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NBC Plans, God Laughs
April 3, 2008  | By David Bianculli
What I love most about NBC's "52-week" schedule plan, announced yesterday, is the unbridled optimism of it. It's actually a 65-week plan, more than a dozen weeks longer than a full-year strategy, and carries all the way to the end of the summer of 2009. It's the brainchild of relatively new NBC Entertainment and Universal Studios co-chairman Ben Silverman, who laid out the plans of his fourth-place network with pride and enthusiasm.

I didn't attend the press conference, but had I been there, my first question would have been: Mr. Silverman, given your network's standing and general prospects, what makes you think you're still going to be at NBC by the summer of 2009?

To paraphrase an old saying: NBC plans, God laughs.

Jeff Zucker, Silverman's supportive boss at NBC-Universal, has made a series of moves more disastrous than inspired since his high-rated flagship comedies -- Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier -- ended their runs, and NBC's long-running Thursday-night supremacy. With such awful attempts at "innovation" as Father of the Pride, Zucker failed to replace his retiring heavy hitters. Silverman, by backing such shows as Bionic Woman and, for next fall, turning his Knight Rider telemovie into a weekly series, has demonstrated the same sort of quality TV tone-deafness.


Tonight on NBC's My Name Is Earl, Jeff Zucker actually appears at the top, playing himself in an allegedly funny way to welcome viewers back after the strike and catch us up on where the show left off. It's nice to feel welcome, but we viewers never went anywhere. It's the TV shows that went away.

But now that NBC is back, and getting a jump on its rivals in revealing plans for fall (and winter, and spring, and summer), some of those plans are indeed welcome. The confirmed return of Friday Night Lights is the network's best move, even if NBC, to cut costs, is letting DIRECTV show the episodes first. That's a little short-sighted, because reviewers will flock to where the program first appears, and NBC won't benefit from any of the buzz. But when a show is this good, having a third season under any circumstances is a wonderful thing.

Other highly noteworthy announcements are two risky spinoffs. One is a spinoff of The Office, which might not be able to sustain the split. The other is a three-week offering, in October, of SNL Thursday Night Live, a prime-time, politically themed mini-version of Saturday Night Live, complete with"Weekend Update" reports and topical skits. Doing this the month before the presidential elections looks good on paper -- but will this weaken the impact of, and expectations for, the actual Saturday Night Live?

The NBC mega-month-long plan also includes a new series by Tom Fontana (one of my favorite TV producers, ever since St. Elsewhere). But you know what? Like much of this NBC schedule, I'll believe it when I see it. I may not like it, but at least I'll believe it.




Nose for Gnus said:

Once Fred Silverman sprayed television with a scent that endured for years. Eventually, finally, the smell dissipated. And we breathed a little cleaner air for a while.

Is the respite now over? Another Silverman, another stench?

Can another "Pink Lady and Jeff," like "Knight Rider" and "Bionic Woman," be awaiting an opening in this schedule?

(Wow -- What a good, long memory you have. But remember. While Silverman -- the old Fred, not the new Ben -- gave us "jiggle television," he also gave us "Hill Street Blues." -- David B.)

Comment posted on April 3, 2008 11:52 AM

Phillip R. Crabb said:

(Wow -- What a good, long memory you have. But remember. While Silverman -- the old Fred, not the new Ben -- gave us "jiggle television," he also gave us "Hill Street Blues." -- David B.)

And, uh, 'Supertrain', right..? (I seem to remember that they thought it would be a huge hit....I think it lasted about 3 or 4 episodes...)

Comment posted on April 3, 2008 5:46 PM

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