/// USA Network: Show Me the Funny

May 6, 2013  |  Media Week

USA Network on May 16 will make an upfront pitch to advertisers that will emphasize sitcoms and reality shows . Network execs acknowledge the need to branch out from USA’s successful original drama fare in order to maintain the top spot in the cable entertainment ratings game. “We have a reservoir of good will,” USA co-president Jeff Wachtel told the Times’ Bill Carter. “Now that’s great, but it’s also a trap. Because if anybody imputes a formula to you, you really are in danger of being formulaic. We’ve got to challenge the audience.” In the fall, USA will start airing Modern Family reruns, which the network bought in 2010 for $1.4 million an episode . USA’s plan is to market the hugely popular sitcom as if it were an original show, while building blocks of original comedy programming around it. USA’s first foray into the genre boils down to a pair of prospects: Sirens, a Denis Leary-helmed show about paramedics, and Playing House, an offbeat female-oriented sitcom. Contextually, the latter may be a better fit with Modern Family. The network is also considering picking up ABC’s Happy Endings in the likely event that it is cancelled. (Since being shipped off to the Siberia that is Friday night, Happy Endings averaged a dismal 0.8 in the dollar demo.) The Modern Family gambit carries a number of risks. For the most part (The Big Bang Theory on TBS is a notable exception ), broadcast repeats no longer drive cable ratings. And comedy is a hard nut to crack—despite branding itself as the “Very Funny” network for the better part of the decade, only one original TBS comedy ( Men at Work ) has delivered a mass audience. For all that, USA remains the top dog in total deliveries, averaging 3 million prime time viewers in the first quarter of 2013. It also rules the 25-54 demo, but it recently slipped behind TBS among the 18-49 set.

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