NBC Adds Originality To Summer

NEW YORK — NBC hopes to ward off the viewer apathy that is typical of the summer months with a batch of prime-time offerings that won’t make it on the air any other way.

The Peacock Network, owned by General Electric Co. (GE), said Tuesday it intends to air a prime-time summer schedule consisting of one-third original programming. NBC made the announcement just two days after HBO aired the season finale of its popular “Sopranos” program and as the cable network gears up to air summertime series that have garnered critical acclaim.

NBC said it will air new editions of “Dateline NBC” and the game show “Weakest Link.” In addition, it will air several reality-based programs. Among these are “Fear Factor,” an hour-long show that depicts men and women competing against each other to conquer their fears and phobias; “spytv,” a seeming “Candid Camera” knockoff that purports to show how “real-life people react to outrageous situations;” and “Lost,” which follows three pairs of strangers as they try to make their way home from an undisclosed location.

NBC also will air two new comedies as well as what it calls a “sketch/reality series.”

The two new comedies are “Kristin,” about a small-town girl who leaves a sheltered life in Oklahoma for a stab at becoming a Broadway star in Manhattan; and “Go Fish,” about a high school freshman seeking popularity. “The Downer Channel,” with comedian Steve Martin as executive producer, spotlights improvisational actors in comedy sketches and reality segments.

Summer typically marks a time when broadcast networks simply show repeats from the recently-completed season, leavened by short-but-sweet rollouts of never-aired series that are destined for the trash heap. Some of NBC’s offerings had been intended to air in the fall in case of a writer’s strike. Others were stockpiled for other reasons.

None of the shows slated to debut during the summer was part of NBC’s already announced fall schedule, but the pressure to seem new and novel year-round has only increased in recent years.

AOL Time Warner Inc.’s (AOL) HBO pay-cable network will unveil the third season of “Sex and the City” on June 3, marking the start of a summer that also will include “Six Feet Under,” an edgy new comedy from Alan Ball, the writer behind the Oscar-winning movie “American Beauty.” Bob Wright, NBC’s chairman, recently sent a memo to top network executives asking them what lessons could be learned from HBO’s “Sopranos,” which contains more violence than most broadcast series, and is also seen as more daring.

This isn’t the first time NBC has tried to dress up its summer schedule. In summers past, the network has touted repeats by telling audiences, “If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you!”

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