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NBC Does Drugs

A year ago, NBC chairman Bob Wright raised a few eyebrows when he circulated a memo and a tape of a particularly violent episode of The Sopranos among his staffers to spur a discussion about how the broadcast networks could produce a program with similarly impressive ratings and critical acclaim. So it should come as no surprise that NBC decided to develop Kingpin, a graphic midseason drama about a Mexican drug lord who’s conflicted about raising a son within his underground world. Still, one Peacock insider insists the memo had nothing to do with the series, which comes from writer David Mills (Homicide: Life on the Street) and executive producer Aaron Spelling. Says the insider, ”It’s simple. Somebody pitched the show, and we liked the idea. Sure, The Sopranos blazed a trail, but we still would have developed this, even if the memo had never existed.” Kingpin will likely come with the occasional TV-MA content rating for its violence, though unlike Sopranos, it’s not expected to feature nudity and expletives, the insider said. While NBC could certainly use a buzz-worthy drama for its fall lineup, ”a midseason [slot] is the right way to debut a show with real risk to it,” says the source. ”We want to make it an event.” No worries there: Watchdog groups like the Parents Television Council will surely give Kingpin plenty of attention.

Catholic Guilt

If all else fails, blame the Church. That’s what Sylvester Stallone did when CBS didn’t pick up Lefty, the television drama he exec-produced starring Titanic’s Danny Nucci as a tough-talking priest. Stallone believes the Catholic Church’s current troubles led the Eye to pass on the pilot. ”Danny was fantastic,” says Stallone. ”And to come out with a show about priests at this particular time…I think people are waiting for something to help them exhale.” Stallone’s the one who needs to take a breather, says one source close to the negotiations. It wasn’t the priest-pedophilia scandal but Lefty’s soft, Touched by an Angel sensibility that prompted CBS to reject it in favor of sharper fare like Without a Trace, a missing-persons drama with Anthony LaPaglia, and the cop-themed RHD/LA, which stars Tom Sizemore and is exec-produced by Heat’s Michael Mann. Says the source, ”The network wants to go in a certain direction, with younger-skewing, harder-edged shows with an urban feel.”

AND SO ON… What’s the No. 1 series on TV? The truth can now be told: It’s CBS’ hit CSI, not NBC’s powerhouse ER. An ongoing clash of the titans — both of which claimed to be this season’s top draw — prompted Nielsen to clarify what makes a TV winner. Their conclusion: Any show that attracts the most viewers (CBS’ benchmark) — not the most 18- to 49-year-olds (a standard NBC typically uses) — can call itself No. 1. CSI averaged 23.7 million this season, just ahead of ER at 22.1 million. (Additional reporting by William Keck)