Universal Television — gearing up to create new networks for EchoStar Communications Corp. — last week brought in former VH1 programmer Lauren Zalaznick to spearhead that effort, and to run arts-and-culture service Trio.
She replaces Bill Haber as president of the 14-million-subscriber Trio, and becomes executive vice president for the Emerging Networks division of Universal Television, formerly known as USA Cable.
Zalaznick, who left VH1 last summer as senior vice president of original programming and development, will play a large role in developing new cable networks for Universal.
"I believe there will be many of them in a few years," Zalaznick said. "This is an aggressive company with a lot of ideas."
Officials at Universal TV's Emerging Networks unit declined to comment specifically on published reports last week that they were talking to the men's magazine Maxim
about a new channel.
USA Networks brought in veteran Broadway producer Haber last year to oversee Trio, a diginet. Haber will now consult for Trio, focusing on the play-producing USA Ostar unit.
Universal Television Emerging Networks president Patrick Vien said Haber got Trio off to a good start.
"He created an environment where we can work with great artists," said Vien. "Now it's time to bring in an executive who can take on day-to-day operations."
Under USA Networks Inc., the emerging networks unit hasn't launched any new services. Rather, it has continued to house Trio and Newsworld International.
Plans for a network called Crime, a joint venture with Cops
creator John Langley, were announced a year ago, but Vien said Crime "at the moment is not on the slate."
Vien also denied speculation that his unit is eyeing a domestic action-programming channel, although Vivendi Universal owns an action-oriented network, 13th Street, which is distributed abroad.
USA Networks Inc. and Vivendi Universal S.A. recently merged, and USA Cable was redubbed Universal Television.
Universal last year acquired a $1.5-billion stake in EchoStar Communications Corp., including slots for five new channels, so Vien can start up new networks with a guarantee of "fairly voluminous" distribution right off the bat via Dish Network.
Zalaznick said her mandate is to create a real brand for Trio, much as she did when VH1 relaunched under John Sykes in 1994. That means more original programming, particularly in primetime, she said.
Zalaznick was a key part of Jeff Gaspin's programming team at VH1, which created the hit franchises Pop-Up Video
and The List, and event programming such as VH1 Divas Live!
and The VH1 Fashion Awards.
She launched VH1's original-movie division in 1998.