The network has only four scripted comedies lined up to air in the fall.

The new network motto at NBC may be “Comedy Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.” The network’s schedule for the fall of 2004 features NBC’s lowest number of scripted comedies in decades.

In all, NBC has ordered 12 pilots to series, with five going forward in the fall and the rest hovering in the wings as part of the network’s efforts to provide fresh programming year-round.

None of last fall’s new comedies, such as “Whoopi” and “Happy Family,” will return for a second season. In fact, the largest change to the NBC schedule is the demise of the Tuesday 8 p.m. comedy block, which has been replaced by a reality wheel, leaving the network with only four scripted comedies for the fall.

“Out of our reality, we’ve gotten comedy,” says Jeff Zucker, now the president of NBC Universal Television. “‘Average Joe,’ in many respects, has played as a comedy. There are elements of “The Apprentice,’ though highly dramatic, that played as a comedy. I think that there’s plenty of laughs to go around.”

On Monday nights, “Fear Factor” returns at 8, where it’s followed by “Las Vegas,” which has the distinction of being the only returning member of NBC’s scripted development season from last fall. The 10 p.m. slot goes to “LAX.” The flashy airport drama, which stars Blair Underwood and Heather Locklear, was formerly know as “HUB.”

“It’s actually a very different show, but I think tonally it matches up real nicely,” says NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly of the similar-sounding shows that conclude Monday night.

Instead of beginning Tuesday with comedies, NBC will launch a new season of “Average Joe” at 8 p.m. When that series completes its season, the network will premiere the highly anticipated boxing reality drama “The Contender” from Mark Burnett. While NBC announced earlier this year that “Average Joe” will reverse the gender roles with a “Plain Jane” season, network executives won’t confirm whether that will be the twist in the fall.

“All we’re going to say today is that “Average Joe’ will be back and there is a twist and viewers will learn that twist in the fall,” Zucker says.

“Father of the Pride,” one of NBC’s two new comedies, will premiere at 9 p.m. in a later-than-anticipated slot for the animated offering from DreamWorks TV.

“The point is, quite frankly, this is an adult comedy, much on the level of “Shrek,”‘ Zucker says. “‘Father of the Pride’ is made for adults. We think that kids will enjoy the unbelievable animation and seeing it, but really this is an adult comedy, otherwise it wouldn’t be on NBC.”

“Scrubs” will follow at 9:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, with “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” returning to its 10 p.m. home.

Wednesdays will start with “Hawaii,” an island-set cop drama starring Michael Biehn, Sharif Atkins and Ivan Sergei. “The West Wing” will stay at 9 p.m., but the political veteran’s season will be divided in half, with the limited-run drama “Revelations,” starring Bill Pullman, stepping into the slot. As always, the night will end with the flagship “Law & Order.”

As expected, Matt LeBlanc’s “Friends” spinoff “Joey” will anchor Thursday nights. NBC’s confidence in the freshman comedy is so great that the network will screen the entire pilot for advertisers on Monday, a step only taken in rare instances, like “The Cosby Show.” The rest of the Thursday schedule will remain fairly stable with “Will & Grace” leading into the second season of “The Apprentice,” followed by “ER.”

“Dateline NBC” remains at 8 p.m. on Friday, with “Third Watch” moving up to 9 p.m. in the fall. The 10 p.m. slot goes to “Medical Investigation,” a tentatively titled drama featuring Neal McDonough, Kelli Williams and Anna Belknap as doctors with the National Institute of Health.

NBC’s weekend is unchanged. Saturday nights will be dedicated to movies and Sunday nights will feature the solid foursome of “Dateline,” “American Dreams,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and “Crossing Jordan.”

The network has yet to announce plans for its other midseason offerings, beyond promising that they will roll out in several waves throughout the year.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-05-17-04 1458EDT

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