USA’s Hammer Renews Series

Sep 18, 2006  •  Post A Comment

There are routine cable network ratings increases-and then there’s USA Network’s third quarter.

The NBC Universal-owned channel is up a striking 32 percent in total viewers (26 percent among 18 to 49), with two weeks left in the quarter, according to Nielsen Media Research. Though such bounces are frequent among lower-rated networks, it’s unusual for the No. 1 cable network to swing that far up the chart.

The upswing is due partly to the performance of USA’s latest original series, “Psych,” which USA President Bonnie Hammer told TelevisionWeek she renewed for 16 episodes. Ms. Hammer also has ordered a 13-episode renewal for “The Dead Zone.”

In addition, Ms. Hammer indicated across-the-board summer series returns are likely for sister network Sci Fi Channel, which she oversees along with USA.

“We’ve had a very successful summer for both channels. There’s nothing on either of them, from a ratings point of view, that should not be renewed,” Ms. Hammer said.

Then, mindful of ongoing negotiations, she added, “I just hope we have enough money to bring everything back.”

USA has already announced pickups for “The 4400” and “Monk.” The only tricky decision was for “The Dead Zone,” which after five seasons was beginning to show signs of fatigue, yet still pulled a dependable viewership. Equally important, the show’s supernatural element makes it a suitable Sunday night partner for “The 4400.”

Summer Contenders

Ms. Hammer also plans to choose one new series to premiere next summer. Of the network’s previously announced slate, Ms. Hammer said she’s pared the field down to the “Equalizer”-like drama “Burn Notice,” the Lorne Michaels assassin comedy “To Love and Die in L.A.” and a U.S. marshal drama, “In Plain Sight.”

But for the moment, there’s the summer afterglow to bask in: an average of 2.8 million viewers (compared with second-place TNT’s 2.7 million) quarter to date.

Catherine Lord, senior manager of ratings publicity for Disney-ABC Television Group, said the climb is particularly impressive because the network accomplished the increase with entertainment programming rather than sports (unless one counts wrestling as a sport).

“They did almost 3 million this quarter and that’s huge for cable,” she said. “Especially considering they didn’t have football or NBA playoffs, because that’s what contributes to TNT and ESPN bounces. Aside from wrestling coming back, they had four originals this summer, and all did from very good to awesome.”

Ms. Hammer attributed the success to a combination of factors. Last year the network launched its Characters Welcome branding campaign in an attempt to tie together the seemingly disparate programming elements of wrestling, sci fi programming and quirky dramas. Ms. Hammer said the branding helped each property build the network’s popularity and that the Characters Welcome campaign will continue through next year.

“We’re working because we’re putting everything through this brand filter,” she said. “So when we had a win like `Psych,’ it felt like it belonged on the channel, while the success of WWE was enhanced by the most successful launch of a new series this summer.”

As for the competition, Ms. Hammer said she “admires tremendously” TNT’s “The Closer” and thought the network did an impressive marketing campaign that gave the show a monster out-of-the-gate season debut.

“But do `Closer’ and `Saved’ really work together?” she asked. “`Monk’ and `Psych’ flow together; `4400′ and `Dead Zone’ flow. With a lead like `Closer,’ would I want to lose half the audience on `Saved”‘?

Ms. Hammer’s other network, however, did not fare as well.

Sci Fi Renewals

Sci Fi is flat in total viewers for the quarter and down slightly in 18 to 49. Yet renewals are likely for freshman drama “Eureka” and wrestling spinoff “ECW.” Even the critically trounced “Who Wants to Be a Superhero?” showed gains week to week.

Sci Fi’s biggest gun, “Battlestar Galactica,” is set to return for a third season next month.

Ms. Hammer said the show’s planned spinoff “Caprica” is still in development, with a recent pilot script being reworked to have a slightly lighter tone. If all goes well, a fourth-quarter 2007 debut is possible, she said.