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USA taps Olander as new reality topper

Cabler looking to expand into nonscripted fare

USA Network has made a major move toward ramping up its reality fare by hiring Heather Olander as senior VP of alternative programming.

Olander arrives from CBS Television Distribution, where she was VP of programming and development. Previously, she was VP of original series development and current programming at MTV. Shows at the teen-centric net that she helped develop include “Rob and Big,” “A Shot at Love” and “Disaster Date.”

Jeff Wachtel, the cabler’s original programming topper, told Variety that in the three months-plus search for a reality chief, his criteria was “somebody who was really smart, has great experience and brings positive energy. She had the best combination of the three.”

Although it has been the No. 1 cabler for five years, USA Network is making an effort to broaden the genres of its programming slate. The goal now is to add some comedies and nonscripted shows to the mix. In April, net will launch “WWE Tough Enough,” an hourlong reality skein that will feature 12 contestants lookingto become the next big-time grappler. The series first appeared on MTV but this will be a retooled version.

Wachtel said it’s important that USA’s upcoming reality fare be distinctive, but that’s no easy task for a genre that doesn’t seem to have many new concepts left undeveloped.

“I know it will be an interesting needle to thread,” he explained “We want to be true to our aspirational brand filter, but you want to be noisy enough to cut through the clutter.”

Wachtel added that it’s possible, beyond “Tough Enough,” USA could get a new reality show on air by the end of this year or first quarter 2012.

As for the dramas, which are still the bread and butter of the network, Wachtel said he was happy to see the ratings increase for the second of week of “Fairly Legal,” which bowed Jan. 20. Total viewers for the first episode were 3.8 million while last week’s episode drew 4.1 million.

The cabler recently greenlit dramas “A Legal Mind” and “Necessary Roughness” to series and still has a handful of pilots on the shelf.

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