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From USA to Bravo, NBCUniversal's Cable Channels are in Transition

One gets back to basics, two branch out

USA Network returns to its dramatic roots, while Bravo and E! venture into scripted series.

As NBC proper continues to build momentum—attracting more viewers ages 18 to 49 than any other broadcast network—many of parent NBCUniversal's cable networks are in transition.

The USA Network, for one, is still tops on cable, but it's regrouping after abandoning a push into comedy last year. Meanwhile, Bravo and E! are trying to broaden their audiences by venturing into scripted series for the first time. All three networks made the case for their respective new directions at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour this week.

USA enjoyed its ninth year as No. 1 in total viewers, and it's also tops among women ages 18 to 49. But the network solidified its decision to pull back on scripted comedies by canceling its newest one, Benched, one day before visiting the press tour. As USA slowly loses its long-running dramas (White Collar ended last month and Covert Affairs was canceled last week), it's now looking to its upcoming slate of dramas to pick up the slack.

"It's about creating that next generation of hits for us," USA president Chris McCumber told Adweek. He said the network is shifting away from comedy to focus on its strong drama development slate, including Dig (debuting March 5), Complications (summer), and its cyber-crime drama Mr. Robot, which McCumber is most enthusiastic about.

"We saw the dramas that were coming down the line, and we said, we feel so strongly about them, that we want to make sure we pick our shots," McCumber said. "You can't launch everything. And so you need to be able to say, we're going to prioritize these." 

While USA is retrenching with drama, two other NBCUniversal cable networks are venturing into new territory with scripted programming. E! is branching out of Kardashian land with The Royals, a soapy drama about a fictional royal family, starring Elizabeth Hurley as the Queen of England. "It's a lot like the real royal family, if they were younger, way hotter and trying to kill each other," said Jeff Olde, E! evp of original programming and development. "We deeply believe in this series, so much so that" the network took the unusual step of renewing the show for a second season a full two months before its March 15 debut.

Bravo was 2014's No. 9 ad-supported cable entertainment network in the 18-49 and 25-54 demos. But as its Real Housewives franchises age, it too is trying scripted series for the first time. While its first scripted effort, Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce, is struggling (averaging 0.37 in the 18-49), Bravo is already prepping another called Odd Mom Out. Set to debut June 8, it stars author Jill Kargman and is based on her life as part of an elite mommy clique on New York's Upper East Side.

"They don't know anything about scripted yet," said executive producer Julie Rottenberg of Bravo. "It just gave us permission to break all the rules." (Indeed: The show's racy sizzle reel includes the line, "I'm offering you my ass virginity.") Added Kargman, "That's the beauty of our network Bravo, is it's the Wild Wild West, and we can say everything but 'fuck.'"

But the more some NBCUniversal networks change, the more others stay the same: Syfy announced Thursday that its entire creative team from Sharknado and Sharknado 2 would be returning for this July's Sharknado 3, including stars Ian Ziering and Tara Reid. It's little surprise that they were all game for a third go-round; the biggest question is whether audiences will again follow suit.
 

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