USA's 'Smush' Stumbles Out of the Gate

After two weeks, the combination of USA Network's ambitious original weeknight game show Smush
and an 11 p.m. timeslot hasn't spelled ratings success, but network executives said the show has adequately reached its targeted audience.

The irreverent game show, produced by Who Wants to Be a Millionaire's Michael Davies, has averaged a 0.6 rating since its Dec. 3 launch, said USA vice president of research and planning Rick Holzman. But the show, in which contestants try to "smush" together words from various clues, has paced behind ratings for the time period's prior tenant — the off-network comedy series Martin— which averaged a 0.8 rating.

The initial ratings also fall short of USA Network president Doug Herzog's expectations of a 1.0.

"If we were able to achieve something just under that and grow it, we'd be satisfied," Herzog said recently. "But the goal is a 1.0. That's the benchmark."

Two weeks is not enough time to definitively gauge the audience for the show, which airs Monday through Thursday, Holzman said. The show has retained USA's core 25-to-54 demo, he noted: Smush's 0.4 rating among that group is equal to that of Martin.
"It's holding the 25-54 audience, which is where we focus all of our attention," Holzman said. "It's still early and it will take time to develop, but we're optimistic it will gain a significant following."

The network isn't planning to make any major alterations to the show in the near future, nor has it considered moving Smush
to another time slot, he added.

"We're going to keep putting it on and give it time to develop," he said.

USA has high hopes that Smush
will become a network-defining show that helps to launch other original programming. In fact, the network is planning to launch a second late-night game show in first quarter 2002, to air immediately after Smush.

The untitled show, produced by Broadway Video — the production company of Saturday Night Live
creator Lorne Michaels — will incorporate talk-show elements with a touch of irreverence.

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.