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Herzog waves flag for USA

Jul 16, 2001  •  Post A Comment

In the era of audience fragmentation and niche cable networks targeting narrow demographics, the USA Network is waving a different flag.
“We’re not going to apologize for being a big and broad platform,” Doug Herzog, USA’s president, told Electronic Media at last week’s TCA. “We’re going to celebrate it.”
While USA’s competitors rebrand and narrow their focus, and USA has slumped in the ratings, Mr. Herzog, a youthful programming veteran, professes to be unconcerned.
“If they want to call me the slumping USA Network,” Mr. Herzog said, “I’ll take it-because you know what? I don’t have very far to go to be back to No. 1. I’m going to give [advertisers] a good environment and some hit shows. I’ve got to be careful not to treat this as a niche network, because it’s not.”
That narrow, demo-minded advertisers might not immediately salute the broad USA strategy isn’t a concern either. “At the end of the day, advertisers are going to be attracted to high ratings,” he said, repeating the mantra that any network-broadcast or cable-is just one hit show away from those golden Nielsen numbers.
The new USA strategy focuses specifically on prime time and late-night, with development for the former focused on dramas and development for the latter aimed at nonscripted, younger-skewing shows. The new wrinkle for prime-time development is a new genre-limited-duration dramas-that USA hopes to make its signature.
“One of the things we’re going to pursue is limited series, where we can do eight episodes, 10 episodes, and tell a story from start to finish,” said Mr. Herzog, likening the concept to “Twin Peaks” or “The Sopranos,” which delivers a season of “13 you-gotta-be-there” episodes.
“Because it’s limited and you don’t have to commit for five years, we think we can get better writers, better talent,” Mr. Herzog said. He expects to announce his first weekly “big concept” one-hour limited-duration drama by Aug.1.
In prime time, “We’ll work our way back into the comedy business at some point,” he said.
In late-night, the first show from Mr. Herzog’s own development process will be “Smush,” a word game from Chicago’s Jellyvision, which also created the “You Don’t Know Jack” CD-ROM game, which has been turned into an ABC game show.