning, Miami following it. NBC is likely to get a boost by moving the hit Law & Order: Special Victims Unit to the 10 pm slot. It means one less night of Dateline and more revenue for NBC, which can command more for commercials for the Law & Order spin-off than the newsmagazine. Wednesday Despite striking it hot on Fridays, Ed was moved back to start off the night. "It did just as well Wednesday at 8," Zucker maintains. "It's in the right place." The rest of the night stays put, with The West Wing at 9 and Law & Order at 10. Look for a more character-driven West Wing next season and a lot less polemics now that series creator Aaron Sorkin has left the show. Thursday NBC's powerhouse lineup stays mostly intact, although there will only be 18 original Friends episodes instead of the usual show order of 22. The one new offering, at 9:30, is Coupling, the network's highest-profile new comedy. Based on the British hit of the same name, the series about a group of randy thirty-somethings is the show NBC hopes will be the next Friends. The original pilot for the domestic version was shot a year ago, then scrapped and recast and shot again. "It was aggravating going though all the ups and downs," says Coupling executive producer Ben Silverman. "But they've given us the best time period on the schedule [following Will & Grace at 9:30] so I guess it was all worth it." Ultimately, viewers will decide if it lives up to the hype. ER returns to its accustomed 10 pm slot. FridayMiss Match, perhaps NBC's best received new drama by Madison Avenue, kicks off the night. It features Alicia Silverstone as a divorce lawyer by day, matchmaker by night. Her divorce lawyer dad is played by Ryan O'Neal. This is the network's play for the young female audience that liked both Providence and Ed in this time period. Boomtown moves to 10, where cop shows such as Miami Vice, Homicide and Law & Order: SVU have traditionally done well for the network. Saturday NBC is staying with movies in the fall. But as the season progresses, don't be surprised to see second runs of Law & Order and its spinoffs. Sunday The 7-9 pm lineup of Dateline, American Dreams and Law & Order: Criminal Intent remains intact. At 10, the network will try Lyon's Den, staring Lowe as an idealistic lawyer in a big Washington law firm. The series has the feel of a John Grisham novel but will face stiff competition from ABC's The Practice, which is expected to return to Sunday and air opposite Lyon's Den. NBC's Zucker claims to be unfazed. "If somebody wants to schedule a lawyer show against us, let them try," he says. "Ours has the goods."For a look at NBC's new fall schedule, click here. Plus, read what Matt Roush thinks of the lineup here.