8:30am PT by Kate Stanhope
TV Upfronts: USA Orders Chrisley Late-Night Pilot, Nabs 'SmackDown' From Syfy
USA is keeping it all in the family with the Chrisleys.
The network has ordered two new pilots featuring the stars of its half-hour docusoap hit Chrisley Knows Best, including a late-night pilot headlined by family patriarch Todd Chrisley through Embassy Row (Watch What Happens Live). A spinoff pilot centered around the Chrisley family is also in development with Maverick TV (Chrisley Knows Best).
"Fans can't get enough of the Chrisleys, and we're excited to give viewers an even bigger dose of this entertaining, unpredictable and lovable family," said Jackie de Crinis, exec vp original programming for USA. "Giving Todd an opportunity to bring his unique voice and unfiltered personality to late night is an opportunity we didn't want to miss."
USA is also upping its investment in the WWE by acquiring WWE SmackDown, which will debut in the first quarter of 2016. SmackDown's move from Syfy gives USA a monopoly on WWE properties, which also include Monday Night Raw and WWE Tough Enough. WWE star John Cena appeared before the press at an upfront breakfast Tuesday morning to make the announcement in person. Sharing the stage with USA president Chris McCumber, the wrestler noted that the day's locale, a refurbished Rainbow Room, had been the site of the first WrestleMania's afterparty. Advertising chief Peter Lazarus followed with a few notes about the scale and heroic narrative of WWE that will hopefully appeal to Madison Avenue buyers.
"WWE is proud to have SmackDown join Raw as part of our expanded partnership with USA Network. The combination of the No. 1 cable network and two ratings juggernauts provides a destination for our viewers and an extraordinary platform for our partners," said WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon, with McCumber adding: "WWE consistently delivers one of the largest and most socially engaged live audiences in entertainment and we're excited to expand our long-standing relationship and be the true cable home for the WWE fan."
These developments comes as the network looks to evolve its programming strategy to focus on what NBCU cable entertainment group chairman Bonnie Hammer has dubbed "silver lining" programming. The bet she and the team at USA have made is that viewers will eventually tire of cable's bleak, antihero fare and will want something that, while edgy and serialized, has a dash of hope. On Tuesday, McCumber hammered that point home, noting that his millennial target audience has a shared set of values that include "self-reliance, optimism, confidence and bravery," adding that the fare he intends to program for those viewers will feature "unexpected heroes who bravely go up against the odds."
Additionally, the upcoming offerings — which also include Mr. Robot, which senior vp scripted programming Alex Sepiol described as "The Social Network meets Fight Club," Matt Nix's Complications and Carlton Cuse's alien drama Colony — come as the network has, like several of its cable competitors, struggled to hold on to viewers in an increasingly crowded landscape. In fact, USA dropped to No. 2 in total viewers behind ESPN this past year, and fell below both ESPN and TBS in the 18-49 and 25-54 demos.
USA has refocused away from scripted comedy development in recent months, but it has found success with the unscripted comedy Chrisley Knows Best, which returns for season three in June. There is also the forthcoming soft-scripted comedy series Donny!, which is due in 2016. The latter is being billed as a Curb Your Enthusiasm style series starring ad man Donny Deutsch. This also marks USA's second attempt to enter the late-night game in recent years. The network was previously in development with Will Ferrell's Gary Sanchez Productions on a late-night talk show in 2013.
Among USA's other major pushes: a focus on live programming. The drama-heavy network has started to increase its sports fare. In addition to its WWE slate, the network will begin airing NHL playoff games on April 15. McCumber noted that the network hasn't carried such games in some 30 years.