USA Network is dramatically expanding its original-movie
production, with plans to more than double its output over the next two years, officials
said last week.
By the end of 2001, USA expects to air 24 to 30 telepics
over the course of a year, compared with the 12 original movies airing annually now.
"We're really doing quality movies now," USA
Networks Inc. vice president of long-form original programming Adam Shapiro said.
"The reviews have been terrific, and the audience has responded favorably."
Under the helm of USA Networks president of programming and
marketing Stephen Chao, during the past year or so, the network has made an effort to get
away from the "women-in-jeopardy" films it had favored.
"We made a calculated choice," Shapiro said.
"The movies we had done in the past were cliché TV movies. They were distasteful,
and everyone was doing them. We decided, 'Let's open it up.' Time will tell if it
USA on average spends $3.5 million to $4 million per
original movie, although its latest film, Hefner, was pricier than that. So with
the original-movie-production expansion, USA will be spending roughly $100 million per
year on telepics. The Hugh Hefner biography --which Shapiro said has garnered
positive reviews -- debuts Dec. 12.
USA has been focusing on biographies and reality-based
topics for its movies now, rather than fiction. "I'm so interested in people and real
stories," Shapiro said. "I've found that viewers are also interested in colorful
characters that are real."
For example, on Jan. 18, USA will premiere The Mary Kay
Letourneau Story: All-American Girl, the true tale of the 35-year-old teacher and
mother who had an affair with her 13-year-old student, with her subsequent arrest and
pregnancies making headlines.
While Shapiro said that story was "very tabloid in
nature," USA took the high road by having a playwright do the screenplay and
attracting top talent -- Penelope Ann Miller and Mercedes Ruehl -- to star in it.
USA now has in development a slate of 19 movies -- some
previously announced -- including:
The George Foreman Story,about his
rise from poverty to become heavyweight champion;
The Marge Schott Story, about the
controversial ex-owner of Major League Baseball's Cincinnati Reds.
Wilt Chamberlain,about the recently
deceased basketball great and his life on and off the court; and
Soldier Girl: Molly McCann,about an
18-year-old girl who takes her dead brother's place in the ranks of the Union Army in
Next year, USA will probably air 16 to 18 original movies,
according to Shapiro. By beefing up its production of original movies, USA will be doing
more of them than any other basic-cable outlet.