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NBC Hopes Sexy New Coupling Will Be TV's Next Break-Out Hit

Developing and launching new TV shows is a crapshoot for all networks, but this year the stakes are especially high for NBC.

Today, NBC announces its fall schedule during its New York upfront presentation, and, with Tuesday and Thursday comedy anchors Frasier
and Friends
entering their last years on the air, the network needs to convince advertisers that it has come up with shows that can replace those two long-lasting megahits.

One show that might help the skeptical advertising masses: Coupling, a very sexy import from Britain that it has been semi-privately touting as American television's next breakout hit.

Nine months ago, NBC, Reveille Productions and Universal Television spent $2 million to shoot the first pilot of the show but, after deciding they could make it better, spent another $2 million to shoot another one.

The show features six sophisticated singles who date and mate and never stop talking about it. The dialogue is fast and funny, and the show is a big hit in Britain, where it airs on the BBC.

Already, the media is salivating at the idea of a sexually over-the-top show coming to prime time TV. But the show's executive producer says that, although it is "hilarious," its sexual gratuity won't come close to rivaling cable shows like HBO's Sex and the City.

"It's sexy, but it's much less overtly sexual than anything on cable and less overtly sexual than anything even on Will & Grace," says Ben Silverman, executive producer and CEO of Reveille Productions. "It features sophisticated adults talking in adult language about realistic portrayals of single life. It's very intelligent, thoughtful and representative of single life in a humorous way."

The easy part about Coupling
is that it's already a proven success in the U.K., and writer Phoef Sutton is adapting the existing scripts so they have a more American feel. Sitcoms in the U.S. also run 22 minutes, giving them room for advertising; British shows occupy the full 30 minutes.

Should Coupling
work creatively, it would fit well in NBC's Thursday 9:30 p.m. ET slot, replacing Good Morning, Miami, whose renewal remains uncertain. Coupling also could air Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m., following Frasier. NBC executives also say they want to launch more comedies on other nights next year but that will depend partly on the strength of the network's comedy development. (NBC says it wouldn't air Coupling
any earlier because of all the, well, coupling, going on or being talked about.)

Other comedies that are leading candidates to make NBC's schedule are Happy Family, starring John Larroquette and Christine Baranski; two Carsey-Werner-Mandabach projects, one with Whoopi Goldberg and one with Tracy Morgan; family sitcom Stuck in the Middle With You, starring Timothy Busfield and Annie Potts; and Come to Papa, featuring comic Tom Papa. NBC is looking to add only one or two dramas next year.

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.