USA Eyes Repositioning Initiative, Reality Fare

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Pasadena, Calif.— With an eye on regaining the top spot in primetime, USA Network will pursue a major repositioning initiative within the next year that will emphasize its aggressive original programming slate while remaining true to its general-entertainment roots, president Doug Herzog said last week.

Though USA finished a close second to Lifetime Television in the second-quarter primetime ratings race, its 1.8 average was off 18 percent from last year. Still smarting from the loss of its Monday-night anchor — World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc.'s Raw Is War
— to TNN: The National Network, USA has been unable to find a vehicle to match the ratings-rich grappling fare.

"Wrestling is still missing, in terms of our comparisons from a year ago, but on any given day we're No. 2 and a hair away from No. 1," Herzog told pundits gathered for The Critics Association press tour here. "We feel pretty good about where we are, but we need to increase what we're doing on an original-programming basis and become more aggressive with promotion and how we position ourselves."

Central to that strategy is crafting a stronger identity for the general-entertainment network. While Herzog would not reveal specific plans for USA's repositioning, he said it would undergo a facelift "within the next nine months."

Once the only general-entertainment programming network on basic cable, Herzog said USA must now find a way to stand out from a spate of competitors.

"We're going to spend a lot of time positioning the network in what is an ever-changing landscape," Herzog said. "It's time for USA Network to have a much clearer identity than it's had in the past. It's not going to be a revolution, but more of an evolution."

But unlike Turner Network Television — which has abandoned its general-entertainment image to emphasize dramatic fare — USA will stay true to its broader programming roots.

"I don't think we'll be doing what some of our competition has been doing, which is sort of narrowing themselves," said Herzog. "We're going to be unapologetic about how broad we are. We're not becoming a niche network."

Original programming — which at this stage will consist mainly of reality shows and movies —will also help USA to forge a distinctive identity, according to Herzog. At TCA, Herzog touted a number of new shows set to debut this fall, notably Combat Missions
(produced by Survivor
creator Mark Burnett) and the game show Smush
(produced by Who Wants to Be a Millionaire's Michael Davies).

Other USA forays into the reality genre include Mystery Nights, in which contestants locked in a European castle must root out the "killer" among them before they are eliminated, and Cannonball Run 2001: Race Across America. The take-off on the 1970's race-car film will speed through the network from Aug. 5 through Aug. 9.

USA also plans to unwind 24 original films next season, Herzog said. The network has tapped several well-known producers and actors for its slate of original telepics, including actress Shannon Doherty, who will serve as co-executive producer for Another Day
alongside legendary director Francis Ford Coppola.

Other original movies set to premiere during the upcoming season include: Jane Doe, produced by Joel Silver; Hostage Negotiator, starring NYPD Blue's Gail O'Grady; Beer Money; Class Warfare; and Redeemer, starring Matthew Modine.

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