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USA Network upfront breaks b’cast barriers

Cabler sets presentation for May 17

USA Network plans to crash the broadcast nets’ upfront party next spring.

USA said Monday it will host an upfront presentation on the evening of May 17 at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center to tout its hot prospects, including dramedy “Common Law” and a host of new projects in development.

USA’s move aims to reinforce to Madison Avenue the NBCUniversal cabler’s growing heft with original programming and underline USA’s push for parity in advertising rates with the Big Four broadcast nets.

In moving into the week when NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox and CW hold their upfront fetes in marathon Monday-Thursday fashion, USA is following the lead of Turner, which was the first cabler to make a big stand during broadcasters’ upfront week in 2008.

USA Network, which has ranked No. 1 among basic cablers for the past few years, has traditionally held its upfront event a few weeks before the broadcast nets, which typically sked their events for the third week of May, just prior to the end of the TV season. USA’s event this year was held May 2 at Lincoln Center. Next year, USA’s event will cap the busiest week of the year for media buyers and TV journos.

“This is the right thing for the growth of the channel,” USA co-president Chris McCumber told Variety. “After hearing from ad buyers and planners, we decided to go for a larger presentation.”

Added co-president Jeff Wachtel: “It feels like the right time for us. … We’ll be able to reach more people than before, and we’re excited about being the grand finale.”

While the majority of the ad community is based in Gotham, USA is also counting on receiving additional PR from out-of-town journalists, who will be in Manhattan that week. That will give USA additional exposure on both the consumer and business side, reaching more potential viewer eyeballs than ever before.

While the net might not have the identity of fellow NBCUniversal net NBC among consumers, USA is more of a profit center for the Peacock and its top shows can be competitive with broadcast nets. With that in mind, Wachtel and McCumber plan to push for CPM gains during next year’s upfront advertising selling frenzy.

The strong scatter market in recent months has been good for USA Network, and the net hopes to maintain its momentum with a higher-profile upfront event.

“This will clearly not only improve the image of who we are and what we do, but also help the economics,” said McCumber.

In addition to touting the stats on its slate of current hits — “Suits,” “Necessary Roughness,” “Royal Pains” and “White Collar,” among them — USA will tubthumping its upcoming skeins to potential advertisers.

Cabler is high on dramedy series “Common Law,” about a pair of cops who go into therapy to help them maintain their professional partnership. Skein was originally skedded to bow Jan. 26, but execs decided it would be better suited to a summer bow.

Also on the horizon is Nathan Lane comedy “Local Talent,” as USA looks to make a major push with laffers and reality shows in 2012. And on the syndie front, cabler acquired “Modern Family” and will certainly be alerting the ad community that primetime’s highest-rated comedy is heading to cable.

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