NBC gets real this summer

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While NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker tends to eschew reality
programming for most of the year, except the critically maligned Fear
Factor
, the network is embracing the genre wholeheartedly in the summer,
with seven new reality shows planned and two returning.

News shows are Next Action Star, Last Comic Standing, The
Restaurant
, The Fast and the Furious, Around the World in 80
Dates
, Race to the Altar and Love Shack.

Returning is Crime & Punishment, Law & Order Creator
Dick Wolf's inside look at the San Diego criminal justice system, and game/stunt
show Dog Eat Dog.

Those programming choices mean that 60% of NBC's schedule this summer will be
comprised of original programming, Zucker said, at the Television Critics
Association's winter press tour in Hollywood.

While Zucker was likely relieved to announce the returns next year of The
West Wing
and Friends - for $7 million and $10 million an episode,
respectively - he said the next season of Friends, its tenth, will
definitely be its last.

'The door is not open after that,' he said. NBC and Warner Bros. agreed that
next year, the producers will create 18 episodes of Friends instead of
the usual 24.

Every year the series closes with a one-hour finale that counts as two
episodes, and Zucker 'guaranteed' the Friends series finale next year
will be the biggest event on television.

NBC will premiere Kingpin, a drama about a family that runs a Mexican
drug cartel, on Sunday, Feb. 2 at 10 p.m., and will re-air the show on Tuesdays
at 10 p.m. for three weeks.

The show initially will be shown with minimal commercial interruption and
will be reaired on Telemundo in Spanish.

A director's cut also will be shown on Bravo, NBC's new cable channel.

Boomtown returns to its Sunday 10 p.m. slot on March 2, and that day NBC
will air a Boomtown marathon on Bravo, ending at 10 p.m.

NBC is bringing back Julia Louis Dreyfus' sitcom Watching Ellie at the
end of March, although there will be no clock and it will be shot live before a
studio audience with multiple cameras, Zucker said.

NBC also will begin programming Saturday nights with more original
programming.

A five-episode run of game show Let's Make a Deal will air on Saturday
nights at 8 p.m., beginning March 1.

Meet My Folks will move to Saturdays at 10 p.m. beginning in March.
Hunter
, which was a successful movie for NBC earlier this year, is coming
back as a series on April 12, also to air Saturday nights at 10 p.m.

'It's absolutely a goal of our to move to progrmaming on Saturday nights,'
Zucker said. 'But we also have a tremendous inventory of theatricals' the
network also needs to run.

NBC will kick off February sweeps with 40-minute episodes of its three comic
hits: Friends, Scrubs and Will & Grace.

All three shows will be studded with top-notch guest stars-such as as Demi
Moore, Minnie Driver, Jon Lovitz, Jeff Goldblum and Madonna-all month long.

The network has several specials scheduled for sweeps, including The Three
Stooges 75th Anniversary
on Feb. 18, Outrageous Game Show
Moments II
on Feb. 11, and TV's Most Memorable Weddings on Feb. 14.

In other programming announcements, Providence will not return,
although Zucker did toy with the idea for awhile.

With new political drama Mister Sterling improving the 18-49
demographic on Friday at 8 p.m., Zucker saw no need to bring Providence
back.

While Zucker admits the network still has failed to improve Tuesdays from 8
p.m. to 9 p.m., he isn't sure if Just Shoot Me will return next year.

He praised Frasier, though, saying the comedy is only down 9% in
adults 18-49 this year even with weak lead-in shows Just Shoot Me and
In-Laws
.

NBC also has plenty of specials planned, including a one-hour Dateline
about Michael Jackson's face, or lack thereof, which drew laughs from TV
critics.

Also coming is The Martha Stewart Story, starring Cybill Shepard; a
show on the making of Three's Company; and War Stories, starring
Jeff Goldblum, on Wednesday, Jan. 29.

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