USA has 'brandwith' plan

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Cable's No. 1 network is positioning its brand beyond TV.

Speaking to ad buyers and reporters at its annual upfront presentation Wednesday at New York's Museum of Modern Art, Bonnie Hammer — the newly promoted NBC Universal cable entertainment/cable studios president — unveiled plans to extend USA Network and its "Characters Welcome" brand.

"We've set our sights beyond No. 1," Hammer said of USA's success in cable. She added that the channel's new goal is to have "the best brand in the entire media landscape."

To help do that, USA is beginning a "brandwith" campaign that capitalizes on what the network calls the deep emotional connection to its characters and shows including "Monk," "Burn Notice," "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" and "Psych."

The channel already has invested in social networking elements online and is kicking off its next step with "Character Approved" commercial pods in concert with advertisers that the channel hopes will resonate with viewers. It's also sending photographers to all 50 states to shoot photos of celebrities and regular people in an effort it's calling "The Character Project."

"There is a virtually unlimited capacity to reach an audience that is 100% invested in our environment," Hammer said.

Earlier, Hammer was introduced by two of the network's stars, Tony Shalhoub and Debra Messing, who congratulated her on her promotion.

Meanwhile, there's no word on whether "L&O: CI" will be returning to USA after its current sixth season. "CI" moved to the cable network last year, with repeats airing on NBC.

"It's done a great job for us," Hammer told The Hollywood Reporter. But she noted that no decision on the future of the show had been made.

"CI" showrunner Warren Leight and the series' stars were in attendance at the upfront presentation despite the fact that production begins today on 11 episodes previously ordered but delayed by the WGA strike.

USA on Tuesday officially unveiled its 2008-09 development slate, which includes the crime drama "White Collar"; medical drama "Royal Pains"; "Shirleyville," about an Afghanistan war veteran who becomes mayor of his town; and "The Nanny Files," about a police chief's nanny who helps to solve crimes (HR 3/26).

USA's newest series, "In Plain Sight," premieres June 8 with a smaller number of commercials thanks to a new deal with Procter & Gamble.
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