In stark contrast to a year ago, NBC -- which has made big noise about saving money in the 8 p.m. hour and ran "The Jay Leno Show" at 10 p.m. this past season -- has now promised to invest heavily to find hits.
Jeff Gaspin, chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment, said on a call Sunday "the economics are not completely different, but they are changing a little bit," as to why NBC has loosened the purse strings.
Broadcast networks have an emerging second revenue stream in retransmission consent payments that could bring lucre down the line, Gaspin said. More immediately, advertisers are spending more now -- and a robust upfront is expected. "The marketplace is actually much healthier than it was last year," he said. "We were in the throes of an economic recession."
Also, NBCU has a wealthy benefactor set to take over in Comcast. CEO Brian Roberts was unequivocal last week in saying his company will invest liberally in rebuilding NBC. Overall, including new shows for midseason, NBC has greenlit a big roster of 13 new shows for the 2010-2011 season.
This fall's schedule marks the first under the aegis of Gaspin.
The new Bruckheimer show "Chase" will run Mondays at 10 p.m. -- which means it's likely to go head to head against another of his dramas: "CSI: Miami" on CBS. Also Monday, "Chuck" returns to lead off at 8 p.m. and "The Event," a new drama "24"-like show, follows at 9 p.m.
"Chuck" has seen ratings among 18-to-49-year-olds decline 14%. Responding to a question about why the show is returning, Angela Bromstad, president of prime time entertainment of NBC and Universal Media Studios, said: "We can't change every hour of the schedule at once."
Gaspin added that "Chuck" has strong appeal among young males, although its 2.2 rating among males 18 to 34 is less than the 3.3 for "Heroes," which is being canceled.
Tuesdays are staying the same with "The Biggest Loser" moving from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. and drama "Parenthood" at 10 p.m.
Abrams, whose "Lost" will finish its run on ABC this month, is producing lighthearted spy show "Undercovers" on Wednesday at 8 p.m. The double-entendre-titled "Undercovers" is a spy drama that delves into relationships. The show is described as "prov(ing) once and for all that marriage is still the world's most dangerous partnership."
"Law & Order: SVU" -- down 22% this season in the 18-to-49 demo -- goes on Wednesday at 9 p.m., leading into a new "L&O" spinoff: "Law & Order: Los Angeles." Using "SVU" as a lead-in for the new entrant "is the best way" to give it some juice as it debuts, Gaspin said.
NBC is making a notable change on Thursday, devoting its entire schedule to comedy. First major change: it is shifting "30 Rock" to 8:30 from 9:30 p.m. as NBC believes it can prosper without "The Office" as a lead-in, which remains at 9 p.m. "Community" returns at 8 p.m.
Although "The Office" is down a bit in the 18-to-49 demo -- around 6% -- its ratings are closer to Thursday leader "Grey's Anatomy" in the 9:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m time period. "The Office" will serve as a launching pad for new comedy "Outsourced" at 9:30 p.m. Hourlong comedy "Love Bites" follows at 10:00 p.m.
On Fridays, NBC continues its relationship with Conan O'Brien. In addition to paying him a huge severance package after leaving "The Tonight Show," his production company is producing the hourlong legal drama "Outlaw" starring Jimmy Smits at 10 p.m.
NBC has new comedy "The Paul Reiser Show" set for midseason. The comic had the long-running hit "Mad About You" on NBC in the 1990s.
NBC plans to use "Sunday Night Football" -- where ratings soared last year -- as a marketing/promotional platform for other shows -- especially the new two action-adventure shows that follow "Chuck" on Monday nights. Several years ago, NBC touted that young male-targeted marketing efforts during "SNF" helped the now-defunct "Heroes."
Although NBCU invests in new programming both for NBC and its thriving cable channels, such as USA Networks, Gaspin said programming for NBC wants to reach a bigger, diverse audience, while cable network efforts aim for more niche-targeted shows.
"They're looking for very specific content that fits their brand and they don't usually go much beyond that target ... we try to go broader," Gaspin said.
Other shows set to appear this season: "The Cape," "Friends With Benefits," "Perfect Couples," "Harry's Law" and the new reality series "America's Next Great Restaurant."
NBC's 2010-2011 schedule (New shows in upper case):
8-9 p.m. - "Chuck"
9-10 p.m. - "THE EVENT"
10-11 p.m. - "CHASE"
8-10 p.m. - "The Biggest Loser"
10-11 p.m. - "Parenthood"
8-9 p.m. - "UNDERCOVERS"
9-10 p.m. - "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"
10-11 p.m. - "LAW & ORDER: LOS ANGELES"
8- 8:30 p.m. - "Community"
8:30-9 p.m. - "30 Rock"
9-9:30 p.m. - "The Office"
9:30-10 p.m. - "OUTSOURCED"
10-11 p.m. - "LOVE BITES"
8-9 p.m. - "Who Do You Think You Are?"/"SCHOOL PRIDE"
9-10 p.m. - "Dateline NBC"
10-11 p.m. - "OUTLAW"
7- 8:15 p.m. - "Football Night in America"
8:15-11:30 p.m. - "NBC Sunday Night Football"
SUNDAY (beginning March 2011)
7-8 p.m. - "Dateline NBC"
8-9 p.m. - "Minute to Win It"
9-11 p.m. - "The Celebrity Apprentice"