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Can NBC get back on track this fall?

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bates-abrams-mulroney-newtonImage Credit: Chris Hatcher/PR Photos; Michael Kovac/WireImage; Amy Sussman/Getty Images; Noel Vasquez/Getty ImagesThis time last year, Hollywood hitmakers weren’t exactly lining up to make shows for NBC. With Jay Leno’s talk show preparing to suck up five hours of prime-time real estate, some producers wrote off the network because it was airing so few scripted shows. But after a terrible year — bad press over the Leno-Conan debacle, slumping ratings, poorly received new shows like Trauma — the No. 4 network appears to be back in the creative community’s good graces.

NBC has 20 new dramas and comedies in the pipeline from some of the industry’s most successful writer-producers: With five drama slots to fill this fall, the network has already given a 13-episode commitment to J.J. Abrams’ new spy drama, Undercovers. It also has a Kathy Bates legal show called Kindreds in the works from David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, Boston Legal); a high-octane action show titled Chase overseen by Jerry Bruckheimer (Without a Trace); an update of The Rockford Files with Dermot Mulroney, created by David Shore (House); and a Love, American Style-type anthology from Cindy Chupack (Sex and the City) that stars Becki Newton (Ugly Betty). There are also some promising comedies, including a semiautobiographical sitcom starring Mad About You’s Paul Reiser and a Matthew Broderick vehicle set at a small-town newspaper. Other intriguing potential fall shows include a drama called The Cape about a wronged policeman who dons a superhero costume to clear his name.

“Right now I’m feeling extremely fortunate,” says NBC’s president of prime-time entertainment, Angela Bromstad, who’s presiding over her first full development roster since taking over for Ben Silverman in January 2009. “We wanted to develop traditional, close-ended-type procedural shows, but with Lost and 24 going away, we were also looking for pieces that would be potential game changers, big-event-type shows. I think you can never be closed off to anything, because that’s when you’ll miss out on something potentially great.”

That’s exactly what NBC will need when it presents its fall lineup to advertisers on May 17. With former cult fave Heroes unlikely to survive — and the long-term viability of hit The Office in question after star Steve Carell hinted that he might be leaving sooner rather than later — NBC needs to convince Madison Avenue that it’s still the home of Must See TV. At the moment, the ratings suggest otherwise: Besides floundering in fourth place with an average of 8.43 million viewers, the network is currently tied for third with ABC in the all-important 18–49 demographic. “They’ve got a lot riding [on this],” says Bill Carroll of Katz Television Group, a media-buying firm. “They need to have something that makes everyone say, ‘Wow.’ They need another ER.”