Upfronts: USA on Laugh Track with

'Sirens,' 'Playing House' to bow early next year; cabler also details dramas in development

USA Network has given series orders to original comedies “Sirens” and “Playing House” in a bid to broaden its programming appeal and make the most of its pricey investment in “Modern Family” reruns.

The top-rated cabler also laid out its drama development plans.

“Sirens,” penned by Denis Leary and Bob Fisher, hails from Fox TV Studios. “Playing House,” starring Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham, comes from Universal Cable Prods. Both shows are set to premiere in the first quarter of next year. USA execs are hoping that the off-network bow of “Modern Family” starting Sept. 24 will prime USA viewers to sample the new laffers.

USA Network toppers Chris McCumber and Jeff Wachtel are skidded to unveil the comedy series orders and the greenlight of another comedy pilot, “Love is Dead,” as part of USA’s upfront presentation at Pier 36 in Gotham on Thursday.

“This is the right time to be introducing half hour original comedies to the USA audience. With ‘Modern Family’ joining our line-up in the fall, we can leverage television’s most popular comedy to serve as a powerful launch pad for new originals in this genre,” said McCumber. “Our new series come from some of the best comedic talent in the business, and reflect USA’s style – with great characters, strong execution and compelling storytelling,” said Wachtel.

“Sirens” revolves around a group of emergency medical technicians in Chicago. Leary and Fisher co-wrote the adaptation of the U.K. format. Jim Serpico, Hal Vogel, David Aukin and David Leach exec produce with Leary and Fisher.

“Playing House” is a buddy comedy about a pregnant woman who asks her career-driven friend to return from overseas to attend her baby shower. Series is created by Parham and St. Clair, who exec produce with Scot Armstrong and Ravi Nandan.

The “Love is Dead” pilot, penned by Zev Borow  (“Chuck”), comes from Universal Cable Prods. and Gaumont Intl. TV. It’s a single-camera comedy about a company that specializes on breaking up romantic relationships for those who don’t want to do the dirty work themselves. Project is based on a French short film written and directed by Eric Capitaine.

In an interview, USA co-prexys Jeff Wachtel and Chris McCumber said the network’s decision to bring both “Modern Family” and “NCIS: LA” on to its air meant it would be seen by plenty of new viewers.  With that in mind, the net wanted to find programming that would get these people to stick. “The next challenge is, how do you bring in a new audience to the network,” said Wachtel.

In a signal that the network known for so-called “blue skies” dramas is evolving its tone slightly, USA said it will start production on “Horizon,” a period drama from “The Walking Dead” exec producer  Gale Anne Hurd. From Universal Cable Productions, the World War II-era skein follows an FBI secretary who begins investigating a secret project known as “Horizon.” Hurd will executive produce through her Valhalla Entertainment, with writer and co-executive producer Bridget Tyler.

Other dramas in development include  ‘The Arrangement,” a one-hour pilot inspired by  a short story from the Elmore Leonard anthology “When The Women Come Out To Dance” that focuses on a Colombian woman in a marriage with an ambitious Florida politician. It comes from Universal Cable Productions and executive producers Doug Liman and David Bartis of Hypnotic.

“The Edge,” a thriller from Universal Cable Prods. and executive producer John Legend’s Get Lifted Film Co., focuses on an idealistic man’s discovery that his socially conscious employer is anything but. Mike Jackson and Ty Stiklorius of Get Lifted Film Co. also executive produce.  “Complications” tells the story of a doctor  whose life changes after he is involved in a gang shooting. From Fox TV Studios, “Complications” is written and executive produced by “Burn Notice” creator Matt Nix.

“Bank” follows the adventures of a young FBI agent who confronts bank robbers in Los Angeles. From Universal Cable Productions, it’s written and co-executive produced by Nora Zuckerman and Lilla Zuckerman and executive produced by Hypnotic’s Liman and Bartis.

Based on a series of books by Ben Rehder,  “Blanco County” follows a former baseball  player who returns to the hometown he once shunned to serve as sheriff.   From Tom Welling Prods. and Rob Thomas Productions in association with Warner Horizon Television, and executive produced by Thomas, Tom Welling, Danielle Stokdyk and Dan Etheridge.

“Don’t Turn Around” is a limited series following a group of people trapped on a remote vacation island.  It hails from Grady Girl Prods. in association with Warner Horizon Television, and is written by J.R. Orci, who executive produces with Dawn Olmstead.  “Hungry” takes an inside look at the opening of a New York hotspot. From Universal Cable Prods., it is written and executive produced by Michael Rauch and executive produced by Joe Bastianich.

“Shadow Counsel” is a legal thrilled centered on a criminal lawyer recruited by the FBI to crack an ongoing investigation.  From Universal Cable Productions, it is written and executive produced by Barry Schindel and executive produced by David Semel.

Some of the new series take on a slightly darker tone, but the USA execs feel they can appeal to both new viewers and those long in the USA habit. “There are many shades of blue,” said Wachtel.

USA will also take some steps in daytime, where it does a significant business, thanks to fans of “NCIS” and other acquired programs. The net said it would run short-form content pods during programming breaks. TV journalist Cat Greenleaf, who has done an interview series called “Talk Stoop” for NBCU’s owned and operated stations, will bring the short segments to USA, and advertisers will be able to attach their products around and within the program.

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