NBC Uni's cable studio cuts first deals

Steve Franks, Jace Alexander join talent roster

Universal Cable Prods. is starting to build its talent roster.

The studio, which services NBC Universal cable outlets USA Network and Sci Fi Channel, has inked its first deals: a two-year overall pact with "Psych" creator/executive producer Steve Franks and a one-year first-look deal with director Jace Alexander, who helmed the pilots for USA's "Burn Notice" and "Royal Pains" and Sci Fi's "Warehouse 13."

"Steve is a phenomenal show creator and showrunner, while Jace directed three pilots that all have gone to series, and he has a great visual style," said Jeff Wachtel, UCP's co-head of original content and USA's programming chief.

The agreements indicate the deal strategy of UCP, launched in March under the purview of NBC Uni cable topper Bonnie Hammer.

"We will be building a roster around the talent that is already in the family, that already has had success on one of our networks," Wachtel said.

That is in line with a trend toward "showverall deals," whereby studios are moving away from pure development deals and signing overall pacts with the creators, showrunners and directors of their hit series.

While "the initial priority is servicing USA and Sci Fi," UCP also is looking to sell to other networks, Wachtel said. That runs against a trend that has seen vertically integrated production units, such as ABC Studios and UCP sibling Universal Media Studios, supply their sister networks exclusively.

Wachtel, one of the five executives who run UCP -- a team that also includes original content co-head Mark Stern at Sci Fi -- said there has been a change at USA since it was paired with a studio, but not a big one.

"As a cable network, we believe in guerrilla development," he said. "We have a producer's mentality -- try to go find projects -- and all creative execs are trained to be our own studio. Now we have more resources."

In addition to development, Franks' deal will keep him on "Psych" for Seasons 4 and 5, if the show receives those orders. "Psych" is the first series for Franks, who made his writing debut on the 1999 Adam Sandler feature "Big Daddy." He is repped by ICM and Thruline.

Alexander, repped by WMA and Fineman Entertainment, also is set to develop projects under his deal. He is a director and co-executive producer on "Pains," which recently was picked up to series.
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