NEW YORK -- "Friends" in need are "Friends" indeed. But NBC has taken care of the needs of the six stars of the hit sitcom by paying them $750,000 per episode plus a percentage of the show's syndication profits to keep "Friends" on the air for two more years.
But "The Pretender" will pretend no more, "Veronica's Closet" has mercifully been locked, and "Suddenly Susan" is not-so-suddenly canceled.
Those were the none-too-surprising announcements made yesterday when NBC unveiled its fall lineup for advertising buyers who will spend millions of dollars on behalf of their clients next season.
The biggest move on the network schedule finds "Frasier" off the Thursday night lineup and "Will & Grace" in its place ("Frasier" moves to 9 p.m. Tuesday).
"What we wanted to do was, using 'Friends' as a base at 8 p.m., build a new generation of product at 9 p.m.," said NBC West Coast president Scott Sassa in a teleconference prior to NBC's presentation. "We need to make sure we keep changing what's going on Thursday to make sure it stays very fun."
NBC Entertainment president Garth Ancier said moving "Frasier" should not be viewed as a demotion: "We're gigantic fans of the show and hope it's around for many years to come."
NBC will drop the Monday and Wednesday editions of "Dateline" in the fall, although Sassa said it could return to fill a spot when some of the newly announced series fail to draw enough viewers.
Like Fox and The WB, NBC put a priority on developing new sitcoms for the fall. Ancier said the key to NBC's new sitcoms is having a potential breakout star at the center of every show. He pointed to the young star of "Tucker," Eli Marienthal, whom he compared to Fred Savage of "The Wonder Years."
Other NBC series sent to the TV trash heap include the game show "Twenty One," "Battery Park," "Jesse," "Stark Raving Mad," "Profiler" and "The Others."
The cancellation of all the shows in Saturday night's "Thrillogy" is a precursor to the start of XFL football in 2001. The network is launching the new league in conjunction with the World Wrestling Federation. Sassa said airing movies Saturday nights this fall, particularly theatrical releases, is the best way to handle the lowest night of network viewing.
"In our research, we found viewers have a big appetite for movies, because they're familiar and people can join them in progress, and they continue to build [an audience] throughout the night," Sassa said.
Outside of prime time, NBC announced plans to extend the "Today" show until 10 a.m. weekday mornings beginning in September. "Later Today" will continue in production, available to affiliates that choose to air it at 10 a.m. following "Today."
Drama series ordered for midseason include Steven Spielberg's Marine drama "Semper Fi" and the comedy-drama "News from the Edge" about a tabloid that's accurate in its reports of aliens among us.
Midseason sitcoms will include a yet-to-be named comedy starring Tony Award winner Kristin Chenoweth as a Broadway actress wannabe (Pittsburgh native James Widdoes directs the pilot); "These Women" features three sisters played by Vicki Lewis ("NewsRadio"), A.J. Langer ("It's Like, You Know...") and Katherine LaNasa; the creator of the film "American Pie" serves up "Go Fish," a coming of age comedy about a high school freshman (Kieran Culkin) with Andy Dick ("NewsRadio") as a weird teacher and Joe Flaherty ("Freaks and Geeks") as a flustered dad.
Here's NBC's fall schedule and descriptions of new programs (new series in bold):
7 p.m. "Dateline NBC"
8 p.m. "Ed" -- It took several years for David Letterman's production company to sell this show from "Late Show with David Letterman" writer Jon Beckerman and executive producer Rob Burnett. New York attorney Ed Stevens (Tom Cavanaugh) returns to his Midwestern hometown of Stuckeyville, after losing his job and his wife. Once home, he begins pursuing the most popular girl from his high school days (Julie Bowen), buys a bowling alley and sets up a law practice. Stevens also moves in with his best friend (Josh Randall) and his wife (Jana Marie Hupp) and their new child. On first glance: Off-beat but has potential.
9 p.m. Sunday Night Movie
8 p.m. "Daddio"
8:30 p.m. "3rd Rock from the Sun"
9 p.m. "Deadline" -- "Law & Order" producer Dick Wolf gets a third hour of NBC's prime-time lineup with this drama about a crusading New York newspaper journalist (Oliver Platt) who also teaches college courses. Filmed on location in New York, the drama also stars actress Lili Taylor ("The Haunting"). Ancier called the show a mystery series using the cloak of investigative journalism. On first glance: "The Cosby Mysteries" without Bill Cosby.
10 p.m. "Third Watch"
8 p.m. "The Michael Richards Show" -- Kramer is back, and he's a bumbling private detective. Actually, Richards doesn't revive the character of Kramer from "Seinfeld," but this new character may be just as weird. Several writers from "Seinfeld" are on board this project, the first weekly series to star a "Seinfeld" cast member since that show's demise. On first glance: Kramer redux.
8:30 p.m. "Tucker" -- This single-camera comedy (think: "Malcolm in the Middle") stars newcomer Eli Marienthal as a 14-year-old who moves with his newly divorced mom (Noelle Beck) to the home of his aunt (Katey Sagal) where he must contend with his obnoxious cousin (Nathan Lawrence). His only solace is the cute girl (Alison Lohman) next door. On first glance: Really, think "Malcolm in the Middle."
9 p.m. "Frasier"
9:30 p.m. "DAG" -- David Alan Grier ("In Living Color") stars as Secret Service Agent Dagget, who is demoted from guarding the president to protecting the first lady, played by Delta Burke. He's also responsible for her daughters, played by JoAnna Garcia and Sarah Hagan (Millie on "Freaks and Geeks"). David Rasche ("Sledgehammer!") guest stars as the president. On first glance: The clips from the pilot look funny, but where does it go.
10 p.m. "Dateline NBC"
8 p.m. "Titans" -- NBC attempts a prime-time soap revival with this Aaron Spelling drama about a Beverly Hills family in turmoil. Perry King and Victoria Principal play divorced parents who live across the street from one another. Casper Van Dien ("Starship Troopers") is their prodigal son fighter pilot who returns home and discovers his father engaged to his ex-girlfriend (Yasmine Bleeth). On first glance: Definitely trashy, but good trashy or bad trashy?
9 p.m. "The West Wing"
10 p.m. "Law & Order"
8 p.m. "Friends"
8:30 p.m. "The Steven Weber Show" -- "Wings" star Steven Weber returns to sitcom duty as a Chicago advertising executive cursed by a jilted blind date. Amy Pietz ("Caroline in the City") play his friendly ex-girlfriend, and Chris Elliott ("Get a Life") is a doctor friend. On first glance: It's gotta be better than "Daddio."
9 p.m. "Will & Grace"
9:30 p.m. "Just Shoot Me"
10 p.m. "ER"
8 p.m. "Providence"
9 p.m. "Dateline NBC"
10 p.m. "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"
8 p.m. Saturday Night Movie