Perth Latest to Leave USA

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The exodus of executives from USA Networks Inc. iscontinuing, with veteran programming official Rod Perth the latest one set to depart, asexpected.

Perth, president of USA Entertainment, will exit what hasbecome a revolving door at USA Networks July 10. By tendering his resignation last week,Perth became the third high-level official to bail out of USA, joining founder andchairman Kay Koplovitz and Greg Meidel, chairman of Studios USA.

It remains to be seen how many other veterans of the oldKoplovitz regime will stick around now, as Barry Diller, the new owner and chairman,asserts his control. It's also unclear if Diller will replace Perth, who plans tobide his time looking at new opportunities.

Perth, 55, was put in a difficult spot when Diller hiredhis cohort from the Fox network, Stephen Chao, as president of programming and marketingin April. In effect, Chao superseded Perth as USA's top programming executive,overseeing USA Network -- which is enjoying a 26 percent primetime-ratings upswing thisyear -- and Sci-Fi Channel.

Since joining the company in 1994, Perth helped totransform USA from a network that relied largely on off-network shows, movies and sportsinto a purveyor of original series, such as La Femme Nikita, and he helped to makeit a player in Hollywood.

While his record with new series was mixed -- efforts onSaturday night have only been lukewarm -- he did score a huge ratings success in Marchwith USA's first miniseries, Moby Dick. That two-parter delivered the highestaudience ever for an original entertainment show on basic cable.

"Moby Dick was one of the highs of mycareer," Perth said last week, adding that he was proud of the way that he was ableto narrow USA's focus and create original-program blocks, such as the successful"Sunday Night Heat," to help brand the network.

Chao has said that he asked Perth to stay on. But Perthsaid he came to recognize that it was best for him to make a clean break and to let Chaomove forward with his own agenda.

Perth renewed his USA Networks contract in 1997, one yearto the day that he's leaving. He had three-and-a-half years left on that pact, and heis working out a settlement, reportedly amounting to between $2 million and $5 million.

"The reason why I recruited Rod was to reallyjump-start an original-programming initiative, and he did a great job doing that, takingus to the next level in episodic television," Koplovitz said. "And Rod did asuperb job in attracting talent."

Ray Solley, a William Morris agent who specializes in cablepackages, has known Perth since they were both at CBS, and he has worked with him on USAdeals.

"He really upgraded USA in the eyes of the Hollywoodcreative community," Solley said. "He made the contacts. He came in and gave USAsome focus."

Perth said he will work with Chao to guarantee a smoothtransition.

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