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NBC Takes A Chance With 2008-09 Schedule, Year-Round Programming

April 3rd, 2008 8:36am EDT
HeroesYou've got to hand it to NBC. The once mighty network has been reduced to a perennial loser, regularly coming in behind the rest of the Big Four in every conceivable metric. So instead of trying in vain to come from behind in a game being dominated by CBS and Fox, NBC co-chairman Ben Silverman and company are taking a different approach. They are changing the way the game is played.

Already breaking from convention (by unveiling their new schedule six weeks before the traditional upfront presentations), the hardworking folks at NBC proved that they sincerely meant it when they said they were going with a year-round schedule for 2008-09. And it was all unveiled in an anti-upfront on Wednesday, a ceremony lacking in glitz and glimmer but overflowing with content.

The year-round concept means that there will be fewer repeats throughout the season because multiple series' will share the same timeslot over the course of the year. This has been done before sparingly (especially this season due to a certain strike), but never has it been attempted in such a bold manner. NBC certainly gets points for taking a risk.

So, what's new? What's coming back? What's not? Let's take a look at what NBC has to offer:

Fall 2008

Christian SlaterNBC's fall lineup consists of many old favorites (some of which have been absent since December of 2007 due to the writers' strike) along with a few new faces. "Chuck" and "Heroes" will be returning to their respective Monday night timeslots after a long hiatus. "Journeyman" is no more; its timeslot will now be occupied by none other than Christian Slater. Slater, after a long career in film, will finally be bringing his immense but often squandered talent to the small screen in the new series, "My Own Worst Enemy." The series, about a man burdened with two conflicting personalities (happy family man vs. spy) looks to be one of the most intriguing new entries this fall. "Enemy" seems destined to be one of those shows that will either be absolutely superb or truly terrible, and given NBC's recent record and the presence of Slater, the former looks more likely.

Sandwiched between "The Biggest Loser" (unfortunately still around) and "Law & Order: SVU" will be lone new sitcom "Kath & Kim," a mother/daughter odd coupling based on an Australian mega-hit. Wednesdays will feature the long heralded revival of "Knight Rider," which enjoyed a successful pilot/TV film earlier this year. The night will also feature one of two requisite "Deal or No Deal" hours, as well as the return of the dreadful "Lipstick Jungle."

30 RockThursday night will feature the return of most of NBC's critically acclaimed (though ratings challenged) comedy block, as "My Name is Earl," "The Office," and "30 Rock" all return to the night. The lone departure is "Scrubs," which although it is no longer on the NBC schedule, is close to being picked up for an 8th season by ABC. In addition, special half-hour politically themed "Saturday Night Live" episodes will air on the night in October, while "ER" will return for its 15th and final season. It's ending about four or five years too late, but that is a topic for another day.

The fourth and final new fall series will air on Friday nights. "Crusoe," adapted from the popular novel, is the story of a man stranded on an island for decades and the life that he fashions for himself. It's airing at 8pm on Fridays, so don't get too attached. The night also features another installment of "Deal" and the relocated "Life," another one of NBC's critically acclaimed cult programs that consistently underwhelms in the ratings. Airing at 10pm on Friday nights won't help.

Nothing too earth shattering was announced for the weekend schedule, as Saturday nights will be turned over to "Dateline" and re-runs, and Sundays will once again be home to football, and of course, the incomparable John Madden.

Midseason and Beyond

Friday Night Lights"Friday Night Lights" fans, it's ok to breathe. The cult series will be returning for a third season, although in a somewhat unique manner. There will be 13 new episodes produced for season three, and they will be funded jointly by NBC and DirecTV. The season will first air on DirecTV in the fall, with episodes being rebroadcast on NBC beginning in 2009. It might not be an ideal situation, but it certainly beats the alternative.

You Hulkamaniacs can also rejoice, as two new installments of "American Gladiators" have been ordered. The first will actually air this summer, while the second will debut sometime after the holidays. Other staples such as "Law & Order," "Medium," and "Celebrity Apprentice" will also be returning to the schedule in early 2009.

While only four new shows are debuting this fall, a bevy of new programs will be launched in 2009. Here are a few notables:

"Merlin" - A fantasy series set in King Arthur's Camelot (the name kind of gives that one away). "Merlin" looks promising for two reasons: 1) there can never be too many adaptations of the Arthurian Legend (bring back "King Arthur and the Knights of Justice!") and 2) it features "Buffy" alum Anthony Stewart Head in a supporting role.

"The Office Spin-Off" - This secretive spin-off of the popular American version of "The Office," will be debuting in 2009. We don't know much about it, but that doesn't mean we can't be excited.

"The Philanthropist" - A billionaire seemingly has it all, until he suffers a personal tragedy. Forever changed, he dedicates his life to helping others all across the world, establishing his own most certainly illegal brand of vigilante justice. With Tom Fontana behind this (creator of "Oz" and "Homicide: Life on the Street") one can bet that it won't feature the main character volunteering at a soup kitchen or helping old ladies cross the street.

"Shark Taggers" - Yes, it is an unscripted series. It chronicles the adventures of super cool marine biologists who travel around the world studying and of course, tagging sharks. On second thought, that doesn't sound very exciting after all.

Outlook

NBC should receive recognition for taking a chance and eschewing tradition (something frowned upon in the entertainment industry). We won't know whether or not this early announcement (doesn't this give the other networks more time to counter program?) and innovative schedule will be successful for quite some time, but that doesn't really matter. The entire television industry is in massive flux, and so this is the perfect time for a current loser to try something new.

NBC has repaired its reputation in recent years by developing high quality programming and then sticking with it even if the ratings aren't immediately successful. It's now time to take that solid foundation and build on it, and this year-round schedule is an attempt to do just that. Will there be failures? No doubt. Are there a few terrible shows on the schedule? Indeed. Still, the folks at NBC have to be somewhat optimistic about the network's future. And we are too.

Overall Rating: A- (a well deserved step up from NBC's score in our Network Report Cards)

What are your thoughts on NBC's new schedule? Excited about any of the new shows? Which canceled series do you wish were coming back? Leave a comment!

Story by Derek Krebs
Starpulse contributing writer