A year after its ratings debacle with comedian Jay Leno, NBC has changed course and will air prime-time shows from some of Hollywood's most expensive producers when the new television season begins this month.
General Electric Co.'s entertainment unit, the least-watched major broadcast network for six straight years, opened its coffers to attract Jerry Bruckheimer and J.J. Abrams, and is introducing seven new shows to recover from last season's failed experiment with Leno's talk show in prime time.
"It was time to reinvest," Jeff Gaspin, chairman of NBC Universal TV Entertainment, said in an interview. "We had spent the last several years shrinking our business by looking at the economics and maybe we went too far."
NBC probably had to earmark $125 million to $150 million for new-show development, about double last year's total, according to media researcher Jack Myers. Angela Bromstad, president of prime-time entertainment, declined to say how much NBC spent for new shows.
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The network, which cable-TV company Comcast Corp. has agreed to buy in a merger now being reviewed by U.S. regulators, is replacing almost a third of its prime-time lineup, with 6.5 hours of new shows. The network isn't aiming for first-place CBS Corp. or No. 2 Fox, owned by News Corp. Success would mean climbing out of last and dislodging Walt Disney Co.'s ABC from third. "Our real competition is ABC," Bromstad said.
To that end, New York-based NBC sought high-powered talent associated with CBS and ABC. "Chase," about U.S. Marshals, is from Bruckheimer, producer of CBS' "CSI" series. The network also ponied up for the husband-wife spy thriller "Undercovers" by Abrams, creator of ABC's "Lost."
"We really wanted to get into business with outside producers who could give us the kinds of shows that will get immediate attention," Bromstad said.
The biggest changes are at 10 p.m., with "Chase," "Outlaw" and a new spinoff from the cancelled "Law and Order," "Law & Order: Los Angeles." NBC starts the season Tuesday.
ABC isn't standing still. After suffering the steepest audience loss of all major networks last season, the network is adding seven shows.