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NBC adds comedies in fall lineup

Tuesday, May 15, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Despite weakening ratings for "Weakest Link," NBC will expand the game show to fill two hours on its fall schedule. That was one of the moves NBC executives announced yesterday as they unveiled the network's fall slate -- its 75th anniversary season --to advertisers in New York.

NBC's Sunday night movie will be replaced by two dramas and three new comedies will replace the canceled "DAG," "The Fighting Fitzgeralds" and "The Weber Show."

Miraculously, "Three Sisters" survived cancellation, resurfacing in an earlier time slot Tuesday night.

"Dateline" contracts from four nights to three, with the Monday night edition making way for a new drama series starring former "Law & Order" regular Jill Hennessy.

As expected, the canceled "XFL" will be replaced by movies on Saturday night.

In a teleconference with reporters yesterday, NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker said the Sunday night movie outlived its usefulness.

"Made-for-TV movies and miniseries are a vestige of the past," Zucker said. "We had to step up and say this isn't working anymore and this genre is just over."

NBC will add a sitcom starring TV chef Emeril Lagasse as, what else? A TV chef. It's a move Zucker acknowledged is risky since Emeril has never starred in a sitcom.

"On the other hand, if you don't take chances like that there's nothing gained," Zucker said, adding that "Emeril" tested well with research audiences, particularly women.

NBC West Coast president Scott Sassa said "Emeril" may not seem like your usual NBC show, but he said NBC's typical "upscale, urban viewers" are often working and not likely to turn on the TV until 9 p.m.

"We wanted to find some other unconventional NBC shows we could put on the air, and Emeril is massively popular," Sassa said.

"Think of it as 'Home Improvement' and put Emeril into it as a workplace comedy," Zucker said.

Zucker said finding comedies for 9:30 p.m. Tuesday and 8:30 p.m. Thursday were high priorities in NBC's development. He said "Scrubs" would be distinctive, saying it's "the first time we've seen a single-camera show with no laugh track on NBC" (evidently Zucker has already erased the memory of last season's NBC single-camera flop "Tucker").

Even though it has shed millions of viewers since it debuted last month, Zucker and Sassa both said they were happy with the performance of "Weakest Link." Zucker said NBC wants to get the most out of the series that it can.

"We don't know what the life expectancy of these programs are," Zucker said. "We've seen what's happened to 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire' and even 'Survivor' this second time around. We want to take full advantage of 'Weakest Link.' We understand the lifespan of these programs will not be as long as that of scripted dramas."

A few weeks ago Zucker pledged to The New York Times he would have the courage not to program "Weakest Link" more than once a week.

"I was a chicken," he said yesterday. So far Zucker and Sassa don't have to shoot one another, which they pledged to do if "Weakest Link" were to air more than twice a week.

NBC also announced three mid-season programs yesterday, including a half-hour series with Julia Louis-Dreyfus as an aspiring lounge singer.

Hank Azaria and Jayne Brook will star in "What Are You Thinking?" about a comedy writer and his wife (Joshua Malina of "Sports Night" and Katey Sagal of "Married ... With Children" also star).

A woman (Gretchen Egolf, "Martial Law") calls off her wedding and takes a "Leap of Faith," which also stars Brian A. Green ("Beverly Hills, 90210") and Jill Clayburgh ("An Unmarried Woman").

Here's NBC's fall schedule, with new series in bold:

SUNDAY

7 p.m.: "Dateline"

8 p.m.: "Weakest Link"

9 p.m.: "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" -- Executive producer Dick Wolf concocts yet another look at the criminal justice system with this spinoff that tells stories from the criminal's perspective. Vincent D'Onofrio ("Men in Black") and Kathryn Erbe ("Oz") play the show's homicide detectives with Jamey Sheridan ("Midnight Caller," "Chicago Hope") as their commanding officer. Courtney B. Vance ("The Tuskegee Airmen") plays a no-nonsense district attorney (as if there's any other kind).

10 p.m.: "UC: Undercover" -- Jon Seda, who strutted his way through the last few seasons of "Homicide: Life on the Street," returns to NBC as a member of the Justice Department's elite, undercover crime-fighting unit in this action-drama. Grant Show ("Melrose Place") guest stars in the pilot.

MONDAY

8 p.m.: "Weakest Link"

9 p.m.: "Third Watch"

10 p.m.: "Crossing Jordan" -- Jill Hennessy returns to series television as an overzealous Boston medical examiner with an ex-cop father (Ken Howard, "The White Shadow") and an erratic boss (Miguel Ferrer, "Lateline").

TUESDAY

8 p.m.: "Emeril" -- Producers Harry and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason ("Designing Women," "Hearts Afire") get back in the sitcom game with this comedy starring Food Network super-chef Emeril Lagasse, who essentially plays -- bam! -- himself, a chef with a TV series. Lisa Ann Walter ("The Parent Trap") plays the producer of Emeril's cooking show and Sherri Shepherd ("The Jamie Foxx Show") is the program's stage manager.

8:30 p.m.: "Three Sisters"

9 p.m.: "Frasier"

9:30 p.m.: "Scrubs" -- A single-camera comedy (no laughs from a studio audience, like "Malcolm in the Middle") about first-year medical interns, "Scrubs" was created by Bill Lawrence, co-creator of "Spin City." The series stars Zach Braff ("The Broken Hearts Club"), Donald Faison ("Felicity"), Sarah Chalke (Becky No. 2 on "Roseanne") and Ken Jenkins ("Homefront").

10 p.m.: "Dateline"

WEDNESDAY

8 p.m.: "Ed"

9 p.m.: "The West Wing"

10 p.m.: "Law & Order"

THURSDAY

8 p.m.: "Friends"

8:30 p.m.: "Inside Schwartz" -- Breckin Meyer (the stoner guy in "Clueless") stars as Adam Schwartz, a television sportscaster "whose inner thoughts and fantasies are revealed through personal conversations with sports figures," NBC explains in a press release. Sounds sort of like "Herman's Head." Other series regulars include Miriam Shor ("Bedazzled"), Bryan Callen ("Mad TV") and Richard Kline (annoying neighbor Larry on "Three's Company").

9 p.m.: "Will & Grace"

9:30 p.m.: "Just Shoot Me"

10 p.m.: "ER"

FRIDAY

8 p.m.: "Providence"

9 p.m.: "Dateline"

10 p.m.: "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"

SATURDAY

8 p.m.: "NBC Saturday Night Movie"


You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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