USA Net’s new prexy plans to stay course

Exec wants reality p'gramming, but no 'trash reality'

NEW YORK — Facing heavier competition from cable-network rivals than at any time in its history, the USA Network has hired showbiz heavyweight Doug Herzog to take over in the new post of president.

Accompanying the appointment of Herzog — formerly president of entertainment for the Fox Network — is the resignation of Rob Sorcher as executive VP and general manager of USA Network.

“I don’t expect to engineer any drastic changes in the programming mix,” Herzog said in a phone interview. “We’re not going to throw out our general-entertainment blueprint.”

That blueprint starts with firstrun hourlong dramas that are “contemporary, urgent and compelling,” Herzog said, along the lines of HBO’s “The Sopranos” and NBC’s “The West Wing,” or such previous USA ratings winners as “Silk Stalkings” and “La Femme Nikita.”

Herzog also is gung-ho about original movies and miniseries, which have the ability to generate breakthrough ratings. He cites USA’s Jan. 30-31 cablecast of the four-hour “Attila,” part one of which wound up as the highest-rated program in all of basic cable for the February sweeps. (Part two finished fourth overall.)

No ‘trash reality’

Reality programming also is on Herzog’s agenda, though not what he calls “trash reality.” USA has two primetime specials coming up from Mark Burnett (who exec produced the “Survivor” series): “Combat Missions” and “Eco-Challenge.” These shows fit the category of “entertainment reality,” in Herzog’s words.

USA also will continue to buy basic-cable rights to hit theatricals such as “Hannibal” and “Meet the Parents” and to off-network series like “JAG” and “Nash Bridges,” Herzog said. Not only do pre-sold commodities like these harvest big audiences themselves, but they also become promotional vehicles for original series and movies that need all the help they can get precisely because they’re unknown.

Having spent most of his working life in cable TV, first at MTV and then at Comedy Central, Herzog said he’s fully aware that he won’t get as much money to spend as he did as head of programming for the Fox Network, whose profligate ways were “head-spinning,” as he puts it.

USA “won’t try to break the bank with spending sprees,” he said. “But if something I believe in demands more money, USA will pony up what’s needed.”

“Doug Herzog has a smart mind,” said Stephen Chao, president of USA Cable, to whom Herzog will report. “It’s a real plus that his background covers both broadcasting and cable.” About Sorcher’s resignation, Chao would say only, “It was by mutual consent.”

Shepherded ‘Malcolm’

Herzog was president of entertainment for the Fox Network from November 1998 to March 2000. While there, he helped shepherd the hit comedy series “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Titus.”

Before Fox, Herzog was president and CEO of Comedy Central for more than three years. During his watch, Comedy Central premiered the successful series “South Park,” “The Daily Show” and “Win Ben Stein’s Money.”

Before Comedy Central, Herzog spent 11 years at MTV, winding up as executive VP of programming for the network and president of MTV Prods.

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