CHICAGO (thefutoncritic.com) -- Fans of "Scrubs," "Crossing Jordan" and "Third Watch" can rest easy: all three series are set to return next season.
Unlike previous seasons, NBC isn't keeping much of a lid on its 2004-05 schedule as the network revealed its future plans to the advertising community during a pre-upfront meeting at Culver City Studios yesterday.
NBC entertainment chief Jeff Zucker said he expects to add, at best, just four hours of new programming next season - an hour and a half on Tuesday, an hour on Wednesday, a half-hour on Thursday and an hour on Friday - meaning the overwhelming majority of its current schedule will return.
More specifically, Zucker noted that Mondays ("Fear Factor," "Las Vegas," "Average Joe"), Saturdays (movies and various drama/comedy repeats) and Sundays ("Dateline NBC," "American Dreams," "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," "Crossing Jordan") will remain intact while "ER," "The Apprentice," "Scrubs," "The West Wing," "Law & Order," "Law & Order: S.V.U." and "Third Watch" will stay put in their current slots.
"We are in a much stronger position than we were just two months ago... All of a sudden our [development] needs are much less than we thought they'd be," Zucker said, pointing to its midseason success stories "The Apprentice," "Crossing Jordan" and "Average Joe." "No one's had a stronger second half of the season than us."
The announcement leaves only a few question marks for NBC's fall schedule, which will be one of its most stable slates in recent memory.
Here's a breakdown of all of yesterday's developments:
-- NBC will launch the brunt of its 2004-05 schedule beginning Monday, August 29, the day after the network's coverage of the 2004 Summer Olympics wraps. The Peacock's Monday through Thursday slates will bow that week, with its Friday through Sunday lineups starting shortly afterwards due to Labor Day weekend and the Republican National Convention.
-- The network is leaning towards slotting spin-off "Joey" in "Friends'" current Thursday, 8:00/7:00c time period. With "The Apprentice" and "ER" already guaranteed the 9:00/8:00c and 10:00/9:00c hours respectively, the only other option would be to have "Will & Grace" lead off the night.
-- Speaking of "The Apprentice," NBC confirmed it's in for two cycles next season of 16 episodes each. The show's producers say they plan to expect more than a million applications for the second season. Fellow Mark Burnett-produced reality series "The Contender" is also expected to be sandwiched between "Apprentice" cycles on Thursday nights beginning in January.
-- The network also revealed plans for "Plain Jane," a spin-off of current hit "Average Joe." NBC Studios and "Joe's" Andrew Glassman and Stuart Krasnow are behind the project, which will flip the concept as "plain janes" attempt to woo a handsome hunk.
-- In addition to "Third Watch" staying put on Fridays at 10:00/9:00c, the network's current two-hour "Dateline NBC" block on the night may stay put as well should the circumstances merit.
-- "Trial by Jury," the fourth "Law & Order" series, is now looking more likely for a midseason start as NBC and Universal Network Television are still hammering out a deal for the series. Zucker noted that "Jury" will be a court-based drama, described as a contemporary take on "Perry Mason." Walon Green is set to pen the pilot script for the series, which will track a criminal case from arraignment to the jury's verdict, taking an omniscient point of view of the legal process.
-- "Whoopi" and "Happy Family" appear to be the only remaining "bubble" shows that have any chance of making NBC's fall schedule as with just four hours to fill and series orders already out to "Joey," DreamWorks' CGI-animated comedy "Father of the Pride" and the limited series "Revelations," the remaining real estate is rather thin.
-- Overall, NBC has five drama pilots and 14 sitcom pilots in the hunt for its fall schedule. Peacock executives were quick to note they're hoping to add several comedies that appeal to a young male audience, including "The Friendlys" and "The Men's Room."
To review, here's a look at NBC's preliminary fall 2004 schedule:
8:00/7:00c - "Fear Factor"
9:00/8:00c - "Las Vegas"
10:00/9:00c - "Average Joe"
8:00/7:00c - (Open Slot)
8:30/7:30c - (Open Slot)
9:00/8:00c - (Open Slot)
9:30/8:30c - "Scrubs"
10:00/9:00c - "Law & Order: S.V.U."
8:00/7:00c - (Open Slot)
9:00/8:00c - "The West Wing"
10:00/9:00c - "Law & Order"
8:00/7:00c - "Joey"*
8:30/7:30c - "Will & Grace"*
9:00/8:00c - "The Apprentice"
10:00/9:00c - "ER"
8:00/7:00c - "Dateline NBC"/(Open Slot)
9:00/8:00c - "Dateline NBC"/(Open Slot)
10:00/9:00c - "Third Watch"
8:00/7:00c - (Various Programming)
9:00/8:00c - (Various Programming)
10:00/9:00c - (Various Programming)
7:00/6:00c - "Dateline NBC"
8:00/7:00c - "American Dreams"
9:00/8:00c - "Law & Order: Criminal Intent"
10:00/9:00c - "Crossing Jordan"
NBC formally announces its fall schedule on Monday, May 17.