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Born at the USA

USA, trying to regain a foothold as the top-rated basic cable net after losing the ratings-grabbing WWF franchise, will roll out three themed nights of programming.

"There was a day when we ruled the land," said USA's new President Doug Herzog puts it. "And now, you've got TNT, TBS, TNN and FX. ESPN Classic now shows movies. Animal Planet shows movies."

At USA's upfront session last week in Los Angeles, Herzog, who has been on the job only since March, says that by the first quarter of 2002, the network will have begun rolling out Tuesday's PremiereUSA, Wednesday's ActionUSA and Friday's MysteryUSA.

PremiereUSA, will feature such big-event originals as Jane Doe (produced by Lethal Weapon's Joel Silver). ActionUSA will be the place on the fall slate for Combat Missions, Mark Burnett's follow-up to Survivor. MysteryUSA will showcase suspense/thriller films currently being developed by such best-selling authors as Mary Higgins Clark, Ken Follett and David Balducci.

"It's not just good enough to be big and broad like we've always been," notes Herzog, who also points out that USA will get into "limited dramatic series," in which a show's season will last six to eight episodes instead of the typical 22, much as HBO has done with some of its series.

"We are going to remain big and broad, but we are going to create a very compelling identity … From a brand standpoint, it's something we're working on and need to improve," says Herzog, who earned his programming reputation at Comedy Central and then got battered at broadcasting's Fox network.

Ramping up films and other long-form content is also a way for USA to move in on an area recently vacated by the broadcast networks. "We can really take advantage of that," says Herzog, who also points to other original projects in the works, such as serial-killer movie Breeders and supernatural film Another Day.

On the original-series front, efforts in development include Red Skies, by action-film veteran John Woo; Wilder, about the hardships of Hollywood youth, starring former child star Shaun Cassidy; and martial-arts project Kung Pow.

"I think, from a programming standpoint, we do a good job, and now we've got to do a great job," which doesn't seem that daunting of a task right now, says Herzog. "Hey, I'm still in my honeymoon period with Barry Diller. So it's all good."