Chao cool after USA's WWF KO
By Michelle Greppi
NEW YORK — Less than 24 hours after USA Network lost its court battle to retain World Wrestling Federation programming, USA Cable president Stephen Chao talked about the necessary schedule changes with an air that might be described as, "What, me worry?"
Indeed, Chao on Wednesday described his reshuffled programming plan to launch three original series at the end of next month "as a pretty strong, aggressive thing to do."
The programs — the hour-long Annette O'Toole action drama "The Huntress" and the "absurdist" single-camera comedies "The War Next Door" and "Manhattan, AZ" — were previously announced but had not been scheduled.
Chao's plan includes the delay of an original-movie block, which can be moved to Mondays when the contract with the WWF expires in September. The popular "Raw Is War" wrestling block will become the centerpiece of Viacom's TNN cable network, folloeing Tuesday's resolution of the lawsuit USA filed against Viacom over wrestling rights.
Chao said the loss of the WWF — USA Network's highest rated fare — will be overcome with creative schedule juggling. "As you know," he said, "with scheduling, it's a fine art of shifting blocks." He will move "Cover Me" to 9 p.m. Wednesdat and premiere "The Huntress" at 10 p.m.
On Sundays, where the WWF's "Sunday Night Heat" had slipped in ratings, the 8 p.m. hour will be filled specials and documentaries. The recently canceled "La Femme Nikita" will move to 10 p.m.
At 9 p.m. Sunday, it will be "The War Next Door," previously titled "Kill, Kill, Kill," sort of live-action "Spy vs. Spy" comedy about two retired CIA agents who battle each other to the death each week. "Melrose Place" alumni Linden Ashby and Susan Walters play a married couple in the sitcom.
At 9:30 p.m., Chao is scheduling "Manhattan, AZ," from David Richardson ("Malcolm in the Middle").
"Manhattan" is about a single father/cop who moves from the big city to a desert town where strange things happen.
Chad Everett is stealing the show, Chao said, adding that the actor has "impeccable" comedic timing and is making his sheriff character "effervescent in the strangest way."
Once "Raw" is replaced by a movie in the fall, Chao said, "the loss is absorbed. USA is really about a lot of original production of movies and series, and this expansion is a big deal."