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January 27, 2009

NBC schedules geneology series, casts Sarandon

84452797 NBC has cast Sarah Jessica Parker and Susan Sarandon for its genealogy reality series "Who Do You Think You Are?"

The network has scheduled the show's six episodes to premiere April 20 at 8 p.m., taking over the "Chuck" slot (after the action-comedy has aired its regular season finale -- "this is no 'Ugly Betty' situation," as one person reassured).

Lisa Kudrow, who's an executive producer on the project, will also appear in an episode, which explores a celebrity's ancestral history each week.

NBC is supposedly excited about this project, and there's a similar series in development at Fox. "Who" is based on a hit series in the U.K., and the scheduling was announced today by newly appointed reality head Paul Telegdy (though it was developed by his predecessor). Been hearing that Telegdy, the former president of BBC Worldwide, is also giving a close look at several other U.K. projects for possible development on NBC.

NBC likely has research that shows large public interest in the topic of genealogy, but this show seems like a challenge. First, the initial cast looks like the second coming of "Rosie Live" -- NBC needs to find celebrities who appeal beyond progressive female viewers (Fox would get, like, Tyler Perry on this).

Second, there's been a glut of celebrity-fronted reality shows that have struggled, many based on ideas previously seen in the U.K. Partly because the British have a different TV relationship with their celebrities. "Celebrity Big Brother" is a phenomenon there, yet does not work in the United States. There's many celeb-based formats in the U.K. that would only succeed at the cable-network level here. One reason, I think, is for a show to attract more than, say, 10 million viewers, we want high stakes and significant tension. A performance series like "Dancing With the Stars" or a business competition like "Celebrity Apprentice" works because the shows are not actually about the celebrities. Celebs are pieces in a contest that has its own momentum.

And third, NBC will air "Who" opposite ABC's "Dancing," which is a kamikaze move -- it's picking the time period where the same people most likely to be interested in NBC's new show are most likely to be watching another established hit show; like airing a singing competition against "American Idol."


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