The Dawning of A New Primetime at NBC

At the summer press party, NBC-Universal’s Curt King with Connie Britton of “Friday Night Lights.”

At the summer press party, NBC-Universal’s Curt King with Connie Britton of “Friday Night Lights.”

NBC was a primetime leader for years, and now the Peacock network is looking forward to climbing back on the ratings heap this season, thanks to several new shows, returning favorites and an old work horse—Jay Leno.
To celebrate the Burbank-based NBC-Universal‘s optimism, the top brass threw a party for producers and performers during the Television Critics Association press tour at the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena. It was an elegant affair outside in the Horseshoe Garden where everyone mingled under the stars. Kudos to the Langham‘s Chef Denis Depoitre who presented a magnificent culinary spread that the “Top Chef“ folks called yummy.
Stars from NBC shows, plus cable‘s USA, Bravo, Syfy and Oxygen were on hand, including Chevy Chase, Lou Diamond Phillips, Robert Carlyle, Tiffani Theissen, Regina King, Ben McKenzie, Kathy Griffin, Kate Flannery, Howie Mandel, James Kyson Lee, Hayden Panettiere and the always lovely Connie Britton from the acclaimed “Friday Night Lights.“
The funniest sight of the evening was seeing everyone gathered around Jay Leno, firing questions at him like he was a disgraced politician. Although the journalists had just grilled him during a press conference, Leno handled the added attention with his usual ease. He has to be the hardest working man in showbiz, and Jay was very sweet to give me a little one on one interview, just for The Tolucan Times. So look out for it. Personally, I‘m rooting for his show, debuting Monday, September 14. We need more laughs these days, and I hope his show comforts us like a warm blanket that tickles. I saw Jay catch up with his pal Al Roker (The Today Show), and both did a bit for the Weather Channel‘s Wake Up with Al. Roker told me he‘s also good friends with our own weather-wizard Fritz Coleman.
The party was a great place to catch up with old friends from the new and returning shows. Among the shows I‘m happy to see coming back are Heroes (has a two hour season premiere September 21), The Office, 30 Rock, Southland, Law & Order and the always inspiring life-changing reality contest The Biggest Loser. Plus there are a couple of new twists on old shows with Sunday Night Football and the Saturday Night Live Weekend Thursday Update.
The most impressive among the new shows is Mercy (premieres September 23). Mercy takes viewers through the daily traumas at the busy Mercy Hospital, as seen through the eyes of three very different nurses, played by Taylor Schilling (Dark Matter), Jamie Lee Kirchner (Rescue Me) and Michelle Trachtenberg (Buffy). I believe nurses are the closest things to angels that we will find on earth, and creator-producer Liz Heldens totally agrees with me, although she adds that these gals don‘t always act angelic.
Another medical drama is Trauma (premieres September. 28), set in San Francisco about the first responder paramedics. It also has a strong cast with Anastasia Griffith (Damages), Derek Luke, Cliff Curtis and Jamey Sheridan. Former Chicago Hope star Peter Berg (who is also the creative force behind NBC‘s Friday Night Lights) is producing and said, “Medical dramas will always be relevant, and always provide you with the opportunity to do something that really connects with an audience.“ Comparing it with Chicago Hope, Berg called Trauma more visceral.
A rare new sitcom is Community (September. 17), which follows a band of odd characters attending community college. Chevy Chase (SNL alumni) and Joel McHale (The Soup) star, along with some great ensemble players such as Alison Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown and Danny Pudi. Creator-producer Dan Harmon had a peculiar description. He said the show “does not intend to make fun of community college. I grew up in Wisconsin. I was broke and I went to a community college when I was 32. That‘s what this is based on. The campus in the show is a character in itself. A humble character I compare to Charlie Brown‘s Christmas tree. Its ambition exceeds its grasp, therefore it is heroic.“ Umm, was he trying to be funny?
Late in the evening, everyone was sitting around laughing in cozy little groups, sharing their summer stories and hoping the Peacock will be flying high this fall.

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