NBC Leans More on Grazer, Bruckheimer to Lift Ratings

NBC leans on Hollywood names for fall schedule
NBC, building a fall schedule around Hollywood names including Oscar-winner Brian Grazer and Jerry Bruckheimer, is regaining the confidence of advertisers and affiliates as it tries to climb out of last place. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

NBC, building a fall schedule around Hollywood names including Oscar-winner Brian Grazer and Jerry Bruckheimer, is regaining the confidence of advertisers and affiliates as it tries to climb out of last place.

“NBC is making a statement that, ‘We are back, we’re back big, and we’re doing it with the best,’” said Peter Gardiner, chief media officer at New York ad agency Deutsch Inc.

Marquee talent improves the chances of finding hits, Gardiner said. NBC, while last in Nielsen Co.’s audience ratings, has scored the largest increase in viewing this year among the big four networks and is looking to new shows to expand on gains driven by its Vancouver Olympics coverage.

Bruckheimer, whose credits include “Flashdance” and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, will produce Monday night’s “Chase,” about a female U.S. marshal hunting fugitives. He also produces the “CSI” series, a top 10 show on CBS, and has seen half of the programs he’s made for TV go on to a second season, according to IMDB.com, an industry website.

“That’s a great track record in television,” Gardiner said.

NBC is trying to prove to viewers and marketers it is once again committed to scripted programming after the failed experience with talk-show host Jay Leno weeknights at 10 p.m. The program flopped with viewers and meant smaller audiences for local news shows that followed, angering affiliate stations.

Rebuilding Challenge

Rebuilding will be a challenge. New scripted programs “are difficult, expensive to promote, and generally have a higher failure rate,” said Tony Wible, an industry analyst at Philadelphia-based Janney Montgomery Scott. Walt Disney Co.’s ABC, at third place in the ratings, is introducing 10 shows, second-most behind NBC.

NBC’s lineup for September 2010, introduced this week in “upfront” presentations the networks put on for advertisers, includes “Undercovers” by J.J. Abrams, the creator of ABC’s “Lost,” and programs by Dick Wolf and David E. Kelley. NBC is introducing 13 shows.

James D. Serra, general manager of the network’s KPLC affiliate in Lake Charles, Louisiana, said he’s encouraged.

“They are sending a message not just to viewers but to advertisers and affiliates that they are back in the business of developing high-quality scripted programming,” Serra said.

News Corp.’s Fox television, seeking to remain the most- watched U.S. network among viewers ages 18 to 49, also turned to brand-name Hollywood talent, hiring Steven Spielberg to produce a new drama. News Corp.’s former chief operating officer, Peter Chernin, is Spielberg’s executive producer.

‘Friends With Benefits’

Abrams’s comedy “Undercovers” will air on NBC on Wednesdays, the same night as “Law & Order: Los Angeles,” the new version of Wolf’s successful series.

Kelley, whose credits include “Boston Legal,” is producing NBC’s “Harry’s Law,” a midseason show featuring Oscar winner Kathy Bates as a lawyer who starts a practice in an old shoe store. Grazer, the producer of “A Beautiful Mind,” created “Friends With Benefits,” about the convenient dating lifestyles of a group of 20-year-olds.

Comcast Corp. plans to take control of New York-based NBC Universal from Fairfield, Connecticut-based General Electric Co., whose ownership will drop below 50 percent. Fueled by the Olympics, NBC’s total audience has increased 5.2 percent this season, according to Nielsen data.

Jeff Zucker, NBC Universal’s chief executive officer, said the new schedule will help the network rebound.

“We feel really optimistic,” Zucker said in an interview after the network’s presentation at the New York Hilton.

‘Challenging Undertaking’

Kelly Kahl, who oversees the prime-time schedule at New York-based CBS, said that a big-name producer doesn’t automatically lead to strong ratings.

“It doesn’t matter who the producer is, the show still has to deliver,” Kahl said in an interview. “I’m glad we don’t have six-and-a-half hours of new programs to support. That’s a challenging undertaking.”

Kevin Reilly, the head of programming at Fox, called the Spielberg series “Terra Nova” “a very big bet.

“It’s going to take an enormous production commitment and production design elements,” Reilly said on a conference call this month. “We ordered it directly to series,” skipping the typical process of first reviewing a pilot.

NBC’s head of prime-time program development, Angela Bromstad, said it’s reassuring to have marquee talent develop many of the shows.

“It doesn’t guarantee success,” Bromstad said. “But you’re in good hands.”

GE rose 16 cents to $16.42 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Comcast, based in Philadelphia, gained 24 cents to $17.03 on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

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