When David Kissinger was named president of Studios USA Programming last April, the studio was facing a lot of tough questions in Hollywood.
Was Barry Diller serious about being a supplier of network television? Could the studio produce anything other than Dick Wolf series for the broadcast networks? How would an independent studio survive in the network TV business? And what did the future hold for Studios USA and its parent company USA Networks?
Almost a year and half later, three of the four questions have been answered, and the final one has become a bit clearer in recent weeks.
Diller, the chairman of Studio USA's parent company USA Networks, has shown that he wants to be a serious supplier of prime time network fare and the studio has landed two shows that don't have Law & Order in their moniker. Studios USA got the OK for three new series this fall and has two more prime time programs that could wind up midseason at two of the Big Four networks.
Yes, one of the three new series coming out of the studio is produced by Law & Order's Wolf (NBC's upcoming drama, Deadline), but the other two have nothing to do with the Emmy-winning director/producer. Last fall, Studios USA only had two shows on the air, Wolf's veteran drama Law & Order and spin-off, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
As for fall 2000, CBS picked up two Studios USA projects: comedy Welcome to New York (which is a co-production with CBS and Worldwide Pants) and drama The District, which stars former Coach star Craig T. Nelson as the chief of police in Washington. CBS may put the studio's drama Hopewell in its midseason lineup, and NBC is reportedly high on the studio's other drama for midseason, This Life.
In fact, Studios USA came out of the spring upfronts with the most hours of programming of any independent studio in all of Hollywood. With the two returning Law & Order series at NBC, Studios USA will have 4.5 hours of prime time fare at the networks this fall.
"I do think there were some doubts about whether this company was going to be a dynamic and relevant player in a very quickly changing TV industry," says Kissinger, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's son. "And part of that had to do with the fact that we weren't associated with a broadcast network.
"I think a lot of people thought that was an obstacle that couldn't be overcome. And the other aspect of it was that we were so completely dominated by Dick Wolf's shows a year ago that people had some basis for wondering if there was any productivity independent of him.
"While we are thrilled to have him and all of the shows he oversees, it was important for us to get some shows going that demonstrated he wasn't the only presence for this studio."
Outside of Kissinger's control right now is the future of the studio. Diller's desire to own a network, particularly NBC, is no secret.
Last month, Diller's hands may have become untied when French media giant Vivendi agreed to acquire Seagrams. Seagrams, which owns 43% of USA Networks, has not allowed Diller to acquire a broadcast network since taking an ownership stake in his company. Under Vivendi though, analysts believe NBC may be attainable by the two companies. Studios USA Programming may some day be a part of NBC Studios.
"We have obviously been very much been in the news of late, but nothing that is going on represents any kind of threat to the work that we are doing," says Kissinger.