2011 Upfronts: Comedy, Reality Talk On USA Menu


USA Network unveiled a development slate that adds unscripted programming, and a talk show to the original dramas and acquisitions that have made it the top-rated network in cable.
USA's upfront on Monday night, was also a coming out party for Chris McCumber and Jeff Wachtel, who were named co-presidents in March by Bonnie Hammer, now chairman of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment and Cable Studios, who installed USA's Characters Welcome branding and blue sky approach to programming six years ago.
Wachtel, who had been in charge of original programming, said in an interview he expected little change under the new leadership team. "Chris and I have been partners for 10 years. Because of the DNA that Bonnie did create here, you don't know where the programming ends and the branding begins. "
While to some it might appear that when taking over a No. 1 network there's no way to go but down, McCumber, who had been the network's marketing chief, said a ton of upside still remains. "We've now built this base of an audience who knows USA as a brand. When we go out and talk to the audience about new shows, they say ‘I want to watch it because USA has done well in the past," McCumber said. "Now that you have that passionate audience there, it's a time for us to broaden out into other arenas. We have the license from our audience to start expanding what we do."
On its new slate are 13 scripted shows. While no titles or concepts were released, USA is also developing unscripted shows. "We haven't announced any reality how because people tend to steal those ideas," Wachtel said, adding that announcements could come in a couple of weeks.
The network is also tip-toeing into the talk show world. Krista Smith, west coast editor of Vanity Fair and a host of ABC's Oscar pre-show this year, will host a one hour special in which she talks with members of the Hollywood elite about details of their work and private lives. USA is taping an airable pilot and is thinking about whether a talk show would run annually, quarterly or more frequently. It has not decided whether to air the show in prime, late night or some other day part.
USA also formally announced that it renewed Fairly Legal, staring Sarah Shahi, for a second season. Compared to other networks that renew shows after an episode or two airs, USA waited until weeks after the season on finale aired. "We never before launched a show into the headwinds that we did with Fairly Legal," Wachtel said, noting that it aired on Thursday nights at 10 p.m. (ET) opposite original broadcast network programming, plus MTV's Jersey Shore.
McCumber said it wasn't clear how many original shows USA would have on the air next season. The network now has 10 original series on its schedule. But he added "being able to diversify into these other formats allows us to grow the hours."
McCumber also said that USA will continue to create digital extensions of its original programming.
"The digital extensions do a nice job of building the passion. It's almost like seeding the buzz in the beginning by giving the audience a game or giving them some sort of experience either online or on the app side," he said. "That builds anticipation for the show, and once the show on the air, you grow that core audience because the evangelists for the show."
On top of that, "advertisers love that stuff. In the auto market we had a lot of strength, through White Collar and Burn Notice, and now some advertisers are buying into our new series."
USA's development slate includes:
*Silent Partner, a one-hour drama from Universal Cable Productions about an ambulance-chasing attorney and his idealistic young paralegal. The twist: He's in Florida and she's in India. Writer/producer is Chris Downey (creator of Leverage). Executive Producers are Doug Liman & Dave Bartis and producer Gene Klein (Covert Affairs, Suits, The Bourne Trilogy) of Hypnotic.
*On We Go, a half-hour single-camera comedy from Universal Cable Productions, starring Nathan Lane as an unlucky actor whose career has been perpetually cursed by the fact that he resembles, but is in fact not, Lane. The writer/executive producer is Douglas McGrath (Emma, Infamous).Lane serves as executive producer.
*M. Deity, a one-hour drama from Universal Cable Productions about a doctor fighting post-Hurricane Katrina hospital bureaucracy. The writer/executive producer is Billy Finnegan, while executive producers are Ann Blanchard, Sam Hansen and Jimmy Miller of Mosaic Media.
*The Special, a one-hour drama from ABC Studios about an energetic, optimistic homicide detective who suffers from hypomania. Bill Wheeler is th writer/producer (Empire, The Cape). The show is being executive-produced by Mark Gordon (Saving Private Ryan, Grey's Anatomy, Criminal Minds), along with the Mark Gordon Company.
*Big in Japan, is a half-hour comedy from Universal Cable Productions, about a popular boy band that reunites after 20 years. The writer/executive producer is Howard Morris (The Starter Wife). The project, from Prospect Park, features executive producers Jeff Kwatinetz, Rich Frank, Paul Frank (Royal Pains), plus Grammy Award-winning singer Kara DioGuardi (American Idol) as consulting producer with Steven Finfer.
*We The Jury, a half-hour comedy from Fox 21, chronicles the lives of a group of jurors sequestered during a high- profile celebrity murder trial. Written by Bryan Behair and Steve Baldikoski (The New Adventures of Old Christine, 8 Simple Rules); it's executive-produced by Marty Adelstein.
*TGIM, a half-hour comedy from Universal Cable Productions that looks at a suburban cul-de-sac over a weekend, where parents' lives are ruled by their children's schedules and the idea of going back to work on Monday sounds better each passing minute. Writer/executive producer is Brent Forrester (The Office, King of the Hill); executive producers are Walter Parkes, Laurie Macdonald and Ted Gold.
*The Enclave, a limited series from Fox Television Studios, in which a job opportunity forces a family to move far from their hometown to an unusual new community. Writers are Andrea and Maria Jacquemetton (Mad Men). Negotiations are ongoing to attach Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry) to direct. The executive producer is Dan Halsted.
*The Exceptions, a one-hour drama from Universal Cable Productions in which the debutant daughter of the Mayor of New York-who served time in jail on trumped-up chargers, uses her resources to solve cases that have slipped through the cracks. The writer/executive producer is Megan Martin. Produced by Reveille, the project comes from Carolyn Bernstein and Todd Cohen (Kath & Kim).
*Hard Cover, a one-hour drama from Universal Cable Productions, in which a middle-aged mom is assigned to work with a rogue FBI agent. Writer/Executive Producers are Peter Paige and Brad Bredeweg are writing and producin, with Laurie Zaks as executive producer (Castle).
*Winslow, a one-hour drama from Universal Cable Productions about a private detective who's a recovering alcoholic with a load of debts, a father in prison, and an ex-girlfriend he's trying to win back, but who has a perfect record in solving cases. Zak Schwartz (Entourage), the writer/producer is teaming with executive producers Doug Liman and Dave Bartis and producer Gene Klein (Covert Affairs, Suits, The Bourne Trilogy).
*House of Cards, a half-hour comedy from Universal Cable Productions about a recent college graduate looking for love and a successful writing career at a greeting card company. The writer/producer is Julien Nitzberg, with executive producers Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun, along with Gene Stein and Andy Weil of BermanBraun.
*Regular Einstein, a one-hour drama from Fox Television Studio about a family of geniuses in which the youngest sibling named Einstein isn't, but is a good cop and might become a great detective. The writer/executive producer is Nick Thiel (Burn Notice, Army Wives).