It's second nature for Michele Ganeless to carefully analyze every move she makes as general manager of USA Network, a broad-based service flush with the success of original dramas Monk and The Dead Zone. Without careful research, she contends, hits like these don't happen.
"If you don't understand who is watching your channel, you can't possibly program to them well," says Ganeless, who recently ran in the New York City Marathon for the second time.
Her career has been something of a marathon, running through a number of research jobs. A New York-area native, Ganeless was angling for a career in advertising—not television—when she graduated from Northwestern University. She interviewed for a string of research jobs, including one at MTV. A year later, the cable net called her back for another position, kicking off her television career.
"MTV is where I got my real education in television and TV research," Ganeless says. An array of departments, from marketing to development, enlisted her research expertise, and she eventually logged three years as vice president of research at MTV Networks.
But Ganeless found programming a more enticing arena and, in 1996, moved on to head Comedy Central's programming department. "There's instant gratification in scheduling a network," she says. "I love putting a plan together, picking the shows, slating a rollout and watching the ratings come in."
Research, however, remained her most powerful programming tool, with much success. As Comedy's senior vice president of programming, Ganeless directed marketing and scheduling and played a key role in original development. She engineered such acquisitions as Saturday Night Live
and Whose Line Is It Anyway?. Her fingerprints—along with those of then-Comedy Central President Doug Herzog—were also all over hits South Park
and The Daily Show.
Of all her Comedy offspring, Ganeless may be most proud of The Daily Show. Comedy Central took a gamble bringing in the late-night shtick to replace stable but older-skewing Politically Incorrect.
"We had to be very patient for The Daily Show
to find its place," she explains. "Its success now makes me happy, [but] it wasn't a hit out of the box."
Since joining USA in August 2001, she has been reunited with network President Doug Herzog, who had been her boss at Comedy Central. "He has been the biggest influence on my career," Ganeless says.
She hopes to continue USA's recent successes by diligently studying her channel's general-entertainment audience. After years at MTV and Comedy Central, she is well-schooled in the younger demographic, even though," she quips, "it's "a demo that I was growing out of."
Harder to comprehend, she admits, is USA's adults 25-54 demo. "It's not one specific viewer here," she says. "We're working with movies, original series and sports and trying to integrate it into one seamless network."