NEW YORK — NBC is searching for a way out of its prime-time wilderness by banking heavily on veterans of the “Saturday Night Live” comedy troupe once known as the not-ready-for-prime-time players.
The network will try a live version this fall of the SNL “Weekend Update” skit on Thursdays, a night already prominently featuring two former “anchors” Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in their own comedies. A handful of prime-time “Weekend Update” episodes did well last fall during the election.
Chevy Chase will also return to TV as part of an ensemble crew in a comedy about community college students.
NBC is adding four new dramas to its 2009-10 schedule, including a pair of medical shows and the Ron Howard-produced “Parenthood,” based on the 1989 movie he directed. The network let out partial details of its schedule two weeks before all other broadcasters do.
The once-proud peacock network is suffering through one of its worst years, entrenched in fourth place among all viewers and the youthful demographic it seeks.
Everything on NBC this fall will be overshadowed by its bold scheduling move of airing “The Jay Leno Show” at 10 p.m. EDT five nights a week. Leno leaves the “Tonight” show later this month, stepping aside in late-night for new host Conan O’Brien.
In a short film prepared for advertisers, Leno gently mocked the murder and mayhem of 10 p.m. shows on other networks and made clear he thinks the hour is humor-deficient.
If it works with the live “Weekend Update” episodes, NBC will have two shows of topical humor on Thursdays. Ben Silverman, co-chair of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, said he anticipates guest appearances from Fey, the former “SNL” star who is now in “30 Rock” and Poehler, whose “Parks & Recreation” comedy was picked up for the season.
“There’s no better brand to be associated with than Lorne Michaels and `Saturday Night Live,'” Silverman said.
Poehler walked into a news conference held at the “SNL” studio on Monday wearing a gas mask. “I’m afraid of the monkey sniffles,” she said.
In contrast to the quirky Thursday comedies, NBC will also launch two traditional sitcoms. Chase is one of a group of misfits in “Community.” The other series, “100 Questions,” filters a young woman’s life experiences through a compatibility test she’s given at a dating service and is reminiscent of CBS’ “How I Met Your Mother.”
Former “ER” star Maura Tierney lands in “Parenthood,” which has a heavy-hitting creative lineup of Howard, Brian Grazer and Thomas Schlamme.
“We all know how important family is, and this will be one of the few family shows on this fall on broadcast television,” Angela Bromstad, NBC’s prime-time entertainment president, said.
NBC will try two approaches at replacing “ER”: “Trauma” replicates the high energy and blood-and-guts of “ER” in a story about paramedics in San Francisco, while “Mercy” channels “Grey’s Anatomy” by focusing on three gorgeous nurses.
“Day One,” not due until midseason, recalls both NBC’s “Heroes” and CBS’ “Jericho” in a science fiction series about a group of survivors in a disaster that nearly ends the world.
NBC will build its schedule around “Heroes” on Monday, “The Biggest Loser” on Tuesday, “Law & Order: SVU” on Wednesday and the Thursday comedy night. With a live Leno on Friday, NBC will be aggressive on a night the networks have largely written off, and “Dateline NBC” will air on Saturday.Other previously announced shows will be sprinkled throughout the schedule, including “The Celebrity Apprentice,” “Friday Night Lights” and the Jerry Seinfeld-produced “The Marriage Ref.”