Upfront News and Views: USA Makes a Major Play for Millennials

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USA Network is taking a dramatic turn into scripted programming, focusing on stories in which people find themselves up against extraordinary circumstances, often not of their own choosing. This should appeal to Millennials who've demonstrated a big appetite for complex plots and characters, explained USA President Chris McCumber. "There's a major demographic change underway," he added, "and this demographic tells us they want to see unexpected, complicated heroes who defy the odds and come out (victorious) on the other side.” When the focus was not on scripted programming it was on expanded offerings from World Wrestling Entertainment: A reboot this summer (starting June 23) of “Tough Enough,” the unscripted search for new grapplers, with some segments live, and the move of “Smackdown” from NBC Universal sister net Syfy to USA next winter. A short Q&A session at the end would have given McCumber time to elaborate on all of this. That didn't happen, leaving reporters to find USA executives and talent for answers -- if they could stick around.

Venue: The Rainbow Room high atop 30 Rockerfeller Plaza. As shiny, sparkling, elegant and exquisite a place to dine or dance as ever, thanks to the completion of a recent multi-year renovation. Making this breakfast connection of network executives with journalists more notable: every table had at least one celebrity and series showrunner. My table had Carlton Cuse, perhaps the most prolific executive producer of cable network drama at the moment, and “Colony” star Josh Holloway. Grade: 4.5 Jacks

Presentation: Admirably short and pointed. The network is taking a dramatic turn into scripted programming, focusing on stories in which people find themselves up against extraordinary circumstances, often not of their own choosing. This should appeal to Millennials who've demonstrated a big appetite for complex plots and characters, explained USA President Chris McCumber. "There's a major demographic change underway," he added, "and this demographic tells us they want to see unexpected, complicated heroes who defy the odds and come out (victorious) on the other side.” When the focus was not on scripted programming it was on expanded offerings from World Wrestling Entertainment: A reboot this summer (starting June 23) of “Tough Enough,” the unscripted search for new grapplers, with some segments live, and the move of “Smackdown” from NBC Universal sister net Syfy to USA next winter. A short Q&A session at the end would have given McCumber time to elaborate on all of this. That didn't happen, leaving reporters to find USA executives and talent for answers -- if they could stick around. Grade: 3.5 Jacks

News: At least four new scripted series will be offered this year – medical drama “Complications” (starting June 18), hacker drama “Mr. Robot” (June 24), family thriller “Colony” and advertising satire “Donny,” with media legend Donny Deutsch playing himself and real product pitches weaved into the plots (this fall). Female buddy sitcom “Playing House” will be back in August, experimenting with episodes playing on video-on-demand a week ahead of their USA debut. The pilot trio of “Queen of the South” (adapted from the Telemundo telenovela), “Shooter” and “Falling Water” remain under consideration for series, and development is underway on 13 additional projects, with such talent as Charlize Theron, Rob Reiner and “Twilight” director Catherine Hardwicke involved behind the scenes. There's a pair of proposed “Chrisley Knows Best” spinoffs in the works (including a Todd Chrisley late-night talk show), a limited series titled “The Recessionistas” (Wall Street after the 2008 financial crisis) and an unscripted effort from Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (his second cable net development deal in two months, the first with Spike TV). Grade: 4.5 Jacks

Host: Pleasant turn from McCumber, with a video clip to match every talking point. Grade: 3 Jacks

Overall Grade: 3.5 Jacks Winning combination of space, celebrity talent on hand and focus on the network's big play for Millennials. Had USA thrown in some Q&A time the grade would easily be 4 Jacks or better.

The Jacks scale:

 

5 Jacks -- Excellent
4 Jacks -- Very Good
3 Jacks -- Good
2 Jacks -- Fair
1 Jack -- Poor
0 Jacks -- Worse than bad

Next up: Pop (formerly TVGN/TV Guide Network)

A quick observation from the passing parade:

True, overall ratings for “American Crime,” ABC's groundbreaking Thursday night drama from Oscar-winning writer/director John Ridley, have slipped since launching five weeks ago. However, the latest Nielsen ratings earlier this week show “Crime” in second place among African-Americans for all broadcast primetime (behind only “Scandal”) and getting solid viewership among Latinos. That, plus solid general audience DVR numbers, should work in its favor. “Crime” is at the halfway point and ABC will make the call on its continuation next month. This is ABC's best series since “NYPD Blue” and deserves every shot for success. It's not too late to jump in and make it must-see TV.

Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!

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