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NBC Pushes Up Fall-Season Launch

NBC will launch most of its fall season right after the Summer Olympic Games in Athens, said Jeff Zucker, president of NBC entertainment, news and cable group, Wednesday at the winter gathering of TV critics and reporters in Hollywood.

This year’s Games will take place Aug. 13-29, later than usual.

"This early launch is unique to our situation because of the platform this Olympics gives us," Zucker said. "We want to move all of those Olympics viewers right into our new programming."

NBC already has informed the crews of returning shows to plan to launch two-to-three weeks early, Zucker said. The early launch may move up the end of NBC’s season, causing it to unveil its original summer programming earlier in May 2005.

It also is likely to impact NBC’s season-to-date numbers, because Nielsen starts the broadcast season on a certain date and averages the networks’ ratings from that point forward. "We are concerned about our business and ourselves," Zucker said. "The chips will fall how they fall."

An early start will count the ratings for NBC’s premieres during the summer, which is a sort of a no-man’s land, ratings-wise. With the summer Olympics coming once every four years, and not always scheduled so close to the fall TV season, the early launch doesn’t indicate a permanent change.

The move also will pit NBC’s fall launch against the Republican National Convention, although Zucker said he expects NBC News to cover the convention at 10 p.m., and MSNBC and CNBC to provide coverage as well.

In scheduling news, Zucker said that the finales of Friends and Frasier will both cover two hours on consecutive Thursday nights. Friends will close its ten-year run on Thursday, May 6, with a one-hour retrospective and a one-hour finale. Frasier will follow suit on Thursday, May 13, with the same format.

Crossing Jordan is returning to NBC’s lineup in March on Sundays at 10 p.m., a time slot previously occupied by Lyon’s Den. Also in March, the network will launch sitcom Come to Papa.