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NBC turns to comedy in fall to revive sagging ratings

NBC evidently believes laughter is the best medicine: The struggling network will have a strong dose of comedy on four nights in its fall lineup plus the Season 3 return of "The Voice."

Keeping its Thursday sitcom block essentially intact with existing series, NBC will push the low-rated comedies "Community" and "Whitney" to Fridays and open up Tuesdays and Wednesdays for new sitcoms such as "Go On," "Animal Practice" and "Guys With Kids."

Nearly one-quarter of NBC's fall prime-time schedule will consist of sitcoms; last fall, the figure was 14 percent.

Also on the schedule: the Monday one-hour series "Revolution," the new sci-fi drama from producer J.J. Abrams, and, for Wednesday, "Chicago Fire," from "Law & Order" mastermind Dick Wolf.

"I'm determined to build momentum from night to night, something that's eluded us in recent years," said Bob Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment.

Greenblatt disputed the notion that NBC -- which has had little to brag about this season besides NFL games and "The Voice" -- was betting too much on new comedy.

"Audiences have been very receptive to comedy and light fantasy drama the past couple of seasons," he said.

As expected, NBC confirmed that the singing contest "The Voice" will open in fall for the first time, on Mondays and Tuesdays, setting up a likely confrontation with Simon Cowell's "The X Factor" on Fox.

After a gigantic Season 2 opening following the Super Bowl this year, "The Voice" sagged in the ratings, and it is unclear how the show will perform in a more traditional -- and much more competitive -- fall launch.

In choosing the comedies, NBC executives seemed to be shooting for shows with broad appeal to educated, upwardly mobile young adults -- the same group the network targeted during its glory days of the 1990s, with smash hits such as "Friends" and "Seinfeld."

"Guys With Kids" is about thirtysomething men struggling with fatherhood. "The New Normal," co-created by Ryan Murphy of "Glee" fame, is about a gay couple and the female surrogate who helped them have a child. "Animal Practice" is about the love life of a young veterinarian. And "Go On" finds former "Friends" star Matthew Perry as a sportscaster.

The new dramas "Do No Harm," "Infamous" and "Hannibal" will be held for midseason.

The network will also bring back the Broadway-themed "Smash," its most-watched drama, for a spring relaunch with a new executive producer. Other existing series being held for midseason include Donald Trump's "The Celebrity Apprentice" and the weight-loss contest "The Biggest Loser."

Despite low ratings, the newsmagazine "Rock Center With Brian Williams" will return in the fall, now in the plum time slot of 10 p.m. Thursday -- a spot once occupied by the hit drama "ER."

Among the shows not making the cut is "Harry's Law," which executives said drew a "very old" audience that advertisers did not like. Another victim is "Awake," a critically acclaimed drama that never managed to find an audience.