USA Network co-presidents Chris McCumber and Jeff Wachtel will receive the Television Showman of the Year Award at ICG Publicists 50th Annual Awards Luncheon on February 22. The two jointly oversee strategic direction, programming and operations across all platforms for the network. Both joined USA in 2001 and became co-presidents ten years later. McCumber previously served as EVP of marketing, digital and brand strategy and also conceived and developed the Characters Welcome multiplatform brand for the network. Wachtel was most recently president, original programming USA. He also serves as co-head original content of Universal Cable Productions.
Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s coverage of TCA.
It was supposed to be a sober, nostalgic, reflective visit with Rescue Me writer-producer-star Denis Leary, showrunner Peter Tolan and castmates Steven Pasquale and Callie Thorne as the iconic FX firefighter hour wraps up seven seasons on Sept. 7, four days before the 10th anniversary of 9/11. What it turned into Saturday morning at TCA was the most raucous and entertaining panel of the 12-day event to date, as Leary and Tolan put on a show for critics bleary-eyed from the nonstop coverage that finally wraps Monday.
Things started to get crazy about halfway through the 30-minute panel, when Leary observed with his usual manic energy, “You guys have spent, what, three fucking weeks here talking to TV people and now you’re fuckin’ bored.” Tolan then picked up the ball and added, “I’m going to take my pants off.” That led into a fresh rant from Leary, who railed: “By the way, USA (Network) is fuckin’ raiding Rescue Me. (Steven) Pasquale’s shooting a pilot (Over/Under) for them. Callie (Thorne) is starring in a show (Necessary Roughness) for ‘em. I’m writing a pilot for ‘em.” Tolan: “I’m doing very mild janitorial work. … And working for just a few weeks as (USA programming chief) Jeff Wachtel’s fluffer.”
Shortly thereafter, to help boost the excitement of the festivities, Tolan stood and pulled down his pants to reveal very oddly colored briefs. Much laughter and applause ensued. A critic then tried to ask a serious question: Does Leary fear that his role on Rescue Me is one he will now always be identified with, perhaps to his detriment? Tolan decided to intercept that one: “When you say that Denis will be remembered for this part, I think you’re forgetting Operation Dumbo Drop.” The room roared.
USA Network is now officially a reality player. After an extensive search, the top basic cable network has hired syndication and unscripted executive Heather Olander as SVP alternative programming. Olander, who has started this week, will oversee all …
USA Network has handed out cast-contingent pilot orders to three more hourlong projects, Eden, about a resourceful young hotel concierge, Wild Card, about 2 very different lawyers in Las Vegas, and Over/Under, about an ex-day trader with a gambling problem who starts a new life. That is addition to the 3 pilots the cable network has in various stages of production or pre-production, Necessary Roughness, Common Law and A Legal Mind, bringing the total number of pilots to 6, the most ever for USA in a calendar year. ”The company is investing in our success,” said USA president of original programming Jeff Wachtel, who noted that USA is projected to top the cable ratings for a fifth year in a row despite increased competition. “We’re fighting to stay No.1, and we have to step up our game. You do that by building up your portfolio, pushing out with a little more volume and moving outside your comfort zone by pushing with genre and tone.” He said that all 6 new pilots have ”a little bit more bite, more edge to them but are still very much in our sweet spot.”
USA Network continues its genre expansion with a big push in reality programming. The top basic cable network is close to ordering its first unscripted series in 5 years, WWE Tough Enough. It is also in the process of hiring a reality executive, and USA programming president Jeff Wachtel has been meeting with top reality production companies to talk about his plans in the arena. USA’s revival of Tough Enough actually came together separately from its current efforts in the unscripted area and stems from the network’ relationship with WWE through USA staple WWE Raw. Tough Enough, which features contestants competing for a contract with WWE, ran on MTV for 3 seasons, and in 2004 it moved to UPN where it aired for a season as part of SmackDown. On USA, it also is expected to run in tandem with USA’s WWE Raw series.
If you’re developing a prequel to your hit series Burn Notice built around Comic-Con fave Bruce Campbell, what better place to announce the plan than Comic-Con! That’s exactly what Jeff Wachtel, USA Network’s president of original programming, did at …