LOS ANGELES - NBC is sticking with "Joey" - and several other new series - despite modest ratings.
"We knew we were going to be in for a tough year this year in the post-'Friends' era," Jeff Zucker, NBC Universal Television Group president, said Friday. "It turned out to be tougher than we expected."
NBC is third behind CBS and resurgent ABC among viewers aged 18 to 49. It may also be tough to hold off fourth-place Fox, which has the immensely popular "American Idol" back and will get huge ratings with the Super Bowl.
NBC hoped Matt LeBlanc's "Friends" spinoff "Joey" would hold 70 percent of the old show's audience on Thursday nights. Instead, it has kept only 60 percent and the network acknowledged creative problems with the show. Citing the charismatic star and cast chemistry, NBC said it will almost certainly be back next year.
Four other new NBC shows that have been modest successes - "Medium," "Committed," "The Biggest Loser" and "Medical Investigation" - will also likely be back next season, Zucker said.
"Quite frankly, among the networks, only ABC has had a better development season," Zucker said.
Still, Zucker declined to predict whether NBC would be able to retain its longtime lead in a more important measurement: how much money the networks rake in each spring in advertising commitments for the fall season.
"It's never been so close," Zucker said. "There's never been so much parity between the four networks."
The struggling network is placing its bets on a fourth "Law & Order" spinoff, the boxing series "The Contender" and a remake of the British hit "The Office," which will all premiere in March, NBC's top executives said Friday.
But they all face obstacles:
- "Law & Order: Trial By Jury" lost popular cast member Jerry Orbach to cancer recently, although NBC said he had only a minor role in the show.
- NBC won a bidding war for the Mark Burnett-produced series "The Contender," but has scheduled it opposite "American Idol" and is worried about the precedent set by a failed boxing series on Fox last fall.
- Last year NBC tried to remake another British series, "Coupling," and failed miserably. Network entertainment President Kevin Reilly promised "The Office" would be nothing like that.
Despite ratings erosion, Zucker also said it was likely "The West Wing" would return for another year.
It's setting up an election between characters played by Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits, with the inauguration of a new "president" replacing Martin Sheen a year from now.
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