Since NBC Universal’s TV studio Universal Media Studios spun off Universal Cable Prods in 2008, the mothership studio had been developing and producing pilots and series for NBC and occasionally for other broadcast networks, while UCP had been supplying affiliated USA Network and Syfy and, starting last year, other cable networks. But things started to change over the past few months. Like a starfish that regenerates into two whole sea stars when cut in half, UMS and UCP are each becoming a full-service TV studio supplying both broadcast and cable networks and could potentially compete with each other.
This spring, two drama projects developed by UMS that didn’t get pilot orders by NBC were taken out to cable networks by producers and agents with the studio’s permission. Both shows — a medical drama from writer Amy Holden Jones and the BermanBraun-produced 1-800-Autopsy, from writers Adam Armus & Kay Foster (Heroes) and based on a real-life guy who performs private autopsies — landed at Lifetime. But instead of handing them over to UCP, UMS kept the two dramas and plans to produce them if they go to pilot and series. “We are in the process of rebuilding the studio, and the strategy is to beef up studio operations,” one insider said. “We made projects we think we can produce for Lifetime at a good price and would have asset value for us as a third-party producer.” As an indication of the growing stature of UMS, which new NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt referred to as “our re-emerging studio” in announcing the three-year pod deal with Peter Traugott this morning, UMS is expected to get its own topper for the first time since Katherine Pope exited as part of a December 2008 executive shakeup. UMS is not at a stage of actively selling to third parties and will not seek out writers who develop specifically for cable. But if there are opportunistic projects in-house that would be right for cable and UMS can produce them in a way that would allow it to recoup its investment, the studio plans to go for it as long as the projects are first shopped to sibling networks USA and Syfy. That was done with the two medical dramas that ultimately went to Lifetime.
Had this expansion been in place two years ago, Doug Liman and Dave Bartis’ Hypnotic may have stayed at UMS, where the company had been based for five years. Back then, a couple of Hypnotic’s projects got a pass at NBC. Liman and Bartis walked the street and set them up at USA and soon moved their company from UMS to UCP. One of those projects became the USA series Covert Affairs, which just started its second season. Another Hypnotic project originally developed for NBC was I Just Want My Pants Back, which recently went to series at MTV with UCP producing, the studio’s first series for a non-NBCU network. UCP, which also has a pilot starring Carrie-Anne Moss in contention at Lifetime, has its sights on broadcast next as it is looking to become a full-service studio producing for all cable and broadcast networks. “Our original focus is on cable,” UPC co-head and USA co-president Jeff Wachtel said. “But with our expanded roster — including Hypnotic, Steve Franks, Jack Kenny, Michael Rauch, Andrew Lenchewski — we want to take shows where they have the best chance to succeed.” For example, Hypnotic, which just hired former Fox co-head of drama Lindsay Sloane, plans to actively develop series for the broadcast networks this coming season. As part of its efforts to ramp up studio operations, UCP recently tapped its first COO, veteran NBCU cable business affairs head Beth Roberts.