TV Upfronts: USA to Air Daytime Show 'Talk Stoop,' Preps Drama From 'Veronica Mars' Creator Rob Thomas

44 BIZ Jeff Wachtel Chris McCumber P IPAD
Peden + Munk

"We still have an entrepreneurial attitude about the network. We approach it as though it were the world's biggest startup," says McCumber (left), photographed with Wachtel on Nov. 15 in USA's Universal City office.

USA network brass will greet its Madison Avenue buyers Thursday with new comedy, a daytime offering and lots more in development.

In addition to revealing two comedy series --Sirens, from Denis Leary (Rescue Me) and Bob Fisher (Wedding Crashers), and Playing House, from Best Friends Forever duo Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham-- co-presidents Jeff Wachtel and Chris McCumber are set to announce that they'll be adapting journalist Cat Greenleaf’s Talk Stoop franchise into a series of vignettes for USA's daytime block. Also likely to get a mention during the network's Pier 36 upfront presentation is a robust drama development slate with projects from Royal PainsMichael RauchBurn Notice's Matt Nix, SuitsDoug Liman and Veronica MarsRob Thomas.

Comedy has been a priority for USA ever since it preemptively acquired off-net repeats of Modern Family some three years ago. And while the network will give the top-rated Emmy winner a quarter to live on USA's schedule before it has to launch any new comedies --recognition, says McCumber, "that acquisitions tend to take time to find an audience"-- it will be relied upon to draw new viewers. The fact that there is only an eight percent crossover between the USA audience and Modern's current ABC audience is particularly reassuring, say the co-presidents.

USA Orders Denis Leary's 'Sirens' and Jessica St. Clair, Lennon Parham Comedy to Series

Similarly appealing is the show's broad appeal, which allows USA to come out of the gate with two comedies that are  different in tone and appeal, with the Sirens skewing more male and House more female. "With the benefit of Modern Family, and that’s of course the impetus for doing this, we have the good fortune of a show that’s so broad in its appeal that we can segment the shows that might follow it," Wachtel tells THR.

To hear him tell it, there are no plans to "go crazy" with the number of original comedies that USA will look to put on the schedule going forward. "One of the nice things about the cable world that we enjoy is the flexibility," Wachtel adds. More likely, the duo will look to offer about four, with an eye toward creative models including hybrid plays featuring beloved shows that ultimately could not survive on broadcast (think Cougar Town and TBS). Happy Endings could fall within that category as several sources notes talks are ongoing. At this time, the network is developing a mix of family and workplace comedies.

USA's daytime play --having Gleenleaf adapt her franchise into a series of vignettes that will appear during the cable net's daytime block from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.-- is being positioned as a bid to connect with advertisers. "There are more hours in daytime than any other time period on USA, and it’s an area that, frankly, was undervalued,"says McCumber, before adding: "A lot of repeats and acquisitions there, but nothing there that added more value for advertisers."

His team got to know Greenleaf at last year's upfront, when she interviewed the USA talent for what was then simply a  show airing on local NBC stations. On USA, Greenleaf’s segments will be anchored from her show’s home in Brooklyn, but she will also be expected to report from junkets, red carpet events and brand partners’ retail outlets. Adds McCumber: "We looked at that huge swath of real estate and said, ‘There has to be a way to give a face to daytime. There has to be a way to create opportunities for our advertisers to partner with us."

Despite expansion into other genres and dayparts (late night is likely to come next), it is worth noting character-focused drama will remain USA's bread and butter. And while the development slate of new fare continues to focus on compelling characters, the network once known exclusively for "blue sky" programming is continuing to push its boundaries as it looks to grow an already broad audience. "The great challenge is remaining on-brand and honoring the contract we have with our audience, while still pushing out and reflecting new styles of storytelling," explains Wachtel, noting that drama landscape has shifted its focus in recent years from close-ended episodic programming to more character-based serialized fare. He add with a laugh: "People know us as very bright and blue sky, so the joke we’re making right now is that we’re 50 shades of blue."

Here’s a look at the network’s drama development slate:

THE ARRANGEMENT (Pilot Under Consideration): From Numb3rs creators Cheryl Heuton and Nicolas Falacci, this one-hour drama pilot is inspired by a short story from the Elmore Leonard anthology, When The Women Come Out To Dance. The Arrangement tells the story of Lourdes Nieves (Stephanie Sigman, Miss Bala), a Columbian woman who trades her tragic and mysterious past for a fresh start in Miami by entering into a marriage with Billy Whitley (Bryan Greenberg, How to Make It In America), a well-meaning and ambitious politician. In a union of political expediency, Lourdes and Billy manage a delicate dance of romance and clear-eyed pragmatism as she leverages her experience and contacts to help her husband battle the blood sport that is local Florida politics. From Universal Cable Productions and executive producers Liman and David Bartis of Hypnotic (Suits, Covert Affairs), the pilot also stars Amanda Schull and Manolo Cardona.

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THE EDGE: From Universal Cable Productions and Executive Producer John Legend’s Get Lifted Film Co. (Get Lifted), The Edge, written and executive produced by Adam Hoff and Justin Herber, is a thriller that explores one idealistic man’s journey after he leaves an NGO to join the world’s top venture capital firm. Jeff Cross believes he landed his dream job working with an elite team of progressive thinking investors who fund socially conscious projects to better the planet.  As he rises through the ranks, he discovers a morally bankrupt workplace that perpetuates shadowy agendas to control governments, industries and global leaders to fill the firm’s coffers. If he goes up against this financial goliath, Jeff risks his soul and the lives of those closest to him. Mike Jackson and Ty Stiklorius of Get Lifted Film Co. also executive produce.

COMPLICATIONS: The story of an ER doctor whose life changes after he is involved in a gang shooting where he is forced to explore how active a doctor can be in treating the cause of his patients' medical problems. From Fox TV Studios, Complications is written and executive produced by Burn Notice creator Nix.

BANK: After an unconventional act of heroism gives her the opportunity to choose her next assignment, a young FBI agent surprises everyone by choosing the bank crimes division in Los Angeles. The city of LA is the epicenter of bank robberies in the U.S. with three to six banks robbed every day, representing 30 percent of all bank robberies in the country.  It takes a special kind of person to confront such an unrelenting tide of crime, leaving her peers suspicious of her intent. From Universal Cable Productions, written and co-executive produced by Nora Zuckerman and Lilla Zuckerman (Fringe, Human Target) and executive produced by Liman and David Bartis of Hypnotic. 

BLANCO COUNTY: Based on a series of books by Ben Rehder, Blanco County follows the story of John Marlin, a worldly pro baseball player who would rather spend his down time traveling the world than return to his small Texas hometown. After the death of his father, Marlin returns home to find a lot has changed since he left. The place is now booming with rich ranchers and tourists and there's an uneasy alliance between the locals and the nouveau riche. Believing the local cops to be inept, Marlin runs for sheriff and surprisingly wins. A man who spent his entire life running away from his roots must now adapt to a new way of life. From Tom Welling Productions and Rob Thomas Productions in association with Warner Horizon Television, Blanco County is written by Thomas (Veronica Mars) and executive produced by Thomas, Tom Welling, Danielle Stokdyk and Dan Etheridge.

DON’T TURN AROUND: A haunting limited series set on a beautiful but remote island. As the summer draws to an end and the vacationers/weekenders have all left the island, the young staff left behind is ready to finally let loose before they pack up as well. When an unexpected storm rolls across the island during the party, several people mysteriously vanish and turn up dead. Trapped on the island with no means of escape, the remaining group struggles to survive – against whatever is out there … and each other. From Grady Girl Productions in association with Warner Horizon Television, Don’t Turn Around is written by J.R. Orci, who executive produces with Dawn Olmstead.

HUNGRY: From Royal Pains executive producer Rauch and restaurateur Joe Bastianich, Hungry is an inside look at the opening of a New York City hot spot, inspired by Bastianich's life and his New York Times bestseller Restaurant Man. Well-versed in the toll that restaurant life can take on one’s relationships, the son of a famous chef nevertheless tries to open his own eatery. He juggles negotiating with teamsters, working the front of the house with high-end clientele, managing a large staff and finding time to follow his passion: cooking. He is monomaniacal in his pursuit of the perfect restaurant, at a steep cost to himself and those he loves. From Universal Cable Productions, Hungry is written and executive produced by Rauch and executive produced by Bastianich.

SHADOW COUNSEL:­ A legal thriller centered on Ethan, a former Army JAG attorney now working as a criminal lawyer in New York who is recruited by the FBI to crack an ongoing investigation. Ethan serves as a shadow counsel - a secret lawyer who operates behind the scenes and completely off the record to circumvent existing roadblocks (hired attorneys, interrogators, etc) in classified cases. Reluctantly agreeing to take the case, Ethan’s life rapidly descends into chaos as he finds himself on the run, unsure of who his friends are or who he can trust.  From Universal Cable Productions, Shadow Counsel is written and executive produced by Barry Schindel (Castle) and executive produced by David Semel (Hemlock Grove, American Horror Story).

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