USA Network has to wait until NBCUniversal’s combined upfront next month to get in front of buyers, but it’s already making plans for the next year by ordering four pilots. If they are picked up to series, the programs would join a lineup that includes a Suits spinoff and a new show based on The Purge franchise.
Like The Purge, one of the new pilots is related to a hit NBCUniversal film franchise: Treadstone, which delves into the CIA black ops program seen in the Bourne movies.
USA, which has been the most-watched cable entertainment network in total viewers for the past 12 years, is “delivering audiences at scale,” said Chris McCumber, president, entertainment networks for NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, “and we’re one of the few networks that can do that on a real consistent basis.”
The new lineup and pilots represent “a group of programming that really unites together around this idea of bold characters that are heroes, rebels and icons. And we believe these are characters that reflect the maverick spirit of our country, which makes it very appropriate that they’re on a network called USA,” McCumber said. “All of them have broad reach to match the scale of our audience.”
Here are USA’s four new pilots, all of which come from NBCUniversal’s in-house Universal Cable Productions:
- Treadstone, written and executive produced by Heroes creator Tim Kring, is set in the world of Bourne’s CIA black ops program, which turns its agents into superhuman assassins. “We hope that it’s going to give audiences the same sort of thrill that the Bourne franchise does,” said McCumber.
- Briarpatch, based on the Ross Thomas novel, is a crime-thriller about a female investigator searching for her sister’s killer in their corrupt Texas hometown. It’s the second USA project for Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail, who is executive producing the pilot. Briarpatch was written by former Grantland writer Andy Greenwald, who hosted the Mr. Robot aftershow Hacking Robot. “It’s a unique blend of crime thriller and pulp fiction, with a really cool and and complicated female lead,” said McCumber.
- Dare Me, based on the Megan Abbott novel, looks into competitive high school cheerleading at a small Midwestern town. “We look at this one as Friday Night Lights meets this world of competitive cheerleading,” said McCumber of the series, which is executive produced by Peter Berg, who directed both the Friday Night Lights film and series pilot. “When you hear about competitive cheerleading, you think it’s all smiles and stunts, but it’s really this cutthroat world.”
- Denis Leary returns to TV for Erase, a series he co-created and stars in as a dirty ex-cop released from prison who has a photographic memory and is trying to right the wrongs that were done to him, while also struggling with early-onset Alzheimer’s. “He’s coming back to his Rescue Me roots,” said McCumber of Leary, who co-created the former USA series Sirens. “He’s the lead character, with a very iconic character with a little bit of dark comedy, that only Denis can do, woven into it.”
McCumber is months away from deciding whether to pick any of those pilots up to series, but he’s already got a packed USA slate for the coming year, led by The Purge, which will debut later this year. “That one’s going to be a big, big event for USA,” said McCumber of the series, which is expected to premiere on both USA and Syfy, which McCumber also oversees, and air in some form on both networks.
USA is also readying a still-untitled Suits spinoff centered around Gina Torres’ character Jessica Pearson. It will be set up in the upcoming Season 7 finale of Suits. And while Suits stars Patrick J. Adams and Meghan Markle will depart the series after their characters wed in Season 7, the legal drama will add Katherine Heigl and Dule Hill to the cast for Season 8.
McCumber is also looking forward to the fourth season of Mr. Robot, though the timetable is still up in the air, especially with Esmail working on the Briarpatch pilot.
“Sam’s developing and putting together that season,” McCumber said. “He likes to concentrate on each project at a time. We can’t wait to get more episodes of Mr. Robot, but right now, we don’t have a fully-baked timetable.”
When those new shows debut, they’ll contain the “prime pods” announced by NBCUniversal in February in which either the first or last ad break of each episode will be turned into a 60-second pod of audience-targeted advertising. Those prime pods won’t roll out until the fall, McCumber said, but “we’ve already started to see a lot of excitement around that.”
USA and Syfy have been experimenting with a picture-in-picture ad format, which showcases original content and ads on-screen at the same time, in shows like Unsovled on USA and Happy and Superman prequel Krypton on Syfy. “We’ve already seen higher engagement and higher recall from viewers for those advertisements,” McCumber said.
“Now more than ever, premium video content is proving to work the hardest for our marketing partners in helping them reach their business objectives,” said Mark Marshall, evp, entertainment advertising sales, NBCUniversal, in a statement. “Having new, high quality scripted fare allows us to have the most meaningful conversations with advertisers about how USA can be a powerful part of their ad campaigns.”
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