NEW YORK (Reuters) - NBC will attempt to revive its TV schedule by stuffing it with a dozen new shows next season, building a new block of comedy and rolling out a high-profile musical drama from producer Steven Spielberg.
While NBC ordered up a clutch of new scripted series for 2011-12, its schedule will still be anchored by several competition shows returning from this past season, including musical hit “The Voice” and the long-running “Celebrity Apprentice” — with or without Donald Trump.
NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt, in announcing the new schedule on Sunday, made clear he was impatient to make major changes to a prime-time schedule that has long suffered from poor ratings and failed experiments. Greenblatt took over the job earlier this year.
“I got there right in the nick of time before we had to start picking up drama pilots,” Greenblatt said on a conference call. “I’ll take ownership of the projects.”
Those dramas include “Smash,” a midseason musical set on Broadway that will be produced by Spielberg and star Katharine McPhee from “American Idol”; and “The Firm,” an update of novelist John Grisham’s legal thriller.
NBC’s lineup will also feature “Prime Suspect,” based on the popular British series, with film actress Maria Bello landing the role as lead detective, and “The Playboy Club,” set in a Chicago nightclub in the early 1960s.
“I’d love to make any of these dramas work,” Greenblatt said.
After NBC, News Corp’s Fox, Walt Disney Co’s ABC and CBS, owned by CBS Corp, will introduce their 2011-12 schedules to critics, affiliates and advertisers. Ad sales will then get underway.
NBC may have the most to prove. This is the first schedule built under the new majority owner, Comcast Corp, and an overhauled management headed by Chief Executive Steve Burke and Greenblatt, a former Showtime executive.
In the weeks after the 2011-12 schedules are announced, a period known as the upfront market, the four major networks will book up to 75 percent of their ad time for the coming season.
This year’s negotiations come during a heady stretch for the U.S. networks, with money streaming back into national television campaigns. Ad rates could be up 10 percent from a year ago, and the big four networks could collectively book $8.5 billion to $9 billion in commitments.
Some of those price increases will depend on whether the networks can come up with hits for the 2011-12 TV season. That is particularly true when it comes to NBC, whose prime-time schedule has floundered for years.
“If we could do one or two good things really successfully I would be thrilled,” said Greenblatt, who will introduce the prime-time lineup to advertisers and affiliates during a presentation in New York on Monday.
Along with the new dramas, Greenblatt said he would try to build a new comedy block on Wednesday nights, launching “Up All Night,” produced by Emmy Award winner Lorne Michaels and starring Christina Applegate as a woman trying to juggle her career and family. The other Wednesday night addition during the fall will be “Free Agents,” a workplace comedy based on a similar British series.
Sunday nights in the fall will be anchored by NFL football, depending on whether a lockout by team owners scraps the season. Greenblatt said contingency plans had been made, probably in the form of reality shows, but added that he believed the season would be played.
“We’re feeling pretty good about where we will be with the NFL.”
After the NFL season, NBC will bring back “The Celebrity Apprentice” on Sunday nights, even if host Donald Trump decides to step away from the show to pursue politics.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a certainty but we’re hoping he’s back with us,” said Greenblatt, adding that if necessary “the show will go on in his absence.”
Reporting by Paul Thomasch; Editing by Richard Chang