Upfronts: USA Network Grabs ‘SmackDown,’ Loads Up on Scripted Development

Upfronts: USA Network Grabs 'SmackDown,' Loads
Image courtesy USA Network

USA Network is doubling down on WWE, bringing “SmackDown” over from Syfy next year as part of an effort to hike the volume of live programming on NBCUniversal’s flagship entertainment cabler.

The move of “SmackDown,” a slew of development projects, new programs featuring the Chrisley clan and summer scheduling announcements were unveiled Tuesday morning at USA Network’s press upfront gathering held at 30 Rock’s Rainbow Room.

USA Network president Chris McCumber made it clear in his presentation that the cabler is shifting the focus of its original programming to court a millennial audience. He noted that the generational shift of millennials now making up the largest component of the 18-49 audience is well under way. USA’s new shows are built around stories and characters that exhibit “bravery, optimism, self-reliance and hope” — all themes that resonate with millennials, per McCumber.

Alex Sepiol, USA’s senior VP of scripted programming, unveiled three new dramas for 2015 that he called “a huge leap forward for USA.” USA had been known for its popcorn actioners and blue-sky dramas, but there’s a conscious effort to add more variation to the menu, Sepiol said.

The new slate is an effort to try new storytelling techniques and subjects “that make you think about what is happening in our world,” he said.

Front and center in that effort is “Mr. Robot,” a drama about a renegade, social-misfit hacker who gets wrapped up in a shadowy org that aims to cripple corporate America. The series starring Rami Malek and Christian Slater bows June 24 behind the fifth season premiere of “Suits.”

Also promoted at the press event were “Colony,” a futuristic drama starring Josh Holloway and Sarah Wayne Callies as the head of a family of resisters in alien-occupied Los Angeles; and “Complications,” starring Jason O’Mara as a doctor drawn into a deadly gangland saga when he saves a kid from a random shooting.

“Complications” bows June 18 in tandem with the seventh-season opener of “Royal Pains.” “Colony” is slated for a fourth-quarter premiere.

On the reality front, USA is milking its “Chrisley Knows Best” comedy-docu series for more programs. Todd Chrisley, the over-the-top patriarch of a wealthy Georgia clan, is doing a pilot for a weekly post-“Chrisley” talkshow a la AMC’s “Talking Dead.” Embassy Row, which produces “Talking Dead” and other such post-show programs, is producing the pilot informally dubbed “Todd Talks.”

In addition, USA and “Chrisley Knows Best” producer Maverick TV are developing a spinoff that would involve Chrisley following his oldest children as they head off to college.

“SmackDown” will move to USA in the first quarter of next year. USA already carries “Monday Night Raw,” and NBCU cable execs decided it made sense to put all of its WWE fare under one roof. Syfy had carried “SmackDown” since 2010.

USA and WWE are in the midst of a splashy new image campaign — tagline: “For the Hero in All of Us” — designed to make the WWE’s raucous brand of live entertainment more palatable to advertisers who have shunned it in the past.

Peter Lazarus, USA’s ad sales chief, said it is now focused on “educating the marketplace about WWE’s positive attributes,” including the fact that it is mostly DVR proof through its live weekly airings and continuing storylines, and that it draws a healthy amount of family viewing. The push to polish up the WWE reflects the wide-ranging new deal that NBCU and the wrestling giant struck last year, one that gives NBCU more control over advertising sales for the programs.

Also returning to USA is “Tough Enough,” the reality series revolving around the WWE’s search for new grappler talent. The series has been revamped with a new format that builds in live elements.

USA’s push for live programming includes its pact with NBC Sports to carry NHL Stanley Cup playoff games later this month. It marks the first time hockey has aired on USA in 30 years.

Here’s a list of USA’s projects in the early development phase. USA previously announced pilot orders for “Shooter,” a Marine sniper drama shepherded by Mark Wahlberg and Lorenzo di Bonaventura; and “Falling Water,” a thriller produced by Gale Anne Hurd.

Another completed pilot, “Queen of the South,” a redo of a novela about a widow drawn into her husband’s organized crime network, remains a contender for a series order, USA said.

PARADISE PICTURES
The series is about ambitious people striving to get to the top in 1940s Hollywood, when the dream factory was at its peak.  Little do they know the challenges they’re about to face: the end of studio monopolies, the blacklist and the new disruptive technology of television.  From Universal Cable Productions, “Paradise Pictures” is written by Rick Muirragui (“Suits”). Muirragui executive produces the project along with “Suits” creator Aaron Korsh.

STARCHITECTS
A serialized workplace drama set in the high-stakes world of international architecture and design, the series follows the embattled rise of a talented young architect taking on the cutthroat competition at a top-tier firm in Los Angeles.  The project is from writer and executive producer Mark Steilen (“Mozart in the Jungle”) and executive producer Christina Wayne (“Copper”) and co-executive producer Miura Kite (“Game Change”).  Catherine Hardwicke (“Twilight”) is attached to direct and also executive produces.  “Starchitects” is from Endemol Shine Studios and Universal Cable Productions.

AMPED
When a neurotic family man buys an online “smart pill” to increase his focus and jolt him out of his slump, he gets much more than he bargained for.  To his surprise, the pill gives him incredible strength and power. The project examines both the mighty highs and humiliating lows of being a real-life superhero. “Amped” is based on the characters created for an upcoming comic book by Eric Kripke (“Supernatural,” “Revolution”) for DC Entertainment’s Vertigo imprint. Kripke will serve as executive producer-writer of “Amped,” from Kripke Enterprises in association with Warner Horizon Television.

THE TAP
“The Tap” takes place at Yale University in 1969 and explores the height of America’s cultural and political revolutions as one of its students, Jay Butler, is simultaneously recruited into the country’s two most secretive and powerful organizations, the CIA and Skull and Bones.  The series is written and executive produced by Andrew Lenchewski (“Royal Pains”) and Aaron Tracy (“Law & Order: SVU”).  Rob Reiner (“When Harry Met Sally”), Alan Greisman (“The Bucket List”) and Charlie Ebersol (“The Profit”) will also executive produce, with Reiner attached to direct. This historical spy thriller is from Universal Cable Productions.

MYTHOS
In this serialized adventure everything we believe to be myth turns out to be a guarded truth that has been concealed by members of two opposing groups — each with differing agendas for the fate of humanity.  Caught in the middle is Nate Brigman, an ordinary man thrust into an extraordinary situation by the mysterious disappearance of his wife. This high-stakes drama from Universal Cable Productions is written by Spenser Cohen (“Macklemore’s Big Surprise”) and executive produced by Charlize Theron (“Monster”) and Laverne McKinnon (“CSI: Miami,”) from Denver & Delilah Productions, along with Anna Halberg (“Inner Demons”).

AWOL
Written and executive produced by Carey and Shane Van Dyke (“Chernobyl Diaries”), “AWOL” deals with the gritty world of an ex-military operative who, after returning home, experiences trouble re-entering the real world and providing for his family. Desperate, he gets involved with the criminal underbelly of Los Angeles, where he utilizes his military expertise in an unexpected way. “AWOL” is executive produced by Len Wiseman (“Sleepy Hollow,” “Total Recall”), Mike Connolly (“Hemlock Grove”) and Andrew Plotkin (“Related”). Wiseman is also attached to direct. The project comes from Fox 21 Television Studios.

SWAMPLANDIA!
Based on Karen Russell’s bestselling novel and Pulitzer Prize finalist, the offbeat family drama centers on the Bigtrees, owners of Florida’s top alligator-wrestling theme park. The family is reeling from a recent tragedy and is struggling to maintain its livelihood when a competitor moves in across the swamp. Liz Tigelaar (“Life Unexpected”) is adapting the novel and executive producing the project. Barry Sonnenfeld (“Men in Black” franchise) will also executive produce and is attached to direct. Russell will serve as executive consultant. “Swamplandia!” hails from Tigelaar’s Best Day Ever, in association with Warner Horizon Television.

COOLEY & THE TANK
An homage to the decade that ushered in modern television, “Cooley & the Tank” goes behind-the-scenes of the fictional 1981 detective drama of the same name to explore the complicated lives of its two feuding stars. Daniel Arkin (“Suits,” “Alias”) is writing the pilot script with Anton Cropper (“Suits”). Arkin and Cropper will executive produce with Rain Management’s Jonathan Baruch and Rob Wolken. Cropper is also attached to direct. The project is from Universal Cable Productions.

MILE HIGH
Two best friends, a Wall Street broker and a struggling entrepreneur, team to capitalize on the newly legalized cannabis enterprise in Colorado. The series follows the young duo as they enter into this highly lucrative growth industry, but their new venture is not without its obstacles such as dangerous criminals and stringent law enforcement.  From writer and executive producer Josh Parkinson (“Eastbound & Down”) and executive producers Lorenzo di Bonaventura (“Transformers” franchise) and Dan McDermott (“Zero Hour,” “Human Target”), “Mile High” is from Legendary Television and Universal Cable Productions.

THE RECESSIONISTAS (Limited Series)
Based on the book by Wall Street executive Alexandra Lebenthal, “Recessionistas” is an ensemble drama that follows a group of elite Manhattan women and their ruthless Wall Street husbands as they adjust to the new world order in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse. From Universal Cable Productions and writer/co-executive producer Melissa London Hilfers and executive producers Alan Gasmer (“Vikings”) and Peter Jaysen, “Recessionistas” is being developed as a limited series.

THE ROCK UNTITLED PROJECT (Alternative Development)
Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson (WWE, “Furious 7”) and Dany Garcia sign on to develop and executive produce an unscripted television series for USA Network. The project is from Garcia and Johnson’s 7 Bucks Productions.

(Pictured: “Colony” star Josh Holloway and USA’s Chris McCumber)

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  1. Jessica Bennett says:

    I’m looking forward to Josh Holloway in Colony!

  2. Robyn Ciaburri says:

    Awesome Ready for Colony!!! Josh Holloway!!!!

  3. Can’t wait to see Josh Holloway in Colony!

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