Seeking to regain its status as the No. 1 basic cabler in the 18-49 demo, USA used its exec-free upfront to push an expansion in both drama and comedy as well as adding more reality to its mix — and a political miniseries it hopes will boost the channel heading into an election year.
USA co-presidents Jeff Wachtel and Chris McCumber stayed off the stage during the presentation, using the net’s talent pool to tout the current and upcoming series. Wrestler John Cena made a show out of tweeting the news that WWE’s “Raw” will expand to three hours on July 23, coinciding with its 1,000th episode.
Prior to the event, execs detailed six drama projects in the development stage, and cited the July premiere of Greg Berlanti’s “Political Animals” as a high priority. The six-part miniseries stars Sigourney Weaver as a Hillary Clinton-like former First Lady, which Wachtel described as “more provocative in tone than most of what we’ve done before.”
Added McCumber: “People haven’t always said we’re topical, but this is a project we’re really excited about.”
Enlisting a number of marquee producers, the channel’s slate includes an untitled project from “Law & Order’s” Dick Wolf revolving around an insurance investigator who marries a trophy wife, who turns out to be a man.
“We told him that whenever you feel comfortable to go to a character place, feel free to come to us,” Wachtel said.
A pair of aspiring hours come from Fox Television Studios: “Bang Bang,” from writer Tim Schlattmann and based on a French TV series, examines an unlikely partnership when a hit man is saved by a rival hired gun (they eventually team up to execute contracts); and “Rare” is about a restaurant chef with a violent background, and how he tries to prevent his past from intruding on his day job. Writer is Larry Golin, who exec produces with Cory Concoff.
Universal Cable Prods.’ “Mind Fields” is co-written by “Pushing Daisies” creator Bryan Fuller, who is currently working on NBC’s upcoming series “Hannibal,” and Lisa Joy. Plot covers an MIT prankster who goes underground after one of his stunts goes awry and occasionally resurfaces in Gotham.
Two other dramas also come from UCP: Doug Liman, David Bartis and Gene Klein — exec producers of the net’s “Covert Affairs” and “Suits” — return with “We Counted Your Knives,” which looks at an Army medic returning home and becoming a pharmaceutical sales rep in hopes of finding the American dream. Writer is Michael Batistick.
“Fallen” — based on the novel by T. Jefferson Parker — is about a macho cop who develops a rare condition of becoming much more in touch with his emotions. Ed Decter and John Strauss are adapting for Sony Pictures Television.
USA is still waiting to make a decision on whether to give a series order to “Graceland,” from “White Collar” producer Jeff Eastin.
Comedy is where USA believes it needs to make a major push in the months ahead, but the channel is being very deliberate in ordering series. Net has already shot a pilot starring Nathan Lane and has two other laffers in development: Denis Leary’s EMT-themed “Sirens” and “Paging Dr. Freed,” about two doctors who inherit their father’s medical practice.
Upcoming in 2013 for the net, and of major importance, is the launch of the costly syndie acquisition “Modern Family.” USA execs are clearly hoping the ABC hit can do for them what “The Big Bang Theory” has done for TBS — boost ratings in all demos and total viewers. Show is expected to launch in third-quarter 2013 and will likely be paired with another comedy to create an hourlong block.
The “Big Bang” boost helped TBS snap USA’s long winning streak in the 18-49 demo among cablers earlier this year.
As for the sitcoms in development, three of four come from inhouse studio UCP.
“Regulars,” written and produced by Andrew Leeds and David Lampson, along with Gail Berman, Lloyd Braun and Gene Stein, concerns a misfit group of customers and employees at a New Jersey bar who enjoy karaoke.
Kelsey Grammer is behind “The DiCicco Brothers,” where a Silicon Valley dot-com entrepreneur is invaded by his politically incorrect family. Grammer exec produces with Stella Stolper, from a script by Ed Cannistraci and Fred Seton.
In “Start Up,” a pair of college grads are trying to launch their own company. Show is written by Justin Spitzer and exec produced by Peter Traugott.
The only non-UCP project is “Benched,” from exec producer Mark Gordon and ABC Studios. After losing her boyfriend and high-powered job as an attorney, a woman moves to the public defender’s office.
On the reality front — another genre the network is looking to kickstart — USA has ordered a pilot for Shed Media’s “Bride Or Best Man,” where a groom and best man can do no right in planning a wedding. In development is Mark Burnett’s relationship concept “Romancing the Globe.”
USA has already ordered “The Choir,” also from Shed Media, where a disparate group of individuals are brought together to sing; and “The Moment,” where participants are given second chances to turn their lives around, hosted by Kurt Warner and exec produced by Justin Hochberg and Charlie Ebersol.
In addition to “Political Animals,” USA has a busy summer ahead with 10 originals on the air over the next few months, starting with the second-season launches of “Suits” and “Necessary Roughness” in June.