Zucker Vows Better Bird

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In unveiling a fall lineup consisting of six new series--three new dramas, a comedy and two unscripted programs--NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker Monday acknowledged to advertisers packing Radio City that the network over-promised on what it could deliver during an admittedly disappointing season.

"Let's be entirely candid," Zucker said, at the outset of a lengthy presentation in which he and NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly vowed to turn things around, "We were not what we wanted to be and not what we expected to be."

Zucker introduced a three-pronged prime time strategy that had the sound of a Jesse Jackson speech: "Get out of the gate at 8, add shows that rate, and stay strong late (in the 10 p.m. hour)."

NBC has put its heavy guns on Tuesday, trying to improve a night that has struggled, while keeping its Thursday night intact.

It has high hopes for the new 9 p.m. Tuesday single-camera comedy My Name is Earl starring Jason Lee (Almost Famous, Chasing Amy), and advertisers gave it the loudest round of applause.

Although there had been speculation the network could move either Joey or Will & Grace to start a comedy block on a new night like Tuesday, in the end the network decided that it was too risky to move them.

Zucker and Reilly both vowed they would fix Joey, its Thursday night lead-off comedy, which has not worked as well creatively as they would have liked and has failed to live up to early expectations.

The schedule, however, could change within the next few weeks after NBC has a chance to analyze and react to what the other networks do.

At an earlier press conference. Reilly held out the possibility that Scrubs could return with a full-season order as early as fall, as well as the comedies Four Kings and Thick and Thin.

But the conventional wisdom is that the network will probably wait until the Winter Olympics in February to promote most of the series for spring, unless it needs to be rolled out sooner to fill failed time periods in November.

Reilly also said the religious-themed drama Book of Daniel, a pilot that failed to get a fall pick up, is still "very much" in contention for a spot later in the season.

Fear Factor, he said, will return at 8 p.m. Tuesday following the first 12-week run of  The Biggest Loser.

Martha Stewart made an appearance to plug her new version of The Apprentice, which will air at 8 p.m. Wednesday. Due to her prison stay and subsequent house arrest restrictions, NBC had no tape to show of the pilot.

And the executives said this will likely be the last season for two of the network's longest-running series, The West Wing and Will & Grace, but did not entirely rule out their return.

West Wing has moved to Sunday night at 8-9, while Dateline moves up an hour on Friday to 9 p.m. and the Wednesday edition of Dateline goes away.

Dateline also has a new co-anchor for Stone Phillips, effective immediately: Ann Curry, who will continue her anchoring duties on Today.

As expected, Zucker and Reilly continually emphasized the network's strength with upper-income viewers as NBC tries to stave off losses on advertisers' upfront commitments and the tight 0.5 rating points separating the first (Fox) and last-place (NBC) networks in the key adults 18-49 demo.

Yet they also poked fun at themselves with a funny presentation tape reciting this season's prominent failures and showing Reilly slowly cracking up under the pressure.

It also showed Stewart's new Apprentice contract sewn on a quilt.

As they previewed their new 2005-06 shows, two could prove to be potentially controversial from an advertiser standpoint: Inconceivable, an ensemble doctor drama set at a fertility clinic (which had a dancing sperm graphic as part of the pilot trailer); and Thick and Thin, a Jim Burrows-directed comedy from the Will & Grace team that will appear later in the season about an overweight woman (Jessica Capshaw from The Practice) who sheds pounds and becomes fit, but is still seen by friends and family as her former fat self.

In a scene shown to advertisers, when an attractive woman complains about not fitting into her bikini, a heavy woman responds, "I can't even see my cooch."

The Following is the new fall schedule, straight from NBC:


NBC PRIMETIME SCHEDULE FOR 2005-06

*New programs in CAPS (with the exception of "ER")

MONDAY
8-9 p.m. "FATHOM" (formerly "Fear Factor")
9-10 p.m. "Las Vegas"
10-11 p.m. "Medium"

TUESDAY
8-9 p.m. "The Biggest Loser"
9-9:30 p.m. "MY NAME IS EARL" (formerly "Scrubs")
9:30-10 p.m. "The Office"
10-11 p.m. "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"

WEDNESDAY
8-9 p.m.  "THE APPRENTICE: MARTHA STEWART" (formerly "Dateline")
9-10 p.m. "E-RING" (most recently limited series "Revelations")
10-11 p.m. "Law & Order"

THURSDAY
8-8:30 p.m. "Joey"
8:30-9 p.m. "Will & Grace"
9-10 p.m. "The Apprentice"
10-11 p.m. "ER"

FRIDAY
8-9 p.m. "THREE WISHES"
9-10 p.m. "Dateline NBC" (new time period) 
10-11 p.m. "INCONCEIVABLE"

SATURDAY
8-11 p.m. "NBC SATURDAY NIGHT MOVIE"

SUNDAY
7-8 p.m. "Dateline NBC"
8-9 p.m. "The West Wing" (new day and time)
9-10 p.m. "Law & Order: Criminal Intent"
10-11 p.m. "Crossing Jordan" 

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