NBC Shelves 'ER' Hiatus Plan

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NBC's plan at the start of this season was to make the 10 p.m. Thursday timeslot, one of its most valuable time periods, rerun-free for all of 2006-07.

Then "ER" went and regained its former spot at the top of the ratings in that hour, forcing the network to rethink that idea.

Rather than put the long-running hospital drama on the shelf for three months at midseason, NBC has decided to let "ER" hold the timeslot for the full season. That may mean a few repeats later on, but that may be better than ditching the show entirely for 13 weeks, as was the original plan.

"I think everyone here feels like [the change] is a real stamp of approval," "ER" executive producer David Zabel says. "... It's actually really inspiring and gratifying that the network has quickly said this show's too strong, too good and too popular for us to mess around with it."

When NBC announced its 2006-07 schedule in May, it said "ER" would run uninterrupted for 13 weeks in the fall, then take a seat for 13 weeks while the Paul Haggis drama "The Black Donnellys" ran its course. "ER" would then return for nine more episodes to close the year.

That changed when "ER" started winning its timeslot again, drawing a shade over 15 million viewers per week and a 6.4 rating among adults 18-49. Those aren't huge gains compared to this time last season (14.1 million, 6.3), but with CBS having moved "Without a Trace" to Sundays, "ER" is once again the top show in the time period, particularly among the 18-49 demo that advertisers covet. It has a better than a two-point lead over its competition in the hour, CBS' "Shark" and ABC's "Six Degrees."

With the change in scheduling, NBC is also considering ordering a couple more episodes of "ER" to stretch out the season and lessen the number of repeats. "We'd like to do some new shows, and that's being discussed," Zabel says. "We're all really excited about it, but that's NBC -- they have to figure out what they want to do."

The network hasn't settled on a place for "The Black Donnellys" yet. There will, however, be a few holes at midseason with the end of "Sunday Night Football" and the rough starts for some of NBC's other new dramas.

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