USA Looks to Extend Open Era, Add More Originals

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USA Network hopes its summer ratings momentum will continue later this month with its annual U.S. Open tennis tournament presentation.

But the network's 92 hours of scheduled tourney coverage could be its last: The current three-year deal with the U.S. Tennis Association expires with the Open's conclusion. USA executives, though, are confident the network will retain the package.

USA is coming off a successful 2001 U.S. Open, when it averaged a 1.5 rating, a 36 percent jump from its 1.1 rating in 2000, according to the network's senior publicist Tom Caraccioli. The network will air its coverage — mostly weekdays and weeknights in primetime — from Aug. 26 through Sept. 5.

The network is already in negotiations with the USTA to renew the agreement. The Open represents the network's only major tennis property, after losing the French Open cable package to ESPN earlier this year.

Should an opportunity arise, Turner Sports may attempt to rush the U.S. Open net. "We're always interested in events that people care about and the U.S. Open certainly qualifies," said a source. Ratings aside, the U.S. Open's setting in Flushing Meadow Park in Queens, N.Y., makes an attractive venue for schmoozing the Madison Avenue community.

Meanwhile, the source said negotiations to renew Turner Network Television's Wimbledon package should take place late this summer.

USA's Caraccioli said the addition of former tennis champion Jim Currier to its announcing lineup of John McEnroe and Tracey Austin should help boost ratings.

ORIGINAL SERIES ROLL

If the network can post strong U.S. Open numbers, it will culminate what has already been a stellar summer for the general-entertainment channel. Hit original shows such as Dead Zone
and Monk
helped the network finish with a 1.9 July primetime rating, just behind first-place Lifetime Television's 2.0 average.

More importantly, USA finished first in primetime among both the network's target adult 25-to-54 demographic and the coveted adult 18-to-49 group during the month, according to Nieslen Media Research data.

USA executive vice president and general manager Michele Ganeless attributed the network's rating success to the surprising performances of Dead Zone, a series based on a Stephen King novel that launched in June, and Monk, a dramatic series about an obsessive-compulsive detective, which debuted July 12.

Both shows continue to attract viewers. Two weeks ago, Monk
earned its strongest ratings to date — a 3.7 household rating, with a 2.9 rating among adults 25 to 54 and 2.3 among adults 18 to 49, making it the highest rated non-sports program on basic cable for the week.

"The people that we're trying to attract — the 25-to-54 audience — are watching the show," Ganeless said. "At the same time, we're getting the 18-to-49 audience, and we're winning both of those demos."

USA executive vice president, series and longform programming Jeff Wachtel said the network is negotiating with Dead Zone
producers Lion's Gate Television to renew the series. "We'll be talking about the possibilities of renewing Monk
over the next couple of weeks," he added.

The network also expects to premiere two more original dramatic series before next summer, although Wachtel would not reveal specifics on the new projects.

"We're developing series scripts and we have two or three that we already like that we'll pilot, but it's too early to make announcements," Wachtel said. "We'd like to have four series in the very near future, Monk
and Dead Zone
give us a great leg up, but we'd like to launch more series behind them."

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