PREVIOUS: The inevitable happened this morning after another poor showing from NBC’s freshman comedy. Free Agents averaged a paltry 1.0 rating in 18-49 and 3.3 million viewers last night. The underperforming new comedy got a stay of execution last week, when it also posted a 1.0 demo rating, for one more shot at improving — but that didn’t happen. There is no final decision yet what NBC will put in the Wednesday 8:30 PM slot, but reruns of new comedy Whitney are a strong possibility. NBC’s boss Bob Greenblatt earlier this week replaced canceled The Playboy Club with repeats of new drama Prime Suspect for additional sampling. I won’t be surprised if Whitney eventually migrates to Wednesday with originals while 30 Rock rejoins NBC’s Thursday lineup. Production on Free Agents was stopped right away. As one commenter noted, “They canceled the show in the middle of an episode and in the middle of a work day. Actors were just called to not come to set today. Harsh.” Based on the British series of the same name, Free Agents starred Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn as co-workers who start sleeping together. Azaria started the season with two series on the air, Free Agents and The Simpsons. With Free Agents just cancelled …
There have been rampant rumors this week that NBC is cancelling underperforming new series The Playboy Club and Free Agents. It’s because the shows have logged 2 and 3 low-rated airings, respectively, dropping double-digits week-to-week. Also in danger is the network’s Prime Suspect, which opened with a disappointing 1.9 18-49 rating last week, and sophomore Harry’s Law, stuck at a 1.2 in 2 airings. But I’m told NBC won’t be pulling any new series this week since NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt wants to give all freshmen more time to send a message to the creative community that he will give their shows on NBC every possible chance to succeed. (And those are not even shows he had developed.). That is a departure from traditional network MO in the case of fall shows with such underwhelming launches. Last year, Fox’s Lone Star and ABC’s My Generation were cancelled after 2 airings each. They drew a 1.0 and 1.1 demo rating, respectively, just before they were pulled. This week, Free Agents and The Playboy Club posted a 1.0 and a 1.3. But Greenblatt comes from the cable world, where series are given a season-long run to find their footing before a decision on their futures is made. In the realities of the broadcast business, keeping a high-end drama or comedy on the air at a 1 demo …
The broadcast season unofficially kicks off tonight. And just like in a kids board game, the youngest of the networks, the CW, got to start first, unspooling its new series Ringer starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. Also launching tonight are the new seasons of the CW’s 90210 and NBC’s Parenthood, marking the unofficial start of the new season, which kicks in on Monday. Here are the networks’ standings going into the fall season:
With Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies on tap for baseball’s postseason this year, along with the heavily promoted The X Factor and new big-budget dinosaur drama Terra Nova, Fox is in a position to significantly outperform last fall when the network carried the National League Championship Series and had two DOA shows, drama Lone Star and comedy Running Wilde. The question marks at the network this fall are the new comedies, New Girl and I Hate My Teenage Daughter, though both are propped up by solid lead-ins, Glee and X Factor, respectively, and whether Glee and House can rebound after a disappointing 2010-11 season. If the stars align and X Factor lives up to its ratings expectations, Fox may win the fourth quarter as it did two years ago when it also had the American League Championship Series and the highly rated freshman season of Glee.
Fox’s main rival for the top spot in the fall will be the epitome of stability, CBS, which will get a ratings boost from the re-launch of Two and a Half Men. The consensus is that CBS has potential breakout hits on its hands with new Monday comedy Two Broke Girls, which is launching behind the much-hyped return of Two and a Half Men, and possibly Thursday drama Person of Interest. The network is getting high marks for taking its aging series such as the CSI franchise and Survivor and relocating them to troubled spots on the schedule that they shore up. The network is expected to accomplish that again this season with the mothership CSI series, which is moving to Wednesday 10 PM, with its replacement on Thursday, Person of Interest, looking to do at least as well as CSI if not better. The only question marks at CBS are new Thursday 8:30 comedy How To Be a Gentleman and where Men will settle after the initial ratings spike.
A month after NBC’s version of the British comedy series Free Agents premieres, the original will make its U.S. debut on BBC America. The hit BBC romantic comedy set in the office of a London talent agency stars Stephen Mangan, Sharon Horgan and Anthony Head, who reprises his role in the NBC version. It will join BBC America’s new Saturday night comedy block the Ministry of Laughs with back-to-back episodes premiering Oct. 8. The NBC series starring Hank Azaria, Kathryn Hahn and Head debuts with a preview Sept. 14.
Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s coverage of TCA.
At the NBCUniversal press sessions at Monday’s TCA, not one but two of the new series introduced here are re-imaginings of British shows. In the morning, it was the comedy Free Agents. This afternoon, it was the Maria Bello starrer Prime Suspect, a re-invention of the critically acclaimed British procedural drama starring Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison, a homicide detective with a dark side. This time around, England is New York City, and Maria Bello is Jane Timoney, a brilliant “bad cop” disliked by her squad. She’s all tough and stuff. At age 44, Bello joins the ranks of glamorous middle-aged actresses who have found a place for themselves in TV’s procedural dramas.
Also like the producers of Free Agents, co-executive producer/writer Alexandra Cunningham said the show would be a little less dark than seems to suit British tastes: While the New Jane drinks like the Old Jane, the story lines won’t delve into alcoholism. New Jane smokes like Old Jane — but in the USA in 2011, she’s trying to quit. (Bello also confessed that she is a smoker.) Said Cunningham: “The thing that makes this different from other procedurals is the humor,” which she adds will harken to the style of Hill Street Blues and Barney Miller.
Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s coverage of TCA.
TCA: NBC Renews Overall Deal With Greg Daniels, Signs Pacts With Gary Sanchez Prods, Sean Hayes & More From Exec Panel
In his executive session this morning at TCA in Beverly Hills, NBC entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt, addressing the idea that NBC wants to raise its stakes in the scripted comedy business, admitted only half-jokingly that introducing a new comedy in any time slot in today’s TV landscape is like “standing in the middle of the 405.” And at TCA, NBC’s new comedy Free Agents, based on the British series, was the first to merge onto the freeway in a late-morning panel.
The Wednesday night show, described by the network as a “crooked romantic comedy” from creator John Enbom and director-producer Todd Holland, stars Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn as two corporate PR executives — read damage control experts — whose own personal lives are more of a mess than the people they represent. Hahn’s character drinks too much to cover her pain over the death of her fiance. Azaria’s character is a divorced dad who apparently is as outspokenly miserable as Ray Romano’s character in TNT’s recently cancelled dramedy Men of a Certain Age. In the series, the two grapple with the aftermath of an unexpected romantic tryst.
Running out of slots for comedy series and striking out with new dramas in the fall, NBC and ABC in midseason expanded their existing two-hour comedy blocks on Thursday and Wednesday, respectively, to three hours, to largely uninspiring results. Going into next fall, the 10-11 PM comedy hours are being scrapped in favor of opening up more traditional 8-9 PM comedy blocks on other nights. In another sign of the resurgence of the comedy genre, for the first time in six years, each of the Big Four broadcast networks will have two comedy blocks on the fall schedule. Interestingly, both NBC and ABC opted to launch their new comedy blocks in the time periods where they most recently ran comedies. And just like the last time, both NBC and ABC populated the blocks with new comedies. In fall 2006, NBC launched 30 Rock and Twenty Good Years from 8-9 PM on Wednesday, the same time slot the network is using this year for new comedies Up All Night and Free Agents. ABC, which is going with the Tim Allen vehicle Last Man Standing and Chris Moynihan’s Man Up Tuesdays 8-9 PM, last tried comedies on the night in the fall of 2007, with then-newbies Cavemen and Carpoolers.
Something else happened this season: the return of the 10 PM drama. Scores of new dramas met their demise trying to get off the ground in the hour over the past few years, with the only shows to make it were modest hits Brothers and Sisters, Castle and The Good Wife. Uncertain about the prospects of 10 PM dramas, NBC even tried a Jay Leno talk show in the slot two seasons ago and had since kept the hour comedy/reality branded. But this season, all four freshman dramas to make it to Season 2 were 10 PM shows: CBS’ Hawaii Five-0 and Blue Bloods, ABC’s Body of Proof and NBC’s Harry’s Law. What’s more, for the first time in five years, all Big 3 networks have scheduled dramas in the 10 PM slot every night Sunday through Thursday.
2ND UPDATE: NBC Picks Up Comedies Parham/St. Clair, ‘Bent’, Chelsea Handler, ‘Free Agents’, Passes On More Pilots
UPDATE: I hear NBC just picked up two more comedy pilots: romantic comedy Bent, starring Amanda Peet and David Walton, which I hear will probably be for midseason, and the untitled Parham/St. Clair project, now called BFFs. That makes a total of six new comedy series and five dramas for the peacock network. BFFs, written by and starring Upright Citizens Brigade alums Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair, has been a classic dark horse. It was very low-budget presentation (“made for nothing,” as one agent put it), the network brass didn’t quite like the first cut but was they were intrigued enough to order a second cut and that did very well.
PREVIOUS: NBC just picked up two more comedy pilots to series: the Chelsea Handler project Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea and the British romantic comedy adaptation Free Agents starring Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn. Meanwhile, more pilots got word that they are not going forward: dramas Reconstruction and 17th Precinct and comedies Lovelives, Brave New World, My Life as an Experiment and untitled Kari Lizer, which was well received but dubbed “not an NBC show.” They join Wonder Woman, Metro and A Mann’s World, which may be shopped to cable. The pass on My Life as an Experiment means that its co-star Paget …
Ben Rappaport, star of NBC’s freshman comedy Outsourced, has been cast as the lead in CBS’ untitled Peter Knight comedy pilot. The project, from Sony and Happy Madison, is a workplace ensemble revolving around the young-adult employees at a high-powered venture capital firm. It centers on Danny (Rappaport), who is shocked when his crush, competitor and fellow trainee Gracie (Michelle Trachtenberg) is promoted out of the mailroom and into a junior associate position at the firm. For Rappaport, the casting is in second position to Outsourced which, after a promising start, has slipped in the ratings and is considered a long shot to return for a second season. He is with Gersh and Invictus.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum Anthony Head has joined NBC’s single-camera comedy pilot Free Agents, reprising his role from the original British series the NBC project is based on. The romantic comedy explores the attraction between two quirky PR executives working together — Alex (Hank Azaria) and Helen (Kathryn Hahn) — who both are on the rebound, Alex from a divorce and Helen from the loss of a fiance. Head will play Stephen, the charming and amoral CEO of the Dayton Group. Also cast in Free Agents are Al Madrigal and Joe Lo Truglio. Head, who co-stars on the British series Merlin, as well as …
Kathryn Hahn is set as the female lead opposite Hank Azaria in NBC’s single-camera comedy pilot Free Agents. The romantic comedy, based on the UK series of the same name, explores the attraction between two quirky PR executives working together — Alex (Azaria) and Helen (Hahn) — who both are on the rebound, Alex from a divorce and Helen from the loss of a fiance. Hahn, who fielded multiple pilot offers, had a development/talent holding deal with Fox earlier this development season, her second at the network. Hahn, repped by Gersh and Management 360, recently did an arc on HBO’s Hung. Her upcoming features include My Idiot Brother and Wanderlust.
EXCLUSIVE: Hank Azaria has been tapped to star in NBC’s single-camera comedy pilot Free Agents, lifting the contingency on the project. The romantic comedy, based on the UK series of the same name, explores the attraction between two quirky PR executives working together – Alex (Azaria) and Helen – who both are on the rebound, Alex from a divorce and Helen from the loss of a fiance. The project brings Azaria back to NBC, where he recurred on Friends and starred in the short-lived comedy series Imagine That. On TV, Azaria, a key voice cast member of animated juggernaut The Simpsons, most recently headlined Showtime’s offbeat series Huff. In film, he co-starred in Love and Other Drugs and next plays Gargamel in the Smurfs movie.
UPDATED: NBC has picked up to pilot REM, the spec by Lone Star creator Kyle Killen which was taken out by 20th TV a couple of weeks ago. Additionally, the network has given the green light to 3 more comedy pilots: Free Agents, LoveLives and an untitled project from Dan Goor.
Killen’s REM, from 20th TV, is described as an Inception-style thriller about a cop who wakes up after an accident to find he is living in two different realities. The project has been given a cast-contingent order. As expected, new NBC chief Bob Greenblatt has been very opportunistic with spec scripts, handing out a significant chunk of his pilot orders to project brought to the network as specs.
Free Agents, from UMS and Party Down co-creator John Enbom, is a single-camera romantic comedy based on the U.K. format that explores the attraction between two quirky co-workers who are both on the rebound, one from a divorce and the other from the loss of a fiancé. While in the original series, which ran on Channel 4 in 2009, the lovebirds were agents, in the NBC version they will be PR executives. Enbom is executive producing with Kenton Allen from Big Talk Prods., producer of the British series. Todd Holland and Karey Burke are also exec producing through their UMS-based company, with Holland directing. The comedy has been given a cast-contingent order.
LoveLives, from 20th TV and Chernin Entertainment, is a …