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Diller's syndication play; USA Networks head Barry Diller; Studios USA

Posted 02/11/99

Broadcasting & Cable
By Schlosser, Joe
Page Pg. 63; No. 3, Vol. 129;


Brief XENA mention in an article explaining what the heck USA Studios is and what it does and more importantly who it owns and controls!


    Classic '50s series, Jerry and princess warrior come with Universal TV buy

    When Barry Diller's USA Networks acquired the majority of Universal
Television shares last February, the new owners got much more than just The
Jerry Springer Show and popular action series Hercules and Xena.

    Diller's multibillion-dollar purchase, which included USA Networks and the
Sci-Fi Channel, brought with it a TV tradition that began in the early 1950s
when Lew Wasserman headed Universal and MCA.

    Wasserman, a long with Jules Stein, got Universal into the TV business
before most other major movie studios realized the future was the small screen.

    "The feeling in the early 1940s and '50s among most studios was that
television was going to stop people from going to the movies," says Studios USA
Domestic Television President Steve Rosenberg. "Lew Wasserman was ahead of the
game in realizing that TV was going to be a business that could work
hand-in-hand with the studio's movie division." 

    The studio got into the TV business in 1952 with GE. Theater, hosted by
then-actor Ronald Reagan. Three years later Alfred Hitchcock Presents was
launched, and in 1957 Universal introduced the classic series Leave It To
Beaver. Over the years, the studio produced series such as McHale 's Navy, The
Munsters, Kojak, The Bionic Woman, Magnum P.I. and Knight Rider

    After network runs of many of those shows, Universal sold them into
syndication and grew rich from the continual sales of Leave It To Beaver and The
Munsters. In 1986, Universal got into first-run syndication, taking the canceled
network series Charles In Charge and producing more original series for the
station marketplace. The studio had many other series in first-run, including a
short-lived syndicated show with Larry King.

    In 1994, Universal launched a syndicated first-run movie package that
included two-hour made-for-TV movies with titles such as Hercules, Tech War
and Vanishing Sun. Four original Hercules movies were made, and the ratings for
the legendary action series and for Vanishing Sun caught the attention of
Universal executives. The following season, the studio launched two weekly
action-hours based on the Hercules and Vanishing Sun films.

    "We brought those two series out in syndication and Hercules put up some
impressive numbers," Rosenberg says. "Vanishing Sun wasn't holding Hercules'
lead-in so we canceled it doing a 4.2 rating. The people who did Hercules for
us, Renaissance Pictures, had a good idea with a character named Xena, so we
canceled Vanishing Sun after one season and gave Xena a try. The rest is

    Hercules: The Legendary Journey and Xena: Warrior Princess have flourished
in weekend syndication and both have been renewed through the 1999-2000
television season.

    On the talk show front, Rosenberg credits his predecessors at Universal
Television for much of the success enjoyed by Studios USA with The Jerry
Springer Show, Sally Jessy Raphael and its new show entitled Maury, with Maury
Povich. In December 1996, Universal acquired Multimedia Entertainment, which
distributed both Springer and Sally Jessy Raphael in syndication. Although
Povich had told his longtime distributor Paramount Domestic Television that he
was no longer going to host a syndicated show, Universal executives convinced
him to get back into the game this past season.

    "It takes so much money to launch a first-run show, and they are very hit or
miss," Rosenberg says. "To have the foresight to say that we can spend less
money buying shows that already exist, and can wind up as hits for years to
come, I think, was a stroke of genius on their [Universal TV executives] part."

    Studios USA executives are developing a first-run series for next season
called Free Speech and selling a number of series in off-network.

    Studios USA

    100 Universal City Plaza

    Universal City, Calif. 91608

    (818) 777-1000


    Steve Rosenberg

    President, Studios USA Domestic Television

    Bob Fleming

    Group President, Studios USA

    Susan Krakower

    Senior Vice President, Programming

    Lonnie Burstein

    Senior Vice President, Development

    Susan Kantor

    Senior Vice President, Marketing

    Arthur Hasson

    Senior Vice President, Sales

    Elizabeth Herbst

    Senior Vice President, Advertiser Sales

    Jeff Dellin

    Vice President, Research


    Free Speech, Xena, Hercules, The Jerry Springer Show, Maury and Sally Jessy


    Law and Order, Adam 12, Coach, Leave it to Beaver, The Munsters, Miami Vice,
The A-Team, Ironside, Knight Rider, Murder, She Wrote

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