USAs Chao Up to Old Tricks at TCA1/31/1999 7:00 PM Eastern
Pasadena, Calif. -- Never one for subtlety, Stephen Chao,
USA Networks Inc.'s new programming guru, gave assembled TV critics here a glimpse
into his new vision for both USA Network and Sci-Fi Channel.
At the same time, he provided them with a bird's-eye
view of the hot-pants-clad, stiletto-shod dancers that are part of USA's new
Saturday-night variety show.
At the session that capped the three-week Television
Critics Association winter tour here last month, Chao tried to outline his programming
philosophy while describing the new series that he has planned for the two channels that
are now under his wing as president of programming and marketing for USA Networks.
"It's one program at a time," said Chao, a
veteran of the Fox broadcast network. "I'm uncomfortable saying,
'Let's attack this demographic' - You just say there's a certain
attitude that we represent, there's a certain sensibility that we don't
represent, and then we try to - make one good show at a time."
Among his TCA announcements, Chao said USA had signed up
Dweezil and Ahmet Zappa -- sons of the late rock singer Frank Zappa -- as hosts for its
new offbeat Saturday-night variety show, Happy Hour.The one-hour program
will air at 9 p.m.
"We believe that Happy Hour is perfect
counterprogramming to the dark one-hour dramas that you find on network television and
Saturday-night primetime," Chao said
But he raised eyebrows among the writers who stuck out the
TCA tour to the bitter end when he had Happy Hour's dancers, the
"Bombshells," trot out among the scribes to perform in butt-baring outfits, as
confetti and smoke burst forth through the air.
That finale had many writers squirming uncomfortably in
their seats, and it brought back memories of 1992, when Chao was fired by his boss, Rupert
Murdoch, for having a male stripper perform at a Fox management conference.
But Chao did have a laundry list of new shows to talk
about, apart from Happy Hour.He said USA had cast Clayton Rohner and Law
& Order veteran Richard Brooks to star in its new original series, GvsE, as
in "good versus evil." USA has ordered 13 episodes of that action drama.
In addition, Sci-Fi unveiled its plan to launch a
Friday-night block of original series March 19. That block will start at 7 p.m. with new
episodes of Poltergeist: The Legacy, followed at 8 p.m. by the new series from The
Jim Henson Co. and Hallmark Entertainment, Farscape. At 9 p.m., there will be new
episodes of Sliders, followed at 10 p.m. by the series debut of First Wave.
First Wave was created by former TheX-Files writer
Chris Brancato and executive-produced by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Francis Ford
Coppola, both of whom appeared on a panel to tout their show.
Sci-Fi has bought 66 episodes of First Wave --its
largest acquisition to date.
Also at the TCA tour, MTV Networks' stable unveiled
their programming plans for the coming months. MTV: Music Television is doing a remake of
Academy Award- and Emmy Award-winning documentary Scared Straight!, as well as
launching two new series, MTV executive vice president of programming Brian Graden said.
MTV will do the Straight! remake as part of a
multifaceted anti-violence campaign that it is mounting this year, according to Graden.
The network will partner with Arnold Shapiro, the producer of the initial show, and it
will film the remake at East Jersey State Prison, the site of the original documentary, in
which lifers warn troubled youths about the perils of life in jail.
Graden also talked about two new series that MTV debuted
last month. The Tom Green Show is a weekly half-hour comedy-variety show that stars
the Canadian comedian of the same name, during which Green tapes the reactions of
onlookers to his often embarrassing antics.
Graden described Green as a class clown who "went out
and got his own cable-access show in his native Canada. Before you knew it, he had a huge
cult following north of the border."
The second new series is 9 for the Nineties, about
events that shaped music and pop culture in the 1990s.
VH1, which has been on a ratings roll, unveiled some new
titles for made-for-TV movies that it has in development.
They are: Out of Sync, a comedy about a frustrated
music producer who has a housewife score some of his songs and then uses her vocals as the
voice of a beautiful model who can't sing; Guitar, a generational drama about
an acoustic guitar that passes through different families; Nutopia, a drama about
two brothers and their best friend, who are torn apart when one of their songs becomes a
hit; The Monkees, the true story of the four actor/musicians who were cast in the
1966 TV show of the same name; and Blondie, the story of singer Deborah Harry and
her lover-guitarist Chris Stein, who formed the punk-pop group Blondie in the 1970s.
In addition, Jeff Gaspin, VH1's executive vice
president of programming and production, said ER's Gloria Reuben had been cast
to star in Sara, about a fictional singer named Sara Cross who has trouble finding
success until a producer, Michael Scott, transforms her look and sound.