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NBC cancels ‘Dreams,’ ‘Contender’

Six new series include Martha Stewart’s ‘Apprentice’
/ Source: The Associated Press

NBC’s formula for erasing the memory of a bad ratings year includes a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced drama about the Pentagon, Martha Stewart picking a protege and Amy Grant criss-crossing the country to make dreams come true.

(MSNBC is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC.)

The network — likely to finish an unprecedented fourth place this season — said it will introduce six new series in September but said its plans could change before then.

NBC’s 8 p.m. hour will look different on five nights next fall. Two of those new shows include Martha Stewart’s rendition of “The Apprentice” (Wednesday) and “Three Wishes” with Grant (Friday).

“The key driver in putting this together was to affect the 8 o’clock hour,” said Jeff Zucker, NBC Universal Television Group president. “It’s really where we fell down this year and the ability to launch things at 9 having them self-start is nearly impossible.”

NBC is canceling the fourth installment of the “Law & Order” series, “Trial By Jury,” which lost star Jerry Orbach to cancer shortly after production started. NBC risked alienating producer Dick Wolf because it wanted to try some new ideas, executives said.

“American Dreams,” “Third Watch,” “Revelations” and the Mark Burnett/Sylvester Stallone boxing series “The Contender” also will not be returning.

“The West Wing” is moving to Sunday nights, with the campaign to replace Martin Sheen as the mythical president continuing.

Taking its place on Wednesdays will be “E-Ring,” the Pentagon drama starring Dennis Hopper and Benjamin Bratt. One of the busiest producers in Hollywood, Bruckheimer also is behind the “CSI” franchise on CBS.

Illustrating how TV schedules are constantly in flux, NBC promised two other new comedies would come on the air sometime next season. Two shows not on the September schedule, “Scrubs” and “Fear Factor,” will also return at some point.

Schedule to be reviewedExecutives conceded the new schedule might not make it past this week: It will be reviewed when all the other broadcast networks release their plans. NBC is the first of the six to unveil its schedule.

“It’s a lot easier to go first, as we have in the last decade, when you’re operating from a position of strength,” Zucker said. “We are not going to be afraid in the next week or two weeks to go back and take a second look.”

NBC’s troubles this year came when they were unable to replace the departing “Friends” and “Frasier” with new hits. After much soul-searching, NBC said it was returning its Thursday schedule intact, despite losing ground to CBS on what was once its most popular night.

That includes the troubled “Friends” spinoff “Joey,” which hardly got a resounding vote of confidence.

“The show was a mixed bag to say the least this year creatively,” said Kevin Reilly, NBC entertainment president. “I have never felt the show was broken. I felt the show was uninspired at times.”

NBC also debated the wisdom of having two versions of “The Apprentice,” with Stewart and Donald Trump. In the end, Reilly said the network wanted to strike while interest in Stewart was hot. He said the two shows were very different in tone.

NBC renewed “The Office” despite lousy ratings. The network scheduled only two hours of comedy for the entire week. The one new comedy: “My Name is Earl,” with Jason Lee portraying a downtrodden lottery winner.

NBC also announced that Ann Curry of the “Today” show will do double duty as the new co-host of “Dateline NBC” with Stone Phillips.

NBC’s other new series:

—“Fathom,” a drama about a new form of life lurking in the sea, starring Lake Bell of “Boston Legal.”

—“Inconceivable” takes Ming-Na of “ER” and places her in another medical setting, among the doctors at a fertility clinic.

—“Four Kings,” with four New York guys on the cusp of adulthood, and “Thick and Thin,” starring Jessica Capshaw as a formerly fat woman, were both chosen as midseason replacements.