USA Retools at the Top

Just a day after Doug Herzog replaced Rob Sorcher as president of USA Network, former MSNBC sales executive Jon Spaet late last week was

named chief of ad sales for USA Cable. Spaet, who left MSNBC in 1999 as vp of ad sales for the dot-com world, replaces Richard Sheingold, who had been USA Networks’ president of ad sales.

Before joining USA, Sheingold, who had been president of ad sales for CBS’ Station Group, overseeing spot advertising until last May, apparently had difficulty adjusting to the cable sphere and the edicts of selling in the national marketplace, sources said. Sheingold was unavailable for comment. Like Sorcher, he is currently pursuing the proverbial “other interests,” sources within USA said. John Silvestri, who will report to Spaet, was promoted to executive vp/general sales manager of the division.

These personnel shifts cap six months of retooling at USA that have included marketing, sales, promotions and programming departments.

Though Sci Fi Channel has enjoyed growth in the last year, USA has been under the microscope of industry observers who have questioned — as original series failed and ratings slipped — the direction of the network. “They have the talent [but] USA has to decide what [it] wants to be and communicate it to the audience,” said Bob Igiel, president of broadcast for Media Edge. Despite solid returns from its top-rated epic Attila, USA trailed TBS and Lifetime in the February sweeps with a 1.8 universe rating, down 18 percent from last year, according to Nielsen Media Research.

“We’re going to the gym to get a little definition,” said Herzog. He’ll keep “USA’s blueprint” of movies, one-hour dramas and miniseries, but will “make it better, more distinct and more urgent.”

Herzog, who is credited with developing South Park as president of Comedy Central (1995-1998), and the man who tapped him for this job, USA Cable president Stephen Chao, both share a taste for irreverent humor. However, Chao, who developed ill-fated programs such as Happy Hour and The War Next Door, tends to run with eccentric ideas that don’t always play with USA’s more broad audience. “Stephen is very creative, but he needs a counterweight to keep him from going off the edge. Doug has more commercial sensibilities,” said a source familiar with the situation.

Chao said he plans to take on more responsibility these days for big-picture growth at the cable group USA, Sci Fi, Trio and NWI. “We have great ambition for all our channels, but we are seeking to grow the division,” he said.