NBC is the one to beat in the lucrative 18-49 demo, but, with the departure of Friends
(and to a lesser extent, Frasier), the network is in its most vulnerable spot in five years. Yet there's The Apprentice, which unexpectedly hit big. Does The Donald have another year in him? Can the Friends spinoff work? How big a rebuilding job does new Entertainment President Kevin Reilly have?
Questions like that are why there are upfronts.
Jeff Zucker, the newly titled president of the NBC Universal Television Group, presided over most of the upfront presentation last week. Like Fox, NBC touted a year-round schedule. It introduced five series for fall; significantly, it also says it has seven series ready to go. Said Reilly, "It's not about the fall season. It's about all season."
One other significant wrinkle: NBC kicks off most of its new season immediately after the Olympics, in late August.
(sitcom, Thursdays, 8)—The Friends
spinoff starring Matt LeBlanc gets that coveted Thursday time slot. In the series, he's trying to jump-start his acting career in Los Angeles, aided by his sister (Drea de Mateo, from The Sopranos). NBC showed the upfront crowd the entire 22-minute pilot. Pleasant enough, but no one was rolling in the aisles.
Father of the Pride (sitcom, Tuesdays, 9)—Super-expensive Shrek-like computer-generated-imaging (CGI) comedy about lions who work for Siegfried & Roy, conceived before Roy Horn's mishap and with their continued blessing. Executive-produced by Jeff Katzenberg. From DreamWorks.
Medical Investigation (drama, Fridays, 10)—Elite medical team called in for life-or-death rescues. Stars Neal McDonough (Boomtown) and Kelli Williams (The Practice).
Hawaii (drama, Wednesdays, 8)—Critics may think this fast-moving cop show is too violent for the time period. But it looks great. Michael Biehn (Terminator) and Sharif Atkins, (ER) headline an ensemble cast.
LAX (drama, Monday, 10)—Heather Locklear and Blair Underwood star as airport administrators at each other's throats, in a sexy/grudging-respect way.
Law & Order: Trial By Jury
(drama, midseason)—The fourth installment in the Dick Wolf franchise starts with the arraignment, not the crime scene. Jerry Orbach, who's leaving the original series (replaced by Dennis Farina), will be back for this one.
Crazy for You
(sitcom, midseason)—Opposites attract in this New York-based comedy.
The Men's Room (sitcom, midseason)—Three guys of varying ages try to get their lives together while living on a California beach. Crazy and Men's Room will be Thursday replacements when The Apprentice ends.
Medium (drama, midseason)—Spooky drama starring Patricia Arquette about a wife who sees dead people.
(drama, midseason)—Bill Pullman is a scientist trying to explain rationally signs that seem to be pointing to the apocalyptic end of the world. (And we thought it was just the end of Friends.)
Will fill West Wing slot later in the season.
The Office (sitcom, midseason)—The U.S. version of the great big British hit; people who've seen it think this is a good rendering.
The Contender (reality, midseason)—Sixteen boxers go from training camp to Contender
champ. Mark Burnett, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Sylvester Stallone are executive producers.
For Love or Money 4
(reality, midseason)—The return of the relationship game show.