Reaching for all demos
USA Network's GM has targeted kids, families and now wants everyone
Deborah D. McAdams -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/19/2000 7:00:00 PM
Rob Sorcher is waving his American Express card like a winning lottery ticket. He allotted exactly one hour for the interview, and the hour is up. After a couple cups of coffee and not much more than a whiff of his oatmeal, he wants the check so he can get back to the task of managing USA Network.
Sorcher assumed the helm of USA in late September, after programming for Cartoon Network and later for FOX Family Channel. One of the first things he did was bump Manhattan, AZ and War Next Door, a couple of originals developed under Stephen Chao, president of USA Cable and Sorcher's new boss.
"He's the general manager and can and should make decisions," Chao says. "He doesn't do that in a vacuum. I was certainly a part of that decision..They were not a program success."
Sorcher was actually unemployed when Chao tapped him to be the first general manager of USA. After realizing a longtime desire to make television in Los Angeles, as FOX Family Channel's executive vice president of programming and development, Sorcher and his wife decided L.A. wasn't where they wanted to raise their children. They moved back East and hoped for the best.
Now, at 38, Sorcher has his dream job: one that combines his early experience as an ad man, his creative turns in animation and family programming, and his forte at managing. Running a cable network wasn't always Sorcher's dream job. There was a time he was smitten with being a camp counselor, something he loved doing during college summers away from the University of Connecticut, racking up credits toward a psychology degree.
But as so often happens when fate intervenes, Sorcher was sidetracked into a part-time job at the UC daily newspaper, signing on to sell ads. He was a natural, playing advertisers off each other by telling them their competitors had taken out bigger ads. He tripled the pages in his first supplement. He worked on commission-a good thing, he says.
After college, Sorcher went to work writing ad copy for Benton & Bowles. By the time he was 26, he was creating commercials for Hasbro and Parker Bros. at Grey Entertainment and getting hooked on making TV.
When he tried to leave Grey to pursue a television career in Los Angeles, Grey Global Group Chairman Ed Meyer spun out a TV-production division and put him in charge.
"I remember calling him in and saying, 'Look, I don't want you to do this for anyone else,'" Meyer says. " 'If you want to broaden your capabilities, do it for us.'"
Sorcher ran Indigo Entertainment for a year, and then Cartoon came calling.
Sorcher joined Cartoon as senior vice president and general manager in 1995. "My first day at work, I looked at the phone. It wasn't ringing. I looked at the TV. It was on. I told myself, 'It's working.'"
Then the phone did start to ring, and Sorcher had to learn to be a general manager.
Under Sorcher and his boss, Cartoon President Betty Cohen, the network boomed. He brought in a crack animation team and drove the creation of several original series that became network anchors, including The Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Laboratory and Johnny Bravo.Cartoon Network is now vying for the No. 1 spot in basic cable ratings, a fact not lost on Chao when he hired Sorcher. Before that, though, Cartoon paved the way for Sorcher's move to FOX Family Channel in 1999, where he ushered in State of Grace, The Fearing Mind and Scariest Places on Earth. At USA, Sorcher takes his first crack at programming a general entertainment network. "It would be so easy to do a niche network," he says. "The hard part about a general entertainment is you have to put a point on it." With that, Sorcher pays his bill and heads back to USA, figuring out just what that will be.
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