11:15am PT by Lesley Goldberg
Chris McCumber, USA Network and Syfy President, to Exit
Chris McCumber, the highly regarded president of USA Network and Syfy, is leaving NBCUniversal amid the conglomerate's larger restructuring.
McCumber announced his departure in a memo to staff Wednesday (read it, below) after Frances Berwick solidified her senior leadership team at NBCU.
The executive, who has been with the company for nearly 20 years and oversaw hits including Mr. Robot and long-running "Blue Skies" originals like Suits and White Collar, will remain on board for an undetermined period to help with the transition that is expected to see USA Network and Syfy oversight folded into Susan Rovner's larger entertainment programming purview. Rovner, the former co-president at Warner Bros. TV, is expected to formally join NBCU next month. She will oversee a portfolio that includes entertainment networks NBC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, Oxygen and E!, among others, as well as consolidated scripted, unscripted, alternative and late night divisions. Oversight of the business of both USA and Syfy will fall under Berwick's team, while content will be overseen by Rovner's group.
McCumber first joined USA Network in 2001 as senior vp on-air promotion, serving later as head of marketing at USA and eventually being promoted to co-president (alongside Jeff Wachtel) of the basic cable network in 2011. He was given solo oversight of the cabler in 2013, adding Syfy in 2016 as the newly named NBCU vice chair Bonnie Hammer started to consolidate network leadership. (Frances Berwick unified her former team behind Bravo, Oxygen and E! last year.) Under McCumber's purview, USA ranked as the No. 1 entertainment cable network for an incredible 14 straight years — the longest streak in TV history. McCumber negotiated and closed some of the most important deals at NBCU's cable division, including for WWE Raw, WWE SmackDown, Harry Potter Wizarding World and the syndication pact for Modern Family.
On the programming front, when USA was at a crossroads, he rebranded the network from its successful "Blue Skies" brand featuring such network-defining originals as Suits and Psych to a shift to dark and edgy prestige fare with the launch of Sam Esmail's critical hit Mr. Robot. He ordered anthology The Sinner as well as unscripted franchise Chrisley Knows Best and has been instrumental in keeping WWE favorite Raw on the cable network through 2024.
At Syfy, meanwhile, McCumber helped refine the brand in 2017 with a fans-first multiplatform initiative that leaned into its roots as a home for traditional genre fare and added adult animation, live pop culture coverage, and talk and opinion fare via Syfy Wire. As a result, Syfy had its most profitable year ever in 2019.
With the restructuring, the writing for McCumber's departure was on the wall — especially considering the rapid decline in the volume of scripted originals at USA. Home to more than a dozen originals a few years ago, USA's roster has steadily decreased and the cabler's lineup now consists of only Queen of the South, The Sinner and Dirty John (the latter of which is awaiting word on a potential third season). USA and Syfy will also be the joint home to the upcoming Chucky update. The two brands have shared content in the past, including the Purge update.
NBCUniversal is expected to lean heavily into the shared content strategy as Berwick plots a rollout plan to best service the company's originals. (More recently, for example, USA reality competition series Cannonball also aired on NBC.) Syfy has also seen its content roster decline and has shed originals like The Magicians and Krypton in favor of inexpensive foreign imports like fan favorite Wynonna Earp. The cabler recently greenlit Day of the Dead and The Surrealtor to pair with the long-gestating Resident Alien, which is still awaiting a premiere date.
A major round of layoffs is expected to come as a result of NBCU's restructuring, creating millions in cost savings as CEO Jeff Shell and streaming and TV chairman Mark Lazarus (to whom McCumber reported) look to eliminate redundancies among divisions including programming, marketing and scheduling in a bid to create a more unified and leaner company. It is similar to the approach that Shell put in place in May with NBCU's news division. The restructuring shifts the entertainment division from a vertical structure in which teams were organized by network to a horizontal one in which divisions are grouped by shared job functions. That means NBCUniversal will have one centralized studio group (overseen by the newly promoted Pearlena Igbokwe); an entertainment business unit (overseen by former Lifestyle Networks group topper Berwick); and a centralized entertainment networks group (overseen by Rovner).
Rovner will lead centralized content groups covering scripted, unscripted, alternative and late night. That means individual networks will no longer have dedicated executive teams and staff who previously, for example, oversaw alternative programming for NBC will now do so for all of NBCU's various brands, including USA Network, Syfy, Bravo, Oxygen and E!, among others. As part of the restructuring, NBC Entertainment chairman Paul Telegdy was pushed out at the company. His exit arrived less than a week after NBC launched an investigation into claims that Telegdy and his top unscripted lieutenant fostered a toxic culture, which were detailed extensively by The Hollywood Reporter. Telegdy's responsibilities were folded into the duties that Rovner is expected to take on when she begins her new role in October.
Here's McCumber's note to staff:
Friends and Colleagues –
I’ve always promised to be open and transparent — and it is in that spirit that I wanted you to be the first to hear that I have decided to leave NBCUniversal, following a period of transition.
After nearly 20 years at this tremendous company, this has not been an easy decision. Yet I believe wholeheartedly that NBCUniversal is taking the right steps by creating a new organization built for the future.
It’s difficult to encapsulate two decades into one note. Together as a team, we helped make USA Network the #1 cable entertainment network for a record 14 years, rebooted Syfy with a fan-first perspective, won a slew of awards, and created some of television’s most popular programs of all time. But beyond all the successes and accolades, what I’ll remember most is the special bond that we had as a team. A bond built on trust, mutual respect, and of course, having a lot of fun making great content.
I know that change is not always easy, but I believe that periods of disruption always open new doors. I encourage you all to seize every opportunity that comes your way. You’ve got a front row seat to the evolution of the television business … what a gift!
I’m forever grateful and proud to have had the privilege of working alongside each and every one of you, and to call you my teammates and friends.
Thank you for the honor –