USA spurs prod’n on new slate

Sked includes 5 original primetime series

NEW YORK — The USA Network, suffering through diminished ratings for its key block of original hourlong primetime series on Sunday, has nonetheless put forward a massive list of series projects covering drama, comedy and reality.

David Eick, VP of original-series development for USA Networks, said USA’s push to get more firstrun shows is not in reaction to any Nielsen rating trends, adding, “My mandate from the first day I got here was to aggressively develop series,” he said.

The slate of new projects, which includes an untitled “Rosemary’s Baby”-type project from Sam Raimi, should result in five original series in primetime (including potential returning shows), plus one fresh hour in early or late fringe, by this coming summer, Eick said.

Based on the current numbers, USA’s existing firstrun shows are not winning any audience prizes. For the eight cablecasts since Sept. 20, “GvsE,” the action hour Sundays at 10, was averaging only a 0.9 rating in cable homes, a 100% falloff from the 1.8 rating “Silk Stalkings” was averaging for the same period a year ago.

“GvsE” is now on hiatus, replaced — in effect — by reruns of “JAG” at 9, which has bumped “La Femme Nikita” to 10.

Similarly, “Pacific Blue,” the Sunday-at-8 hourlong series, is managing only a 1.5 rating (Sept. 20-Dec. 5, 1999) in cable homes compared with a 2.3 rating for the same period in 1998.

“La Femme Nikita” has also dropped off, from a 1.6 rating in cable homes a year ago to only a 1.0 for the season to date in 1999.

Cops, detectives

Among the highlights of the drama-development slate are an untitled series about three undercover cops assigned to root out drugs, gambling and prostitution at a large West Coast university; “J.A.P.D.” (working title), a cop show about a tough, middle-aged female Jewish homicide detective in Los Angeles (the writers are Jay Tarses and Rick Dresser); a drama set in a Southern high school where football is the be-all-and-end-all; the half-hour “Infantry,” set five years into the future, about U.S. troops at war; and “Desert High,” another high school series focusing on fuel-injected muscle cars.

The five comedies in development will all be single-camera half-hours, not the set-bound four-camera sitcoms shot in front of a live audience that are the staples of the broadcast networks.

On the fringe

The three relationship/reality shows in development — “Crush,” “Friends or Lovers” and “Last One Standing” — will vie for the available fringe time period.

Eick said most of the shows will probably come out of USA sister company Studios USA, although he doesn’t rule out signing deals with outside suppliers appropriate to a specific project.

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