USA Network Gets Raunchy With Denis Leary’s ‘Sirens’

Cabler plans to field wide net of half-hours as it builds comedy brand; watch 'Sirens' trailer

Denis Leary charmed the Television Critics Assn. crowd Saturday morning with his distinct brand of foul-mouthed swagger as he tubthumped USA Network’s upcoming original comedy “Sirens.”

Leary is producing USA’s rendition of a British series revolving around the misadventures of three emergency medical technicians in Chicago. The show is a fairly raunchy departure for USA, which is in the midst of building a roster of original half-hour series to complement its wealth of dramas.

Sirens” is edgy by design, as USA Network prexy Chris McCumber said they were careful not to water-down Leary’s distinct brand of comedy. The other comedy series greenlighted for premiere later this year is “Playing House,” is much more female-centric, revolving around two best friends who wind up raising a baby together.

Jackie de Crinis, USA’s exec VP overseeing scripted programming, noted that USA Network’s dramas have often been in the dramedy vein.
The new slate of half-hours “are an extension of that brand,” she said.

But USA is casting a wide tonal net with its comedies in an effort to see what connects most with the aud. Execs are in the midst of sorting through a batch of comedy pilots, with one or two green lights expected soon.

USA’s comedy push comes on the heels of “Modern Family” reruns bowing on the cabler in September.

“Sirens” “is one end of the spectrum,” de Crinis said. “ ‘Playing House’ is the other end of the spectrum and the new projects we have in the pipeline are falling somewhere in the middle.”

“Sirens” raised some eyebrows in its TCA screening with bawdy content that included a few four-letter words. McCumber said they made a conscious effort not to restrain Leary and showrunner Bob Fisher too much.

“At its core, it’s about the characters,” he said. “The first thing we asked ourselves is, ‘Is it funny, and do you need to go that far to be funny,’ l” McCumber said. There have been no red flags from advertisers, who have seen multiple episodes, he added.

Leary, whose FX drama “Rescue Me” was known for pushing the the envelope, also confirmed that he and Fisher did not feel stifled in their approach to “Sirens.”

The direction from USA was “you guys go out and shoot it and we’ll pull back from there (if need be),” Leary said.

Leary said he hopes “Sirens” will be akin to the other side of the coin of “Rescue Me,” which revolved around post-9/11 New York City firefighters.

“Hopefully on this show we’ll do the reverse thing from ‘Rescue Me,’ which was a very heavy show that occasionally stuck the knife in and made you laugh. Here you’ll be laughing your ass and all of a sudden feel an emotional jolt.”

“Sirens” bows March 6 behind a new episode of USA drama “Suits,” in the hopes that the legal thriller’s male aud will be a good fit with “Sirens.”

In setting the stage for the comedy launches, “Modern Family’s” overall ratings on USA have been more modest than many expected given the show’s popularity on ABC. McCumber emphasized that the show is skewing far younger than most USA primetime fare — with a median age in the low 30s compared to high 40s for other shows — and research has shown that 35% of “Modern Family” viewers are new to USA, opening the door for more half-hours.

USA also is revving up more drama series. McCumber said they will be screening several pilots soon and hope to order one or two for premiere as early as summer.

Here is a trailer for “Sirens”:

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