USA taps Herzog to heal ratings


Looking for a way out of its rating slump, USA Network tapped ex-MTV-Fox-Comedy Central exec Doug Herzog to become president. Herzog assumes duties that had been held by Steven Chao, who will still oversee USA, Sci-Fi Channel and recentlly-acquired Trio as Chairman of USA Cable. Industry executives had been buzzing in recent weeks that Chao might be out entirely, but USA Networks' executives insisted that Herzog solidifies Chao's position as chairman of USA Cable and its divisions. "This not any change in Chao's status, which has been as hands-on as he needs to be," said one USA Networks executive.

It is a big change in the status of USA Network general manager Rob Sorcher. Sources said that he's out of the company five months after he was hired. Previously exec VP of programming at Fox Family and Caroon Network, one industry executive said that Sorcher clashed with Chao in large part by trying to distance his boss from the development process.

Herzog returns from a year-long exile following his ouster as president of Fox Network a year ago, following clashes with Fox's Sandy Grushow. Herzog is credited with breaking Comedy Central out of the ratings basement with strong programming when he was president there and developing breakthrough programming for MTV, where he was head of programming.

"Every time I try to get out, they pull me back," joked Herzog, referring to Pacino's line in Godfather, Part 3. "I see the opportunity to take a very big network, a very broad network, take it to the next level. It's strong, and healthy but needs to reestablish itself."

Aside from losing the WWF to TNN, USA Network has been unable to develop successful series. In his three years at the network Chao has tried a bunch of different properties, such as Cover Me, The War Next Door and Manhattan, AZ, but only mom-and-daughter bounty hunter show, The Huntress, is working.

The network is ticking up in the post-WWF ratings, particularly in February, but that's largely on the strength of events like mini-series Atilla, not its steady programming menu of off-broadcast acquired and original series plus theatrical movies. "The key is to find a hit series, get people buzzing about it," Herzog said.
- John Higgins