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NBC: Trying to Rebuild

STRATEGY: Network executives are putting in motion 13 new shows, many of which are targeted for 10 p.m., and sticking with one night of comedy for now, on Thursday.

NBC picked up a hefty total of 13 new shows, the majority of them dramas, for the 2010-11 season, a swing-forthe- fences schedule that executives hope will spring them from the fourth-place ratings basement. It’s a strategy that stands in stark contrast to a year ago, when NBC gave the 10 p.m. hour to Jay Leno in a failed attempt to remake the burdensome economics of primetime.

“We probably went a little too far last year with trying to change the model all at once,” NBC Universal Television Entertainment Chairman Jeff Gaspin told B&C. Consequently, the network spent at least 30% more on development for the 2010-11 season in a back-to-basics approach that emphasizes big-ticket drama at 10 p.m.

“We’re going to try to rebuild NBC,” Gaspin says. “We will always look at the model that we’re working within and make decisions accordingly. But at least this year we are focused on rebuilding with high-quality scripted content.”

Monday will be pegged for action/ adventure with Chuck in the 8 p.m. lead-off slot, followed by The Event and Jerry Bruckheimer’s Chase. The Biggest Loser and Parenthood will stay put on Tuesday. J.J. Abrams’ Undercovers will anchor Wednesday night, followed by Law & Order: SVU and latest spinoff Law & Order: Los Angeles.

The early time slot will be a challenge for Undercovers, a spy thriller with a relatively unknown cast. And while NBC executives are hopeful the show will be strong enough to lure viewers at 8 p.m., they’re also taking no chances and will throw a lot of promotion behind it.

Mercy and Trauma, which hung around longer than some of NBC’s 2009 entries, have been canceled. The ax also fell on Heroes and Law & Order. But NBC primetime president Angela Bromstad told B&C that the network will talk with Heroes’ Tim Kring and Law & Order’s Dick Wolf about appropriate send-offs for their programs.

NBC will not launch a new hour of comedy outside its established Thursday-night laugher destination. It will shift 30Rock to 8:30 p.m. and give the plum post-Office 9:30 p.m. slot to Outsourced. Community, one of only two returning scripted shows from NBC’s 2009-10 season, will lead off at 8 p.m., up against CBS’ Big Bang Theory. Parks and Recreation will return midseason.

According to Gaspin, 30 Rock is “a solid performer” that “has been able to take advantage” of an Office lead-in for multiple seasons. “We had the confidence it could move without losing much of its audience,” he said. (The key word here is “much.”)

Likewise, NBC execs are confident that Parks and Recreation can successfully weather a hiatus.

“We’ve seen that more time can actually lapse without damaging a show,” Gaspin said. “If we’re careful and we protect the return of Parks and Recreation, we can continue to build an audience.”

That strategy also allows for fresh comedy on Thursday, he added. NBC has multiple new comedies on the bench, including Perfect Couples and a single-camera comedy from Paul Reiser.

Gaspin did not rule out launching another hour of comedy later in the season: “We felt that Thursday was the best place to launch new comedy, and at some point later this season we may look at the possibility of opening up another hour.”

Bromstad said she would be pleased if NBC had “one or two breakout shows [next season]. Each year, we look at improving upon the past.”

Added Gaspin: “There’s a measure of success in the broadest sense. I look at the industry as a whole, and we’d like to do a little better than that.”

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