NBC Bets on ‘Playboy Club’ for ‘Bigger and Broader’ Come Back
NBC is betting on the Playboy club, Chelsea Handler and a raft of romantic comedies among the dozen new series it has ordered in its latest attempt to come back from a long slump that has made it television's fourth-place broadcast network.
The network outlined its fall plans on Sunday, opening a hectic week in which broadcasters unveil their fall schedules to advertisers in hopes they will make multimillion dollar commitments to buy commercials. It was the first new schedule formulated by NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt, appointed when Comcast took over NBC Universal.
NBC ordered six new dramas and six new comedies, with half of them on the fall schedule and the rest planned for later debuts.
"The Playboy Club," a 1960s-era drama set in Chicago's bunny world, will spice up NBC's Monday lineup. Two new comedies will also debut in the fall on Wednesday nights with Christina Applegate, Will Arnett and Hank Azaria among the featured stars.
"This is a marathon to rebuild this network," said Greenblatt, who said he wanted "bigger and broader" comedies to bring more viewers back to NBC. The network has lagged far behind CBS, Fox and ABC this season. The strong debut of the music competition "The Voice" has given NBC more optimism, and that show will be back for another run next winter.
NBC's midseason schedule includes a two-hour edition of "Celebrity Apprentice" on Sunday nights. Asked if that meant NBC had a commitment from host Donald Trump that he wouldn't run for president, Greenblatt said, "We're putting a pin in that for the next 24 hours or so. Things will become clearer soon."
But he said NBC was prepared to go forward with a new host for "Celebrity Apprentice" if Trump decides to run. "I hope we don't have to go there," he said.
By devoting its Sunday night prime-time schedule in the fall to pro football, NBC appeared confident that the NFL's labor problems would be solved. Greenblatt said NBC is developing some high-profile reality competitions as substitutes for football but said that "we're feeling pretty optimistic that football will be there."
NBC News is developing a newsmagazine with Brian Williams as host and "as soon as it's ready, we will put it on the schedule, with enthusiasm," Greenblatt said. Such a series will have a greater variety of stories than "Dateline NBC," which remains on the network's Friday schedule. Unlike the entertainment division, NBC News has stayed atop the ratings with "Nightly News" and "Today."
Greenblatt also would not say who, if anyone will replace actor Steve Carell when "The Office" returns for a new season next fall.
The comedy "30 Rock" won't be on NBC's fall schedule but will return in midseason, the delay due to creator and star Tina Fey's pregnancy, he said.
The series "Chuck" is returning for a final season of 13 episodes. Last season's high-profile science fiction series "The Event" was canceled, so its relatively few viewers won't find out what "the event" actually was. NBC will also pull the plug on "Law & Order: Los Angeles."
NBC is also "circling" Jennifer Love Hewitt as a candidate to join the cast of "Law & Order: SVU" as a third detective with Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni sometime during next season, Greenblatt said.
Two of NBC's new series have firm midseason time slots: a series adaptation of "The Firm" will be on Sunday's schedule when football season ends, and "Smash," a drama that was Steven Spielberg's idea about an effort to put on a Broadway musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe, will replace "The Playboy Club" in midseason. NBC's plan is to run full seasons of "The Playboy Club" and "Smash" without reruns.
Aside from "The Playboy Club," here are the NBC series that will debut on the network's fall schedule:
"Up All Night," a comedy about new parents created by Lorne Michaels and Emily Spivey of "Saturday Night Live." Applegate portrays a successful public relations executive and Arnett is her stay-at-home husband, and Maya Rudolph is also featured.
-"Free Agents," a romantic comedy with Azaria and Kathryn Hahn of HBO's "Hung" as public relations executives on romantic rebounds.
-"Whitney," a romantic comedy starring Whitney Cummings of "Chelsea Lately" as half of a happily unmarried couple. She tries to break the relationship out of boredom after attending a friend's wedding.
-"Prime Suspect," an adaptation of a British series that stars Maria Bello as a homicide detective in New York City trying to navigate the boys' club of a new police precinct.
-"Grimm," an elaborate drama inspired by Grimm's Fairy Tales. It features a homicide detective who learns he is the descendant of an elite group of hunters who fight to keep the world safe from supernatural creatures.
Here are the four series NBC has decided to make that do not have time slots yet:
-"Awake," a complex drama about a reality-defying double life. A detective regains consciousness following a car accident to be told that his wife was killed but his teenage son survives. He soon finds that there is a parallel reality where his wife survives and son dies.
-"Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea," is a comic look at Handler's life based on the E! Entertainment network star's book. Handler's character is a strong-willed bartender. Handler herself has a recurring role playing her sister.
-"Best Friends Forever," a comedy about a woman who flies across the country to move in with her best friend when the woman's husband files for divorce, only to cause disruptions in the friend's relationship.
-"Bent," a comedy starring Amanda Peet as a successful lawyer and single mom, about her relationship with the contractor she hires to remodel her kitchen.