NBC is giving early greenlights to three first-year unscripted series, including Jerry Seinfeld's "The Marriage Ref."
Paul Telegdy, head of alternative programming for the network, announced the pickups Monday. Also coming back: The Lisa Kudrow-produced "Who Do You Think You Are?" and the game show "Minute to Win It."
"Ref" has been given a 13-episode renewal, with three of those episodes set to air this season. NBC has greenlit ten more hours of "Minute" (with episodes continuing into May and airing in the summer) and eight additional episodes of "Who Do".
"All of these new series have demonstrated increasing popularity and generated far-reaching interest among viewers,” Telegdy said. “Equally important, each has a compelling and innovative format, and a second season will allow these shows to grow creatively and attract an even wider audience."
In an interview with TV MoJoe, Telegdy said the three newcomers have all demonstrated signs of clicking with viewers -- even if none is a breakout smash.
"Minute," for example, "has done a really good job for us. It's well-priced, can be produced quickly... It's got all the hallmarks of being a great utility player for us."
Telegdy noted that even before its on-air premiere, the online buzz surrounding "Minute" was impressive. "It had a small phenomenon grow around it that made us think we could build something around it," he said.
What's more, in addition to solid Sunday numbers, a barely promoted Wednesday repeat did well last week. NBC will air a first-run episode of the show this Wednesday.
As for "Who Do," the genealogy-themed celebrity show's Friday ratings are modest -- along with everything else that airs on the night -- but the show has won its time period vs. established scripted fare.
"It's attracted good names, there's been great press on it and it comes with a great business story behind it," Telegdy said. "It's earned its way back."
Critical reaction has been more mixed to "Marriage Ref," but the Seinfeld-produced series has been a consistent performer Thursdays at 10. It's holding on to 93 percent of its "30 Rock" lead-in and skews well with upscale audiences.
"It was a high-profile launch, to use a decent understatement," Telegdy said. "But there's a good audience for it and it's performing well in its timeslot."
The show has also continued to evolve creatively as producers figure out what works best with the panel format.
Telegdy said the new season of "Ref" could be ready for fall, but said it's too soon to say whether the show will re-launch in the fall or next midseason.
However, given NBC's need to get new scripted hits, it seems logical to assume NBC will probably keep "Ref" for midseason so that it could air a new scripted hour at 10 p.m. in the fall.
Production credits on the three renewed series, straight from NBC p.r.:
"The Marriage Ref" is produced by Seinfeld's Columbus 81 Productions and Ellen Rakieten Entertainment. Seinfeld, Ellen Rakieten ("The Oprah Winfrey Show"), Shed Media's Nick Emmerson ("Supernanny") and Jennifer O'Connell ("Supernanny"), Al Berman ("The Biggest Loser Live Finale," "The Celebrity Apprentice Live Finale"), Howard West ("Seinfeld"), George Shapiro ("Seinfeld") and Jessica Seinfeld serve as executive producers. International distribution is by Endemol.
"Who Do You Think You Are?" is produced by Wall to Wall productions (a Shed Media company) in association with Is Or Isn’t Entertainment. Alex Graham from Wall to Wall, and Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky from Is or Isn’t Entertainment, are the executive producers. The unique, award-winning series is based on the popular BBC television documentary series created and executive-produced by Graham.
"Minute to Win It" is produced by Universal Media Studios with Friday TV. Craig Plestis, Tim Puntillo (NBC's "Identity"), Mattias Olsson and Jock Millgardh serve as executive producers.