New York -- The old guard at USA Network unveiled its plans
last week for the 1998-99 season, which include some high-profile original movies and
renewing the entire "Sunday Night Heat" slate of original programming: Pacific
Blue, Silk Stalkings and La Femme Nikita.
At the network's upfront presentation, USA officials
announced that they have ordered 22 new episodes of each show for the Sunday-night block,
which has seen a ratings boost during the past year.
Rod Perth, president of USA Networks Entertainment, also
laid out USA's plans in terms of original movies and new miniseries for next season.
In the fourth quarter, Michelle Lee will star in The Jacqueline Susann Story, about
the best-selling author of Valley of the Dolls. USA has also done a deal to create
a package of movies based on three Mary Higgins Clark novels: Pretend You Don't
See Her, All Around the Town and Loves Music, Loves to Dance.
A number of high-profile miniseries are also in the works
for USA with Hallmark Entertainment, including Mata Hari and Mark Twain's Huckleberry
Finn. And the network plans to do a miniseries based on Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure
Outgoing USA chairman Kay Koplovitz got a standing ovation,
with tennis great John McEnroe helping to lead the applause, when she addressed the
upfront audience. Koplovitz, who is expected to actually leave USA in June, has been
bombarded with job offers, including being approached for the slot of commissioner of
Major League Baseball, according to sources.
But Koplovitz, who pioneered sports on cable and who has
many contacts in that business, has said that she wants to have equity in whatever venture
she joins next -- unlike her situation at USA -- and that wouldn't be likely at MLB.
At the upfront presentation -- where a host of USA talent,
such as La Femme Nikita's Peta Wilson, showed up -- Koplovitz noted that this
year, cable is expected to garner $2.9 billion in ad sales, a 20 percent increase over
last year. That compares with broadcast's expected $6.7 billion, which would reflect
a 5 percent increase.
USA Networks Inc. chairman Barry Diller attended the event,
as did Stephen Chao, USA's new president of programming and marketing. Diller
acquired USA Networks -- both USA and Sci-Fi Channel -- earlier this year. Diller and Chao
haven't had time yet to put their mark on the networks, with last week's
primetime slate for the coming season reflecting Perth's direction and vision.
"The new ownership has a track record of building
networks, and they will build on two very successful network platforms [here]," Perth
said during his remarks.
USA, aiming to mimic the ratings success of its original
Sunday primetime block, will launch a Saturday-night block of originals this summer with
two dramas, The Net at 9 p.m. and Miami-based Sins of the City at 10 p.m.
USA has tried original programming on Saturdays without much success so far.
At the upfront, Perth also said that USA's acquired
reruns of New York Undercover will debut in September. Starting Aug. 3, USA will
strip reruns of the syndicated hits Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena:
Warrior Princess from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. weeknights.
USA also announced that it recently reached a new,
three-year deal with the World Wrestling Federation -- a pact that commences Sept. 1.
USA's WWF wrestling programs rank among the network's highest-rated shows, and
on April 27, the 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. wrestling block did a 5.7 rating, making it the
most-watched primetime wrestling block in cable history.
"We have [Time Warner Inc. vice chairman] Ted Turner
and his boys running scared and looking over their shoulder, and we love it," Perth
said, referring to Turner Sports-owned rival World Championship Wrestling.
Perth also outlined for advertisers Sci-Fi's expansive
plans for next season. Those include three new series, such as Farscape, a
13-episode interplanetary adventure show, which will be done by Jim Henson Co. U.K. in
association with Hallmark.
"We have high expectations for this series,"
Farscape will premiere in January, and it is likely to
become part of a new block of original programming airing on Sci-Fi Tuesday nights. The
other original that will probably air that night is new episodes of Poltergeist: The
Sci-Fi is also scheduling a slate of originals on Monday
primetime, starting with new episodes of Sliders at 9 p.m. and the anthology series
Welcome to Paradox at 10 p.m.
Starting in September, Sci-Fi will strip its 90-minute,
digitally remastered episodes of the original Star Trek from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The network's original movie, A Town Has Turned to
Dust, based on the teleplay by Rod Serling, will premiere June 27. It stars Ron
Perlman and Judy Collins.
"Original movies will become more important to Sci-Fi
Channel," Perth said.
Sci-Fi will also be doing its first original miniseries,
the six-hour Invasion Earth, which will air Dec. 6 to 8.