Appearing both contrite about the recent past and upbeat about the future at their network's Television Critic Association presentation Friday, NBC Universal TV chiefs Jeff Gaspin and Angela Bromstad laid out an aggressive fall programming strategy -- replete with more than half-a-dozen new shows launching on virtually every night of the week.
They also talked about keeping "The Office" open post-Steve Carell's departure, a live "30 Rock" episode and Rob Lowe.
And taking chances.
“We’ve taken too few chances over the last couple of years,” said Gaspin, chairman of NBCU Television Entertainment . “We don’t want to make that mistake again ... We’re launching a bunch of new shows and we’re promoting them heavily."
In other words, the innovative – and controversial – strategies established under former and oft-embattled chair Ben Silverman have been replaced with a more basic, long-called-for plan: find some hits.
“I think we made too many changes too quickly from a position of weakness,” Gaspin added. “Our goal is to get better, be stronger, so we won’t be working from such a position of weakness ...We’re trying to rebuild. We recognize some of the mistakes we’ve made the last several years, but we have a lot more stability than we've had in a long time. ”
With NBC’s abandonment last January of a bold strategy to remake the 10 p.m. hour with Jay Leno’s talk show, the network has an unprecedented number of hourlong dramas to get off the ground this fall.
Notable is the sci-fi show “The Event” starring Jason Ritter, which reminded more than a few TV journos at TCA of ABC’s ambitious plan to replace “Lost” last season with the also-paranormal-“event”-themed “Flash Forward.”
Should a network with so many holes to fill all at once be trying its hand at a genre that’s so hard to pull of creatively?
“We are going to do everything in our power to guard against another ‘Flash Forward’ situation,” said Bromstad, NBC’s president of primetime entertainment. “The audience and critics are rightly skeptical, so we’re going to have to prove we can do this.”
With “The Event,” she noted, “if you can get these kinds of shows right, the risks are big, but the rewards can be great.”
Gaspin also commented on the network’s Thursday-night comedy block, which is facing formidable new competition from CBS’ move of hit “Big Bang Theory” to the night, where it will run head-to-head against “Community.”
“‘Big Bang’ is great show,” he conceded, “but I’m hopeful there’s room for two comedies in that time period. I think they’re different their audiences are different. We’re going to wait to see what happens.”
Key to NBC comedy competitiveness on Thursdays will be the performance of new single-cam show “Outsourced,” which has undergone a bit of recasting and retooling since the pilot was greenlit in May.
“My note was that it needs to look less like an office in the Valley and more like Mumbai,” remarked Bromstad of the India-set series.
Also on Thursdays this fall, NBC faces the task of winding down Steve Carell’s character arc. According to Bromstad, series producers will build an arc around finding the replacement – and there are no plans at this time to wind down the show.
“I couldn’t go home and face my 14-year-old son if ‘The Office’ went off the air,” she said.
Bromstad also addressed the volatility of the new ensemble comedy “Love Bites,” which she said was pushed back to midseason not because of casting issues but mainly because creator Cindy Chupack chose to step back as showrunner.
Of course, away from its primetime schedule, Gaspin and Bromstad had to field the inevitable late-night-themed questions – specifically, now that Leno has returned to 11:30, is the network concerned that his ratings are down to David Letterman levels?
Gaspin disputed that notion, going inside-Nielsen-baseball for a moment while noting key demo advantages in the second and third quarters. Besides, he added, “it’s too early to make any proclamations about anything. I’m not worried.”
Finally, while outlining launch strategies for the network’s massively rebuilt programming lineup, Gaspin and Bromstad also announced several key fall moves.
Here are the fall announcements:
-- Rob Lowe will join NBC's bureaucratic comedy "Parks and Recreation" cast full-time when the show comes back for midseason 2010-11. Lowe will portray state auditor Chris Traeger, a role he first played for guest appearances in May.
-- "30 Rock" will air a special live episode Oct. 14. The show will be performed twice, for both East and West Coast audiences from the stage at Studio 8H, the home of "Saturday Night Live.
-- Film 44, the production company led by Peter Berg and Sarah Aubrey, signed a new overall development deal with Universal Media Studios. As part of the agreement, Film 44 will produce a pilot for "Prime Suspect," a cop drama based on a British format. Film 44's feature credits include "Friday Night Lights" and the films "Hancock " and "Lars and the Real Girl."
-- The husband and wife team of Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald signed a first-look, two-year development deal with Universal Media Studios. Producing credits for Parkes and Macdonald include "Gladiator," "Men in Black," "The Ring," "Amistad" and "Catch Me if You Can."
-- NBC will air a two-hour "Law & Order: SVU" "premiere event" Sept. 22. Now in its twelfth season, "SVU" currently ranks as TV's longest-running drama series.