Upfront 2012: USA Network Commissions Reality, Comedy Fare

USA Network will add reality programming and comedy series to its successful lineup of scripted dramas this fall as it seeks to build on its standing as cable's top rated network.

The network is expected to unveil plans during its upfront presentation today at Lincoln Center in New York to air  two reality shows and six scripted comedies.  USA co-presidents Jeff Wachtel and Chris McCumber told Multichannel News that the network hopes to bring in new and potentially younger viewers with its decision to broaden its programming offerings beyond top-rated scripted dramas such as Burn Notice and White Collar, as well as off-network acquired fare like NCIS.

"What we've done over the past several years is build a brand where people are very invested in it, but we also want to bring in more people to the tent," said McCumber. "We know that through reality we can bring in viewers that haven't necessarily sampled our dramas before, but once they get into the tent we think they'll want to stay."

Wachtel said the network isn't overly concerned about alienating the network's core viewers who tune into the number one-rated network to see original dramas, movies and acquired fare.
USA has topped all basic cable networks in total primetime viewers for six consecutive years.

"You always have to be concerned, but no risk, no reward," Wachtel said. "We are a very broad network and we're staying on our brand while pushing the envelope."

Among the new reality series USA Network is developing are Bride Or Best Man, a "bromantic comedy" in which the Groom and his best man plan the wedding' and Romancing The Globe, a Mark Burnett produced series which takes participants around the world in search of love or in some instances betrayal. The shows will join previously announced reality shows The Choir, and The Moment starring Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner.

On the comedy front, the network will roll out Regulars, about a misfit group of people expressing life's woes through karaoke at a suburban New Jersey bar; Benched, which looks at the comedic inner workings of a public defender's office through the eyes of a down-on her-luck former attorney; the Kelsey Grammer-backed The Dicicco Brothers, which follows a dot.com entrepreneur's move to Silicon Valley with his unrefined extended family; and Start-Up, which profiles the lives of two college grad with big dreams of becoming entrepreneurs.
Other previously-announced comedy projects include Paging Dr. Freed, about two gynecologist brothers taking over their father's medical practice; and Sirens, a Denis Leary produced series which follows the complicated but comedic life of three Chicago EMTs.

While USA will jump into the reality and comedy arenas, McCumber and Wachtel said the network will not abandon its scripted drama roots. New projects include Bang Bang, a buddy-buddy drama featuring two hit men who team to execute contract hits; Rare, about an ex-special forces captain working as a chef in a new San Francisco restaurant; and  Mind Fields, about the exploits of three science geniuses.

Also on the docket are Fallen; a police drama based on the novel of the same name by T. Jefferson Parker; We Counted Your Knives, about an army medic turned pharmaceutical sales rep who helps those who can't afford medical services; and an untitled project from Law & Order creator Dick Wolf.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.