Nov 22, 2008

Entertainment - NBC;Stars Misaligned

Sophia Banay

The formula that NBC has been leaning on to jump-start its ailing lineup—putting big stars on the small screen—is looking more like olestra than Pinkberry.

Both My Own Worst Enemy, a new Christian Slater drama that was introduced with much fanfare at NBC's preciously-titled "in front" presentation to advertisers last spring, and Lipstick Jungle have been cancelled.

When Ben Silverman introduced My Own Worst Enemy last spring, he touted NBC's ability to bring movie-caliber stars to network shows as evidence of the network's strength. As part of his campaign to woo Slater to the show, it was reported, Silverman had even taken the actor's mother out to lunch.

Enemy was one of the central shows in NBC's fall lineup, which has turned out to be full of stinkers such as Knight Rider, Kath & Kim, and Crusoe—but the show never gained traction. It debuted to a smaller-than-anticipated audience of 7.3 million and dropped from there—to a low of 4.3 million this past week. The steep decline was especially galling given the show's lead-in from Heroes, NBC's tent-pole drama but one that's suffering its own ratings woes this fall.

A lesser, but still notable, coup for the network was bringing Brooke Shields to Lipstick Jungle when that show premiered last February.

Competition for female viewers, in the form of ABC's Cashmere Mafia, and a season-one interruption because of the writers' strike, slowed its development.

After a rough fall, the show's audience of 3.3 million last Friday was evidently not enough to justify keeping it on the air.

Still, despite the network's newly snuffed-out star-centric shows, NBC executives seem to remain convinced that bold-faced names are the key to propping up ratings.

The network has even lined up a slew of guest stars for Tina Fey's critically beloved but ratings-challenged sitcom 30 Rock, including Jennifer Aniston, Steve Martin, and Oprah Winfrey, who appeared in the season premiere. That episode, which aired October 30, brought in 8.5 million viewers, a 21 percent increase over last season's premiere.

But was it the Oprah effect, or just heightened awareness of the show, and of Fey, after her recent appearances on Saturday Night Live this election season?

Because of Fey's recent notoriety, 30 Rock’s next cameo choice seems obvious to Shari Anne Brill, senior vice president and director of programming at Carat in New York City.

"I would like to see Sarah Palin guest star," says Brill. "You know she wants to be in the spotlight."

And given Palin's recent bold-faced-name status, it wouldn't surprise us at all if NBC put her there.

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