USA Clears Pilots for Wednesday Takeoffs

New York-USA Network is choosing among several pilots to determine what shows will make up its second night of original programming, which will air on Wednesdays, according to USA Cable president Stephen Chao.

By July or August, USA plans to launch Wednesdays as a night of original fare, in addition to the No. 1-rated network's Sunday primetime block of originals, Chao said last week.

USA was set to discuss its 2000-2001 development slate of five series and 13 movies at an upfront presentation in Manhattan for advertisers last Thursday night (after press time).

The series most likely to form the centerpiece of USA's Wednesday primetime lineup is The Huntress, an hour-long drama being spun off an original movie of the same name that the network aired earlier this year.

Based on a true story, The Huntress is about a mother-and-daughter bounty-hunter team, and USA has ordered 13 episodes of the series, according to Chao.

USA is also considering a number of pilots to green-light for Wednesday, including another hour-long drama and three half-hour comedies, he said.

The second drama, Miriam Teitelbaum: Homicide, is based on the true story of Jewish Los Angeles police detective Cheryl Lyons. It stars Nora Dunn, and Jay Tarses is producing it.

The three comedies USA is looking at are not traditional five-camera, laugh-track sitcoms, according to Chao. They are more offbeat, and they will use just a single camera, he added.

Those comedies are: Manhattan, AZ, a fish-out-of-water story about a big-city cop transplanted to a small town, which Chao said has a Northern Exposure sensibility; Kill, Kill, Kill, a "live-action cartoon" that bears similarity to the Road Runner-Wile E. Coyote tales, in that the same hero and foe wage battles to the death in each episode, but the slain character always comes back the very next week; and Road Hogs, a combination of live action and "strangely grotesque" animatronic puppets.

While it's likely that The Huntress and one or more of these pilots will wind up on Wednesdays, USA may also opt to shift around its Sunday-night schedule, moving one of the new shows there, according to Chao.

Chao, who has been at USA roughly two years, said his administration has taken the approach that it likes to do pilots of shows, rather than just ordering 13 episodes of a series.

"The tradition before was not to go to pilot," he said, "but we strongly believe you can avoid some obvious errors by going to pilot."

Chao said he is upbeat about USA's prospects for keeping the World Wrestling Federation-an issue USA has taken to court, where the case is pending. But he claimed that he hasn't gotten a huge number of inquiries about it from advertisers.

Chao also pointed out that USA only sells 20 percent of the WWF's ad inventory, saying that it makes up less than 10 percent of the primetime hours the network sells. Of course, losing the WWF would still hurt USA's ratings.

USA has a number of original movies slated for the coming season, including previously announced miniseries Attila, about the Hun, as well as fact-based telepics on the real-life Dracula, George Foreman, Wilt Chamberlain, a real-life female hostage negotiator and the Chippendale murder case.

"These are all strange, interesting, Vanity Fair kinds of stories," Chao said. "USA is moving beyond the traditional woman-in-distress movie. They've gotten a little old. We're doing a lot of these interesting true stories now."

USA also has a made-for-TV movie in the works called Secret Cutting, about the phenomenon in which emotionally troubled youths-often women-cut and mutilate themselves.