Executive Suite: USA Network
Eight months after inheriting the reins of the No. 1 cable network from Bonnie Hammer, co-presidents Jeff Wachtel and Chris McCumber look to move beyond 'blue skies' into comedy, reality and maybe even a late-night talk show.
When Comcast closed its $13.8 billion deal for NBC-Universal in January, the prized possession was not the legendary broadcast network. Instead, the main attraction was a stable of cable networks led by top performer USA. Best known for upbeat "blue skies" fare such as Burn Notice and Necessary Roughness, USA is coming off its best quarter on record and is poised to round out 2011 as the No. 1 cable network for a sixth consecutive year. In October, Wunderlich Securities analyst Matthew Harrigan estimated that USA contributed $9.5 billion to NBCUniversal's $44.8 billion valuation, dwarfing NBC's $408 million. Rather than stay the course, newly installed co-presidents Jeff Wachtel, 56, and Chris McCumber, 44, are looking to push the company's crown jewel into new areas, including comedy and reality. Wachtel, a Yale drama grad who produced David Mamet plays before segueing into programming, and McCumber, a writer-producer who moved into marketing, operate from opposite coasts. The pair, both married fathers of two and veterans of USA, sat down in the network's West Coast headquarters in Universal City to discuss the appeal of launching a talk show, genres they consider off-limits and what's next for the network.
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