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Supernatural sudser gets second life on Peacock network
"We made a mistake," says NBC CEO; hints of a third soap opera

By Mark Johnson

(AP) NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker seems to have made an about face on the Peacock network's stance toward soap operas. He announced today that "Passions," a soap the network canceled in the spring, will return to NBC.

Zucker said the sudser, which has aired original episodes on DirecTV since Sept. 17, will air weekdays at 2 p.m./1 central beginning Sept. 22, 2008. The network has decided not to renew a fourth hour of the "Today" show to accommodate the change.

"We made a mistake," Zucker said of expanding "Today" to four hours a move that had cost "Passions" its time slot, and according to some critics, cost "Today" its novelty.

"NBC had a good thing with 'Today' and it's understandable that they'd want to build on that," said Matt Roush of TV Guide. "But you know what they say about having too much of a good thing."

Overall ratings for "Today" have eroded 53 percent since the fourth hour premiered on Sept. 10, according to Nielsen Media Research.

"It's good to be informed, but there's a channel for 24-hour news," said Bruce Bibby known as Ted Casablanca of E! Online.

"Let's face it, people are sick of news in its purest sense that's clear by the major news divisions' focus on Paris (Hilton) and Lindsay (Lohan) and not the war in Iraq and thanks to NBC's tempting the gods, they're now sick of 'Today,' " Bibby said.

Zucker made the announcement during a breakfast with critics to tout the network's upcoming holiday specials. He was mum about details of "Passions"' contract, but said fourth-hour "Today" co-anchors will be in a holding pattern until what he called "a waste of precious airtime" will cease production on Sept. 19, 2008.

"Let's face it, they're lame ducks," Zucker said of co-anchors Ann Curry, Natalie Morales and Hoda Kotb. "But you know what they say: ' Fools rush in,' and that's what we did with this 'Today' deal. We anticipate the return of 'Passions,' which, coupled with our flagship daytime drama 'Days of Our Lives,' will bring in the right demos something the third and fourth hours of 'Today' certainly aren't going to do."

The third and fourth hours of "Today" currently carry a .5 and .4 rating, respectively, according to Nielsen Media Research. "Passions" on NBC averaged a 2.0 rating. "Days of Our Lives," which had a decline in viewers earlier this year, still has averaged a 2.0 Nielsen rating.

Curry, as news anchor, will remain with the "Today" show during its first hour, according to Zucker. Morales and Kotb will serve as correspondents.

Zucker's announcement suggests NBC has taken a different view toward daytime soap operas. Earlier this year at a press conference the CEO said he doubted the network would renew "Days of Our Lives" past 2009. The network later canceled "Passions."

But the future of daytime drama seems more certain, especially with the hint that the network may add a third soap.

"You know, TV's a funny business," Zucker said at the breakfast. "'Coastal Dreams,' this two-minute Internet soap that we produced to throw a bone to viewers who were ticked that we canceled 'Passions,' outperforms the third hour of 'Today,' "

"Coastal Dreams," a Web-based, ad-supported drama, has received about 3 million unique hits per episode, according to Nielsen Net Ratings.

"NBC plans to look into how we can capitalize on this show," Zucker said. "Clearly people are watching soaps.

"Who knew?"

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