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NBC unveils spinoff-heavy slate

Spinoffs and reality shows figure prominently in NBC's upcoming slate of shows.
/ Source: Reuters

With mega-hit ”Friends” gone from NBC’s airwaves for the first time in 10 years, the network Monday unveiled a new lineup of shows featuring a spin-off called “Joey” and a fourth hour of “Law & Order,” building on two of TV’s most reliable hits.

NBC said it will launch six new dramas and five new comedies, including an animated series, “Father of the Pride” -- about lions in Siegfried & Roy’s Las Vegas act -- for the 2004-05 season as it seeks to maintain ratings dominance over its target audience of viewers aged 18 to 49.

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

Reality shows figure prominently on NBC’s schedule, with the launch of boxing spectacle “The Contender,” the return of gross-out stunt show “Fear Factor” and new editions of the hit tycoon contest “The Apprentice,” starring real estate magnate Donald Trump.

As expected, “Joey,” starring Matt LeBlanc reprising his ”Friends” role as the dim-witted but big-hearted aspiring actor, will get the plum time slot formerly occupied by its sitcom predecessor, leading off NBC’s potent Thursday night lineup of “Must-See TV.”

NBC’s mid-season offerings include the fourth installment in the long-running cop and courtroom franchise, “Law & Order: Trial by Jury,” from producer Dick Wolf, who just renewed his NBC contract for the first three “Law & Order” series.

Major changesAltering its programming schedule for every night but Saturday and Sunday, NBC’s new fall slate amounts to one of its biggest shake-ups in years.

Tuesday night received an especially pronounced make-over after “Frasier” ended an 11-year run and NBC’s decision to dump two freshmen sitcoms that stumbled in the ratings -- the Whoopi Goldberg comedy “Whoopi” and “Happy Family.”

They will be replaced by “Father of the Pride” and the romance-reality series “Average Joe.” In one sign of stability, NBC announced it has it has locked in its popular Tuesday night medical comedy “Scrubs” for more two more seasons.

On the drama front this fall, NBC plans to launch the airport ensemble series “LAX,” the cop show “Hawaii” and ”Medical Investigation.” The new limited-run drama ”Revelations” will join “Law & Order: Trial by Jury” on the midseason schedule.

NBC, owned by General Electric Co. and newly merged with Vivendi Universal Entertainment, was the first of the major networks to unveil its new lineup of shows as broadcasters kick off their “upfront” sales of commercial time to advertisers.

Program plans for the 2004-2005 season come at a crucial time for NBC, which faces stiffer competition from Viacom’s CBS network as they vie for advertising dollars during the annual upfront negotiations to lock in commercial time early. NBC executives said they expect price increases in the mid- to high-single digit percentages for commercials during prime time, while CBS has forecast strong double-digit price increases for their lineup.