NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES The NBC television network is turning to science fiction, female empowerment and more hero worship next season in a bid to boost its anemic ratings and appease restive investors.
Taking the wraps off its 2007-2008 lineup on Monday, NBC announced plans to launch four dramas next fall, including a 21st-century remake of the 1970s adventure "Bionic Woman" and a mid-season series about high-powered working women based on the writings of "Sex and the City" author Candace Bushnell.
The latter show, "Lipstick Jungle," starring Brooke Shields as a movie executive juggling career and family, will take the Sunday time slot recently occupied by Donald Trump's corporate reality show, "The Apprentice," which was conspicuously absent from NBC's new schedule.
Such an omission would normally spell certain death for a low-rated series like "The Apprentice," but executives said a final decision on the fate of Trump's show would come later.
Notwithstanding Trump's fate, themes of personal redemption figure prominently elsewhere on NBC's new schedule.
"Bionic Woman," the story of a young car accident victim retrofitted with high-tech surgery to give her extraordinary powers, will be paired on Wednesdays with a new police drama, "Life," about a wrongly imprisoned cop returning to the force.
NBC plans to anchor its Tuesday night roster with the new high-tech espionage drama "Chuck," about a computer geek transformed into a secret agent after classified data is downloaded into his brain.
Rounding out NBC's crop of new fall offerings is the time- traveling drama "Journeyman," which will air on Monday nights as a companion show to NBC's biggest hit from last year, the supernatural drama "Heroes."
NBC also hopes to build on the popularity of "Heroes" by launching a late-season spinoff called "Origins."
The network is sticking with its Thursday night comedy bloc, and giving a large 30-episode order to its most successful sitcom, "The Office." Turning to another critically acclaimed workplace comedy from Britain, NBC also plans a midseason launch of a sitcom called "The IT Crowd," about a pair of socially inept computer technicians.
The lineup is crucial for General Electric Co.-controlled broadcaster, which has languished in a ratings slump since longtime comedy favorites "Friends" and "Frasier" ended their runs three years ago. The network trails in fourth place behind News Corp.'s Fox, CBS and Walt Disney Co.'s ABC in the Nielsen rankings.
"I really feel great about what we're going to be rolling out today," said NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly.
NBC is kicking off the annual "upfront" advertising market, in which some $9 billion in prime-time commercial commitments for the broadcast season will be booked. The other networks will unveil their offerings over the course of the week.
Negotiations between advertisers and the networks could take longer than usual this year as both sides try to find out how to best structure deals in the changing TV landscape.
The spread of digital video recorders and the broadcast of shows over the Internet have transformed the way Americans watch TV. Audience measurement standards also are changing. New ratings, slated for wide availability this year, will count how many people watch commercials or recordings of shows.
NBC executives have responded by aggressively pushing digital deals, saying on Monday that all programming will carry interactive features for online audiences.
NBC's new schedule will get especially close scrutiny in light of growing pressure to improve ratings. Some Wall Street analysts have even floated the idea that GE spin off network parent NBC Universal because of its flagging performance.
Getting a new lease on life for the coming season were several high-profile series whose futures were in doubt, including the long-running legal drama "Law & Order," the comedy "Scrubs" and teen football drama "Friday Night Lights."
A struggling "Law & Order" spinoff, "Criminal Intent," failed to make it onto NBC's schedule for next season, but will move instead to sister cable network USA.
NBC also said it would pick up variety and game shows "1 Vs. 100" and "The Singing Bee," which will run for eight and six weeks, respectively, in the fall.
But "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," a much-ballyhooed show within a show from "The West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin, will be dumped after completing its first season in June. The detective drama "Crossing Jordan," about a sexy medical examiner, also has been canceled.
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