While executives at ABC and CBS invoked NBC's Jay Leno move as an opportunity for a viewer grab at 10 p.m., NBC Entertainment co-chair Ben Silverman last week professed the network's devotion to Leno and NBC's confidence in his ability to compete in the time slot.
“We love Jay today even more than when we made this decision,” Silverman said. “This is the only topical show [at 10 p.m.]. It's the only DVR-proof show. We're going to deliver originals all year long. We love the comedy alternative. We love the topical.”
Leno is the linchpin in NBC's strategy to out-original the competition next season, with 46 weeks of Jay Leno Show originals and the DVR-proof 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Stripping variety in primetime is a strategy that NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker attempted to execute repeatedly with overtures to David Letterman and Oprah Winfrey. NBC even considered moving Johnny Carson to primetime in the 1980s.
The network will introduce two new comedies and four new dramas during the 2009-10 season in a shared time-period strategy designed to keep reruns to a minimum.
NBC will launch its most buzzed-about entry, Community, Thursday at 9:30 p.m. after The Office. Starring Joel McHale as the leader of a group of community college misfits, it also includes a blast from NBC's glorious comedic past—Saturday Night Live veteran Chevy Chase in a supporting role. NBC has ordered six installments of Weekend Update, which will anchor Thursdays at 8 p.m. After Update finishes its run, Community will move to 8 p.m. making room for the return of 30 Rock at 9:30 p.m.
NBC will put midseason dating comedy 100 Questions behind a 90-minute Biggest Loser Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. And it will launch Jerry Seinfeld's The Marriage Ref Sundays at 8 p.m. after the football season concludes.
NBC will use its considerable sports platforms to promote its new shows. Fall entries Trauma and Ron Howard's Parenthood will get plenty of promo time during Sunday Night Football. Apocalyptic drama Day One will get a push from the Winter Olympics, as will medical drama Mercy. NBC employed the same strategy with now-canceled My Own Worst Enemy and Crusoe during last summer's Beijing Games.
Advertisers and critics lauded NBC's new development slate as its best in years. Parenthood, as well as Mercy and Trauma, recall the network's heyday as the destination for quality dramas, a legacy in peril after five seasons of dismal development. Of the 25 dramas launched in the last five seasons, only Heroes, Chuck and Southland are still on the schedule.
For all the chatter about Leno, the format of his show remains unclear. The comedian will move into a big new studio. He'll keep signature bits such as Jay-walking, and may backload the hour with comedy sketches in an attempt to buoy the show's ratings heading into the 11 p.m. local news. There has also been talk of a single guest.
During a press conference last week, Leno said he has no plans to reinvent himself. “I've been doing this a long time,” he said. “You do what you do. The network will make ridiculous suggestions like they always do. You say, 'Uh-huh' and then go ahead and do what you were going to do.”