Perth exits berth

USA prexy 3rd exec to exit Diller-bought web

NEW YORK — Rod Perth has bowed to the inevitable, resigning as president of USA Entertainment effective July 10.

Perth’s position became untenable two months ago when Barry Diller, who bought a controlling stake in the cable TV powerhouse from Seagram late last year, appointed Stephen Chao to the post of president of programming and marketing for USA Networks, relegating Perth to the No. 2 programming slot.

USA said there would be no successor to Perth, at least for the immediate future.

Perth’s resignation follows by less than a week the departure of Greg Meidel as chairman of USA Studios. And in April Kay Koplovitz said she would leave as chairman and CEO of USA Networks.

Sources said Diller triggered all three resignations as he started taking a hands-on role with the company.

Perth, 54, still has more than three years remaining on his contract, and one source said he’s now negotiating a settlement.

“I’ve got nothing but pride in the job I’ve done at USA Networks since I came in three and a half years ago,” Perth said in a phone interview from his L.A. office. He cited the lineup of firstrun series on USA that have scored in the Nielsens, such as “La Femme Nikita,” “Silk Stalkings” and “Pacific Blue.”

Perth also boasted about the number of programming “risks” he took, such as commissioning Hallmark for a $20 million adaptation of Herman Melville”s “Moby Dick,” which delivered a stunning 8.1 rating in cable homes, and laying out upward of $100 million to buy “Walker Texas Ranger” reruns, which have become the bellwether of USA’s schedule weeknights at 8.

“I also narrowed the focus of the network somewhat” while continuing to keep USA either the first- or second-highest-rated cable network in primetime, he said. Two examples of narrowing the focus are Perth’s canceling of weekly boxing matches from the primetime lineup and his dropping cartoons from the daytime schedule.

“The USA network was not a player in the entertainment community when I joined it” in October 1994, Perth continued. “Now it’s a player.” One example of USA’s new status: Producer/director Irwin Winkler is doing a series for USA based on his theatrical movie “The Net.”

Perth said he’s in no rush to find a new job. “I’m going to take a deep breath,” he said, “and spend some time with my family.”

Before landing at USA, Perth was senior VP of late-night and non-network programming for CBS Entertainment.