Several series in the works

NEW YORK — Giving his first interview since Barry Diller hired him as president of programming and marketing for the USA Network and the Sci-Fi Channel six months ago, Stephen Chao said that both networks are looking for “daring, original” programming that’s “adventurous in spirit.”

The interview is the most explicit indication so far of the creative directions in which Diller and Chao are taking the company.

Sitting in an unfurnished office in USA’s New York headquarters, Chao, brimming with energy, ticked off the names of five series in development for USA and three for Sci-Fi. He said USA would continue to commission a high volume of original movies and up to three miniseries a year.

Sources corroborated Paul Kagan Associates figures which suggest that USA Network will spend about $400 million for programming in 1998 and $460 million in 1999. The Sci-Fi Channel, which reaches far fewer subscribers than USA, will lay out $75 million this year and $85 million in 1999.

Beyond the usual suspects

Chao says he takes pride in venturing beyond the fairly small group of those who usually supply programming to the broadcast and cable networks. For example, one of the USA series projects, “GvsE” (shorthand for Good against Evil), comes from filmmakers Josh and Jonas Pate (“The Grave” and “Deceiver”). It’s their first TV pilot, a supernatural thriller featuring a hero who comes back from the dead to do battle with villains.

Another producer-director whose name doesn’t show up on most broadcasters’ Rolodexes, Spike Jonze, is developing a half-hour series for Sci-Fi called “Metropolis,” about two cops who investigate cases involving the paranormal.

Jonze will shoot the series in the video verite style of “Cops.” Jonze has directed eye-opening musicvideos for the Beastie Boys, the Breeders and Weezer, and helmed the forthcoming theatrical “Being John Malkovich.”

And Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert, who produce the firstrun-syndication hours “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” and “Xena: Warrior Princess” for USA’s sister company Studios USA, are set to go with “Love Police,” about a “love goddess with special powers” who “partners with a cynical Philadelphia cop to solve sex crimes.”

The writer and co-executive producer is Shaun Cassidy (“American Gothic”). “Love Police” would go to USA.

Reviving variety

Howard Schultz, who produced the bawdy syndicated half-hour “Studs” (1991-93) for Chao when the latter ran the production arm of the Fox TV stations division, has a variety series in the works for USA called “Happy Hour.” Chao said he’d like to get a show that harks back to such classic variety shows as “Dean Martin Presents the Golddiggers” and Univision’s “Sabado Gigante.”

Another project for USA is “Maternal Instinct” (working title), a melodrama featuring a “stone-cold, ruthless female protagonist.” The executive producer is Steve Barancik, who wrote “The Last Seduction,” in which Linda Fiorentino played one of the bitchiest, most morally corrupt women in the annals of film noir.

The final USA project is a gritty documentary series hosted by ABC News correspondent Anderson Cooper.

Werewolves & invisible men

The Sci-Fi Channel is working with exec producer Michael Lansbury, writer Stu Werbin and director Barbara Koppel on “Force of Nature,” a “retelling of the werewolf myth from a woman’s point of view.”

The final Sci-Fi series in development, “The Invisible Man,” started life earlier this year as a pilot from Dick Wolf Prods., toplining Kyle MacLachlan, for the Fox network. Fox passed, and Wolf and MacLachlan ankled. Writer Matt Greenberg (“Halloween H2O”) will redo the pilot for Sci-Fi.

All eight of these projects come either from Chao’s inhouse development staff or from Studios USA.

But Chao says he’ll announce more development soon with the TV divisions of some of the major studios, as well as a slate of TV movies ready to go into production.

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