EXCLUSIVE: USA Network veteran Jeff Wachtel is getting a bigger role in the recently merged NBCUniversal entertainment cable operations under chairman Bonnie Hammer. Wachtel, most recently co-president of USA and co-head, original content, Universal Cable Prods, has been promoted to the newly created position of President and Chief Content Officer, NBCU Cable Entertainment. In that role, Wachtel will serve as a creative point of entry for the company’s entire portfolio of 12 networks, taking in pitches that he would then recommend to the brand(s) for which he feels they’d be the best suited. In doing so, Wachtel will work closely with the presidents and development teams at each network. He also will assume sole oversight of NBCU Cable Entertainment’s production entities — Universal Cable Prods for scripted series and Wilshire Studios for unscripted shows. Wachtel most recently co-ran UCP with Syfy’s Mark Stern. In his new role, Wachtel will work closely with Steve Dolcemaschio, who will become Chief Operating Officer of UCP and Wilshire Studios.
Chris McCumber, who had served as co-president of USA alongside Wachtel since 2011, has now been named sole president of the cable network, which has been No. 1 for the past seven years. He is a 12-year USA veteran, having joined in 2001 as SVP On-Air Promotion. “Over the past two and a half years as co-president, Chris has proven himself a fantastic leader with a deep understanding of the enormous strength and equity of the USA brand,” Hammer said. “He is perfectly positioned to shepherd USA into an exciting new chapter.”
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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. Read More »
With Bonnie Hammer taking on a much larger portfolio following the NBC-Comcast merger, she is ceding control over day-to-day operations of NBCUniversal’s flagship cable network USA.
Hammer will continue to oversee USA, which will now be run jointly by Jeff Wachtel and Chris McCumber. Wachtel and McCumber, who both joined USA in 2001, have been named co-presidents of USA Network. Both will be involved in every aspect of USA’s business, reporting to Hammer, chairman of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment and Cable Studios. “USA will remain a top priority for me, and I can’t think of a better team to build on the network’s incredible momentum,” Hammer said. “Not only have Chris and Jeff performed consistently at the top of their games, their collaborative style is a critical part of USA’s DNA and a key component of the network’s success.” The setup resembles that at USA sibling Syfy, which Hammer also used to run. Now that is done by the network’s president Dave Howe. In her expanded post-merger role, Hammer oversees USA, Syfy and Universal Cable Prods. as well as E!, G4, Chiller and Sleuth.
Wachtel has been USA’s head of original programming, first as EVP and most recently as president, overseeing development of scripted series, original movies and miniseries as well as non-scripted content. Additionally, he serves as co-head of creative for production arm Universal Cable Prods. Wachtel has … Read More »
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 alternative development and production for the network, which had not had a dedicated reality executive for almost 3 years. She will report to USA’s president of original programming Jeff Wachtel.
Wachtel, whose background is in scripted TV, said the search for a head of reality was educational. “I learned a great deal about the unscripted series business,” he said, adding that in Oleander, “we found somebody who is extremely intelligent, very experienced and brings wonderful energy to things.”
USA is already teeing up the revival of WWE Tough Enough, its first reality series in 5 years, for an April launch. Wachtel hopes to have the first new reality show developed under Olander ready to premiere in the fall or in early 2012. Don’t expect it to be a variation on a popular format, like a dance show or a series set a pawn shop. “We may be looking for variations of a theme that is out there later on, but right now, we will start off by finding something that is unique in the marketplace.”
Wachtel also doesn’t plan to go for volume: “We’re not going to throw a dozen shows out there and see what sticks,” he said. And, while pitching … Read More »
Syfy’s EVP original programming Mark Stern has been named president. He continues to report to Dave Howe, President, Syfy and Chiller. Stern also co-heads original content for Universal Cable Prods. alongside Jeff Wachtel, who, in a similar fashion, was promoted from EVP to president original programming of USA 2 years ago. Additionally, Stern will now have creative oversight on the newly formed Syfy Films, a joint venture with Universal Pictures.
A former television producer, Stern joined Syfy in 2002 and was named EVP in 2003. He is credited with shepherding such projects as series Battlestar Galactica, Warehouse 13, Stargate: Atlantis, Eureka, Ghost Hunters, Destination Truth, Ghost Hunters International, Sanctuary, Stargate: Universe, Caprica and Haven as well as the miniseries Tin Man.
EXCLUSIVE: USA has given a formal green light to the Burn Notice movie prequel starring Bruce Campbell, which will be directed by Burn Notice star Jeffrey Donovan. The two will also executive produce with Burn Notice creator Matt Nix, who wrote the movie, and the series exec producer Mikkel Bondesen. The untitled two-hour film, which was announced at this year’s Comic-Con, will begin shooting in January on location in Bogota, Columbia for a premiere in Spring 2011. Burn Notice has wrapped production on Season 4, and filming on Season 5 is slated to begin shortly after the movie finishes shooting.
Here are more details about the Fox TV Studios-produced prequel. It is set in late 2005 and focuses on Sam Axe’s (Campbell) last mission as a Navy SEAL. It begins after a faction of Colombian rebels makes trouble for the locally stationed military platoon, with Lieutenant Commander Axe (APA-repped Campbell) being sent down to investigate. As the mission unfolds, Sam begins to uncover the dark secrets of the area, learning the truth about sacrifice, deception, and ultimately what’s worth fighting for.
The idea to do a Campbell-centered Burn Notice movie offshoot originated a year and a half ago when Burn Notice made its Comic-Con debut. “We saw Bruce Campbell as the Bruce Springsteen of Comic Con,” USA’s president of original programming Jeff Wachtel said. “We saw the spectacular explosive fan reaction and realized that, in Bruce, we had not only a … Read More »
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.” Read More »
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. Read More »
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 the Burn Notice panel today. The prequel is being developed as an original movie, not a series, and will focus on Sam Axe’s (Campbell) military past. I loved Campbell’s reaction to the news as reported by audience members. “What do I have to say about that? I have to say that USA finally got their s**t together.” Classic!