LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - NBC, hoping to rescue its ratings from a three-year slump, is enlisting a bionic woman, a time traveler and a computer nerd named Chuck to help finish the job started by the superhuman stars of its biggest new hit, "Heroes."
The General Electric Co.-controlled broadcaster plans to order five new dramas for the prime-time schedule it will unveil officially to advertisers on Monday, a network insider told Reuters on Friday.
NBC is the first of the major networks slated to showcase their wares next week for the 2007-08 broadcast season, kicking off the annual "upfront" advertising market in which some $9 billion in commercial time will likely be booked in advance.
New shows will include several with sci-fi themes -- a remake of the 1970s series "The Bionic Woman," a drama called "Journeyman" about a time-traveling journalist, and "Chuck," about a young computer whiz who becomes a government agent after espionage secrets are downloaded into his brain.
NBC also has ordered a second season of its critically praised but low-rated teen football drama, "Friday Night Lights," which won the prestigious Peabody Award last month.
The renewal of "Lights," along with the acclaimed TV satire "30 Rock," keeps with NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly's recent mantra, coined by predecessor Grant Tinker, about giving worthy shows a chance to grow -- "be best, then be first."
But the fate of several NBC veteran programs remains uncertain, including Donald Trump's boardroom reality show "The Apprentice," hospital comedy "Scrubs," long-running legal drama "Law & Order" and its spinoff, "Criminal Intent."
The outlook is more doubtful for "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," a much-ballyhooed show within a show from "The West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin. The struggling drama is widely expected to be dumped after wrapping its first season in June.
DESPERATE FOR HITS
NBC, which has come under scrutiny from GE investors for its lackluster performance, is desperate for new hits.
The network has languished in a ratings rut since longtime comedy favorites "Friends" and "Frasier" ended their runs three years ago, and it trails in fourth place behind Fox, CBS and ABC in the Nielsen rankings.
Indeed, NBC is expected to finish the season with its lowest marks ever in the ratings race it once dominated for the viewers most coveted by advertisers, those aged 18 to 49.
NBC got off to a promising start last fall with its new "Sunday Night Football" telecasts and the launch of "Heroes," a drama about a group of ordinary people who gain extraordinary powers. But the network hit the skids as the football season ended and every new NBC drama but "Heroes" failed to win fans.
"Heroes" lost momentum, too, after going off the schedule for a six-week hiatus, although it remains the No. 1 new series of the season among all networks. NBC's hit game show "Deal or No Deal" likewise has waned in the ratings.
In addition to "The Bionic Woman," "Journeyman" and "Chuck," NBC is expected to pick up a new drama, "Life," about a wrongly imprisoned police officer returning to the force after his release.
A fifth new drama that may emerge on NBC's schedule is "The Lipstick Jungle," based on a best-selling book by "Sex and the City" writer Candace Bushnell following the lives of three professional women, one of them played by Brooke Shields.