Apr 7, 2015 5:30 PM

USA network seeks a grittier image

The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) A vigilante hacker, an invasion of Los Angeles and a doctor who gets into a gun battle with gang members are featured in dramas due to appear on a grittier USA network within the next year.

The general-interest cable network, trying to halt a decline in ratings, revealed programming plans with a marked shift away from the lighter procedural fare of "Monk," ''Psych" and "Burn Notice" of a few years back. USA is turning to darker and, its executives clearly hope, more buzzworthy shows with ongoing stories.

Two will begin in June: "Mr. Robot," a hacker drama that features Rami Malek and Christian Slater, described as "The Social Network" meets "Fight Club." The drama "Complications" is about a suburban doctor who intervenes in a drive-by shooting, picking up a gun and firing back.

The more mysterious "Colony," due this fall, reunites "Lost" producer Carlton Cuse with star Josh Holloway for a show about fighting back in an occupied L.A. What exactly is occupying Los Angeles is unclear.

Chris McCumber, USA president, said the network wanted to appeal more to millennials and "reflect the character and the spirit of the country as we see it."

"We want to find those unexpected heroes that bravely confront the odds and come out the other side in their own unique way," he said.

He'd also like to find more viewers. During the past year, USA has averaged 1.82 million viewers in prime-time, down from 2.9 million three years ago, according to the Nielsen company. Like many cable networks, USA is fighting for an audience in light of increased competition from gaming, Internet streams and other TV sources.

USA also seeks more buzz. The 1.82 million viewers of prime-time USA programs increases to 2.04 million when people who watch on DVRs, on demand or online within seven days are counted. That's a relatively small jump in today's television world; the first episode of "Mad Men" last season was seen by 2.27 million people on its first night, and the audience swelled to 3.92 million after time-shifting within a week was added, Nielsen said.

Sam Esmail, creator of "Mr. Robot," said that he would not have expected USA to be interested in his intense thriller, given what he knew about its previous programming. He was concerned that USA executives would want to change his idea or otherwise compromise it.

But USA was more aggressive than other networks in seeking his show, which is a selection of the Tribeca Film Festival. He concluded that USA was at an interesting tipping point and intent upon changing its image.

"I feel lucky," Esmail said. "It's kind of an interesting opportunity. They're giving me as much control as I want on my show."

USA's package of programs under development include a comic book adventure, a soldier recruited into a world of crime, a dystopian drama and a show about friends getting into the legal cannabis business in Colorado. USA is also trying to increase live programming, and will pick up the WWE's "Smackdown" from SyFy next year. NHL playoff hockey will also be shown on USA.


Follow David Bauder at twitter.com/dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder


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