LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - NBC's hit comedy "The Office" will get the coveted post-Super Bowl spot next year, while the new drama "Kings" will take over for "ER" on Thursday nights after the long-running medical drama airs its series finale.
The post-Bowl position is considered the most valuable piece of programing real estate on television, exposing a series to tens of millions of viewers. NBC will air a special one-hour episode of its Emmy-winning comedy after the game concludes February 1.
"'The Office' is a perfect fit for after the Super Bowl," NBC scheduling chief Mitch Metcalf said. "It's going to be a hilariously funny hour, and I think people will be in the mood to laugh after the big game."
With NBC's ratings severely depressed this fall, the Super Bowl telecast presents a valuable opportunity to bring viewers back to the network. NBC had the choice of several options for the post-Bowl spot, including launching "Kings," relaunching the new volume of "Heroes" or premiering the new edition of "Celebrity Apprentice."
"You just don't want something that's too heavy, and some of the best performances after the Super Bowl have been comedies," Metcalf said. "This could bring a whole new audience to the show."
The decision was part of a flurry of NBC scheduling announcements made Wednesday, including an early season-finale date for "Knight Rider." The action drama will conclude February 25, with the show halting production after 17 episodes. The network has said it plans to overhaul the show, with format changes still to air in the coming weeks, but the episode cutback suggests there is little expectation that a revamp will reverse the Wednesday night drama's ratings decline.
NBC also said it will expand "Apprentice" to two hours, with episodes airing Sunday nights beginning March 1 at 9 p.m.
NBC is increasing the number of produced hours for the reality competition show and its time period block, using additional footage from the boardroom scenes with Donald Trump and the challenges.
"The boardroom footage we normally leave on the cutting-room floor has always been gold," Metcalf said.
"The Apprentice" did not perform well during its last run on Sunday nights, however. Last season, NBC shifted the show to Thursdays and aired a celebrity version, which revitalized the show.
"The show has really found its groove with the last cycle," Metcalf said. "And this one is shaping up to be even better. The last Sunday outing was some time ago. Sunday is ripe for a big loud reality show in the later hours."
The new drama "Kings," which retells the story of King David in modern times, will launch with a two-hour premiere March 19. "Kings" will take over NBC's valuable Thursdays-at-10 p.m. time period after "ER" has its series finale March 12.
"'Kings' is something we're really proud of," Metcalf said. "We've seen several episodes. Sometimes a show after a great pilot disappoints; this is just the opposite. The characters get even stronger as we get into the series."
The psychic drama "Medium" will return February 2 in its former Monday time period; "Chuck" will return from hiatus on the same night with a 3-D episode; and "Heroes" will launch its new volume, "Fugitives." The miniseries "XIII," starring Val Kilmer, will premiere February 8.
Not yet announced are premiere dates for the untitled Amy Poehler comedy and "The Philanthropist." Metcalf said there's a chance that the latter might not be ready until next fall.
"We're going to take a look at 'The Philanthropist'; it's a great script, the cast has come together, and they've started shooting it," he said. "We're going to wait until episodes are cut. The one thing we've all learned is scheduling shows blindly is a tough thing to do. We're going to take our time with this. It could be on in the spring, it could be on in the fall."