Talk shows, syndies get new veeps

Putting the final touches on the management structure of the Barry Diller-led USA Networks Studios, Universal TV veterans Henry Schlieff and Lonnie Burstein have been given expanded responsibilities for overseeing USA’s firstrun syndie programming activities.

As executive veepee of USA Networks Studios, Schlieff will supervise the production of USA’s firstrun talkshow unit, which boasts the hit strips “Jerry Springer,” “Sally Jessy Raphael” and the upcoming fall 1998 entry from Maury Povich.

Burstein, formerly Universal’s senior VP of program strategy and research, will spearhead the development of firstrun syndie projects as senior VP of firstrun development. Jeff Dellin, another U TV alum, will take over Burstein’s research duties as veep of research.

Promotions for Schlieff, Burstein and Dellin come in the wake of Diller’s $4.07 billion buyout of most of Universal’s TV assets, including its network and syndication arms and the USA Network and Sci-Fi Channel cablers. Since the deal was unveiled in October, most of Universal TV’s existing management team has made the switch to USA Networks Studios, led by chairman and CEO Greg Meidel.

Reporting to Meidel are Schlieff, Burstein; domestic distribution prexy Steve Rosenberg; network TV prez Ken Solomon; and Vance Van Petten, exec VP of business and legal affairs (Daily Variety, March 4).

Schlieff, who is based in Gotham, joined Universal TV as senior production executive in August 1996 after long stints in senior posts with Viacom Intl. and HBO. Burstein joined what was then MCA TV in February 1991 as VP of research. Before that, he spent two years as a program director for WTXF Philadelphia and five years with the advertising rep firm Seltel Inc.

Now that the key pieces of the USA Networks Studios management puzzle are in place, the focus is on the future. Meidel says the cable and broadcast TV stations brought to USA by Diller’s former HSN Inc. represent “tremendous opportunities” for the newly merged companies.

“We built up a very successful first-run business (at Universal) in a very short time,” said Meidel. “Now we have to build on that by being aggressive in developing new shows, but also by taking advantage of the unique distribution assets that we now have access to.”

Meidel, who worked with Diller in the 1980s and early ’90s during their respective tenures at Paramount and Fox, said there’s a heady sense of can-do optimism among the reconfigured USA team, following a period of adjustment after the surprise of the Diller takeover.

“Barry is very focused on what he wants to accomplish, but he also encourages risk-taking,” said Meidel. “There’s that feeling of excitement that we all sensed at Fox, where there’s no rules, no barriers to what we can try with this company. If anything, we’re encouraged to break the rules.”

On the syndication side, USA’s firstrun programming chiefs will be working closely with the execs spearheading the transformation of USA Broadcasting’s 10 TV stations from Home Shopping Network affiliates to indies with an emphasis on locally produced programming. Also high on the list of priorities is original production for the USA and Sci-Fi cablers.

In the network production arena, USA has absorbed Universal’s production and development slate, which has yielded seven pilot orders for the fall.

ABC is eyeing the comedies “Brother’s Keeper” and “The Kirk Franklin Show.” NBC is interested in a comedy project with ex-MTV personality Bill Bellamy. Fox is mulling the comedy “The 900 Lives of Jackie Frye,” as well as the Shaun Cassidy/Wes Craven drama “Hollyweird” and the Dick Wolf creation “Invisible Man.” CBS is considering “Turks,” a cop show with William Devane.

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