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USA Network upfront: old characters, and a few new ones - AUDIO

by Joel Keller, posted Mar 27th 2008 12:01PM
USA NetworkLast night, USA Network invited some of their favorite advertisers -- and a few reporters -- to their upfront presentation, held at The Modern, a sleek restaurant and lounge located at New York's Museum of Modern Art. It was an opportunity for USA and NBC Universal executives to crow about the network's continued success as well as let advertisers know what's coming up in 2008 and how they can combine their advertising message with the unique "characters" that USA offers.

All that's well and good -- be ready for more product placement and ad pods that other networks have recently adopted -- but the best part about an upfront presentation are the stars that the network drags out to schmooze and booze with those advertisers. And USA brought the big guns, including Tony Shalhoub from Monk, Debra Messing from The Starter Wife, Jeffrey Donovan and Bruce Campbell from Burn Notice, Dulé Hill, James Roday, and Corbin Bernsen from Psych, Kathryn Erbe and Chris Noth from Law & Order: Criminal Intent, the WWE's Triple H and Shawn Michaels, and Mary McCormack from the network's new show In Plain Sight. I got to speak to a few of them; audio of those interviews is after the jump.

Shalhoub and Messing were the only stars to come to the podium, as they introduced NBCU's cable division president, Bonnie Hammer. Unlike other upfronts, shtick was kept to a minimum, even though Shalhoub did take a second to wipe off his and Messing's wine glasses a la Shalhoub's character of Adrian Monk. Hammer crowed about USA's ratings, saying that they even outpaced The CW's ratings by a double-digit margin.

But most of Hammer's and the other executives' presentations centered around the characters the network has developed on its original series -- and one not-so-original show. I found it odd how, in their pre-recorded montages, the network decided to throw in clips from the House reruns they air on Friday nights along with clips from their original shows and the WWE. It seemed out of place, not because House doesn't adhere to the "characters welcome" theme, but because... well, because it's not their show. But whatever gets the advertisers to cough up some money, right?

It was also odd that they only announced one new show at the upfront, In Plain Sight, about an FBI agent who can't tell anyone she knows about her job, because she works in the witness protection program. None of the new shows Bob posted about earlier this morning were even mentioned. Maybe they're not ready to go yet.

Anyway, I got to sit down (or in one case, stand) with a few of the stars that showed up...

First up was Tony Shalhoub. Since I've interviewed Monk executive producer Andy Breckman before, I pulled both of them back to the lounge and asked them about the show's upcoming seventh season. God bless Andy; while every guy in the room was wearing a dark suit and looking very Hollywood, Andy wore the same rumpled outfit he wears to the Monk writer's room and just about everywhere else: a corduroy blazer, wrinkled khakis, and a white floppy baseball cap. Let's just say it was easy to find him in the crowd.

Shalhoub thinks that his character and the others in the show are being explored more deeply as time goes along. During the show's sixth season, we saw Adrian Monk's rage and anger come out a little more, and "I think we're going to continue to see that come out more. It's less of the tentative character... not that he turns into a bad ass, it's just that channel inside of him helps him access his rage and open up more. I have a feeling that's going to be a new color for the show." He also humbly said that the show's other characters have "blossomed" over the last year.

Tony Shalhoub and Andy Breckman on Monk's seventh season (9:06)

The upcoming season will contain Monk's 100th episode; it'll be partially a clip show, where Adrian Monk will work his 100th case for the San Francisco PD, while a reporter writes a profile about him. The reporter will meet "old friends," as Breckman put it, who will reflect on Monk and his past cases. "At first I thought, hey it'll be a breeze but I think it's going to be a challenge," said Breckman. Shalhoub chimed in by joking that "we're hoping it's really really expensive, too."

Shalhoub is signed on for the seventh and a possible eighth season. And even though Breckman originally envisioned Monk going eight years, he can definitely see it going more. But he does have an ending in mind: "I know how the series will end. And I'm not telling my friend Tony. I just don't want to inform his character by knowing where he's going."

Next is Dulé Hill of Psych. Most of my questions concentrated on going from a supporting role on The West Wing to sharing the sharing load with Roday on his current show. But I also asked him what it's like on the set and what it's like to work with Corbin Bernsen.

Dulé Hill on going from West Wing to Psych (5:28)

When I asked him about Psych reruns being shown (with Monk) on NBC starting in April, he joked that "I can't get out of NBC. When I got out of The West Wing, I didn't know how the hierarchy really works, but when I figured it out, I said 'You mean Jeff Zucker is still my boss?'" When I asked him what he's got coming up, he said "I'm going to Jamaica" like a man who definitely was looking forward to his vacation.

I wanted to speak to Bruce Campbell of Burn Notice and ask him a bunch of Evil Dead questions, but, alas, I didn't get a chance to pull him aside. I did sit down next to the show's star, Jeffrey Donovan, while he was speaking to another reporter. When the reporter slowed down, I jumped in with a question that is near and dear to my heart, since I didn't watch the first season of the show:

Jeffrey Donovan on why new viewers will enjoy Burn Notice (1:49)

Last up was Debra Messing. When she came over to speak to another blogger, I overheard her telling the PR rep that "I thought I was supposed to type!" I had guessed she heard the word "blog" or "blogger" and thought the reporter was safely ensconced at home in front of her computer. Ah, she doesn't realize that we actually get press passes and everything now. Anyway, I asked her about that, right after she admired my tiny voice recorder as I changed its battery:

Debra Messing on coming back to series TV with The Starter Wife (6:37)

After one question, I was getting a "wrap it up" signal from one of Messing's friends / handlers because she needed to leave, but Debra was nice enough to keep going. Because The Starter Wife was supposed to be a one-time miniseries, it's technically going into its first full season as a regular series. After eight years on Will & Grace, she was "very reluctant" to go back to series television.

"It was something I was very much against when I wrapped up Will & Grace," she said. "I had plans to do theater and take a break from playing one character for any extended period of time, because I actually don't think that we as actors are buoilt to do that, fundamentally. But (the script) was sent to me, and I felt the writing was really special, and I'd have to be pretty stupid not to acknowledge that."

You can find the current list of USA's series here, including some of their new shows and shows like Dr. Steve-O, whose star (thankfully) wasn't at the upfront.

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Aj

I think USA pimped out House because NBC actually produces the show.

March 27 2008 at 4:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David

I've been waiting eagerly for months for "In Plain Sight". The previews USA have shown are very, very enticing. I can see this show becoming a big hit.

March 27 2008 at 1:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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