USA bumping up original output

NEW YORK — The USA Network will start programming a record weekly output of 9-1/2 hours of original series beginning next month, locking in time periods for two new half-hour sitcoms — “Claude’s Crib” and “Lost On Earth” — and the new 60-minute series adaptation of the theatrical movie “La Femme Nikita.”

“We’ll be running more original programs each week than either the UPN or the WB network,” said Rod Perth, president, entertainment, USA Networks, adding that USA’s investment in these series will climb above $175 million for the year.

At a news briefing here Tuesday, Perth said USA would extend its primetime schedule of original series forward to 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays beginning the weekend of Jan. 4, with the slotting on Saturdays of “Lost on Earth” to be followed by the returning “Duckman” animated originals at 7:30 p.m., and on Sundays of “Claude’s Crib,” leading in to another returning original comedy, “Weird Science.”

“Lost on Earth,” from Quincy Jones/David Salzman Entertainment, stars Tim Conlon as the new host of a children’s puppet show who discovers the puppets really are wisecracking aliens from a far-off planet. “Claude’s Crib,” from Paramount TV, stars comedian Claude Brooks as the young landlord of a group of “comically diverse” tenants.

“La Femme Nikita,” from Fireworks Entertainment, with Jay Firestone as executive producer, will be part of a new two-hour primetime block on Mondays, settling in at 10 p.m. Jan. 13 behind new episodes of the “Renegade” action hour at 9 starring Lorenzo Lamas, a firstrun syndicated series USA has bought for year five.

Behind the two Sunday sitcoms, USA will continue with the three original hours that have run for the past few months: “Pacific Blue” at 8 p.m., “Silk Stalkings” at 9 and “The Big Easy” at 10.

Despite the emphasis on originals, Perth said off-network series still will figure prominently in USA’s strategy. Reruns of All American TV’s “Baywatch” comes to USA in 1997, followed by reruns of three MCA TV hours, “New York Undercover,” “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” and “Xena: Warrior Princess,” in 1998.

Perth says he’s counting on reruns of Columbia Pictures TV’s “Walker, Texas Ranger,” which kicks off on USA in fall 1997, to replace the slipping “Murder, She Wrote” as the Mondays-through-Fridays primetime tentpole that will funnel a substantial audience of 25- to 54-year-old viewers into firstrun series and movies on the network.

If “Walker” hovers around a 3 rating in cable homes, Perth said, it’ll be profitable enough to “help us pay for our considerable investment in original programming.”

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