NBC Plans Post-Olympics 'Heist,' Other Changes To Steal Prime-Time Momentum

PASADENA, CALIF.--NBC has a lot to prove, given its last-place standing and in March, after its Winter Olympics coverage, it will make major programming changes. During a presentation on Sunday at the Television Critics Association tour here, NBC announced a big move, switching its long-running dominant Wednesday 10 p.m. show "Law & Order" back an hour to 9 p.m. to make room for an "Oceans 11"-type of light-drama thief series, "Heist," from Doug Liman, director of "Swingers" and "The Bourne Identity" theatrical releases.

But NBC didn't leave its long-time "Law & Order" executive producer wanting. It is giving Dick Wolf another show on Fridays (without the usual "Law & Order" brand name). "Convictions" is a multiple story-line show about young lawyers, which will play on Friday at 10 p.m. Running right before it will be "Las Vegas," which moved from Monday night.

Critics groaned with disappointment upon hearing of the move to Friday. Typically, many networks send shows to Friday as a place to fade away. But Kevin Reilly, president of NBC Entertainment, doesn't look at it this way--he sees opportunity. "Sure, shows win on Friday--but they win by default," he said. "The networks put in leftovers on Friday and don't market them."



Other major changes to start in March include a home for its decently rated game show, "Deal or No Deal," hosted by Howie Mandel, at 8 p.m.--which will be followed at 9 p.m. by "The Apprentice." The Mark Burnett-produced reality show has already moved off of the network's premiere Thursday night spot in favor of NBC's growing comedies, "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office."

NBC's major decision of the year--moving "Earl" and "The Office" onto its long-time heralded Thursday lineup some weeks ago--has given the network a 31 percent ratings boost, said Reilly. "All this stuff gives us a will to live," he noted.

Also in March, "The Office" is taking a strange mid-season break because its star Steve Carell is scheduled to shoot a movie for NBC sister division Universal Pictures. This was scheduled long before NBC put "The Office" in on Thursday night. A new sitcom, "Teachers," takes the place of "The Office."

As expected, two of NBC's long-time high-profile shows--which have seen better days--will have their series finales in May: "Will & Grace" will end on May 18; and "The West Wing" will stop on May 14.

In regard to networks' recent iTunes deals, and other new on-demand deals, Reilly said one of the key battlegrounds will be with the unions. "It's going to be a big issue--no question," he said. "These are uncharted waters. It will certainly be a priority for us." But while iTunes-like deals are making major headlines, there's no doubt about what is still most important, said Reilly. "The network is still the premiere platform."

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