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Cover Story

'Net' Surfing and Saturday Night 'Sins'

July 19, 1998|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

USA has found a formula that has made its series click with viewers: Take a one-hour drama, add attractive stars, plenty of action, colorful locales and mix with a dash of sex.

The recipe has paid off handsomely for the cable network's Sunday evening lineup of "Pacific Blue," "Silk Stalkings" and the slick thriller, "La Femme Nikita." In fact, the detective series "Silk Stalkings" will be celebrating its eighth season and "Pacific Blue" its fourth season next Sunday.

USA is now hoping to establish a beachhead on Saturday evenings with two new hourlong series cut from the same mold: "The Net," based on the 1995 film that starred Sandra Bullock, and the sultry detective yarn "Sins of the City." Both series premiere Sunday and move to their regular time slots on Saturday.

The cable network has been going through executive musical chairs since the two series went into production. Barry Diller acquired USA in February and has been cleaning house. Last month, Rod Perth, who ordered "The Net" and "Sins of the City," resigned as chief of programming for USA and the Sci-Fi Channel. Stephen Chao, who worked with Diller at Fox, has stepped in as head of programming and marketing.

Producers of the new series seem unworried about the fate of their shows under the new regime.

Steve Feke, executive producer of "Sins of the City," says his attitude about the executive shufflings is that he "can't affect who is going to own or run USA in any way, shape or form. All I can do is make the best show. I have done this enough to know I can't figure out what these people will want. I will just have to do it as well as I can."

Patrick Hasburgh, executive producer of "The Net," is thrilled to be working again with Diller and Chao. "I really wanted to work again with Barry Diller and Steve Chao, who were at Fox when I did '21 Jump Street.' It was delightful."

"The Net' was developed for TV by executive producers Irwin Winkler, who directed the feature, and Rob Cowan, who wrote the box-office hit. Brooke Langton, late of "Melrose Place," stars in the Bullock role of Angela Bennett, a computer whiz whose identity was stolen from her by an evil organizations called the Praetorian Guard.

Each week, Angela will be trying to regain her identity and warn everyone about the Praetorians. Joseph Bottoms plays her nemesis, Trelawney, and Tim Curry is the voice of the Sorcerer, her mysterious computer ally.

Hasburgh says the series is much more about relationships than it is about Angela keeping one step ahead of the Praetorians.

"One of my favorite series growing up was 'The Fugitive,' and this is very much like 'The Fugitive,' " he says. "This series is about Angela Bennett trying to prove her innocence, but it is just as much about the people she meets along the road."

Hasburgh acknowledges that the track record hasn't been great for TV series based on popular movies. "But," he adds, "I think regardless if it's a new idea or a movie idea, it's so darn hard to get a TV series to work. I think [series based on movies] are more notable failures because we are already familiar with the product."

Perth says he was drawn to "The Net" because he wanted to work with Winkler and Cowan. "We also had success with a strong female lead with 'La Femme Nikita,' " he says.

Unlike "The Net," the Miami-based "Sins of the City" is based on an original idea. Autralian actor Marcus Graham stars as Vince Karol, an ethically flawed ex-cop turned private investigator who tries to unravel the "sin behind the crime."

"What we are trying to do is fashion stories where there has been some sort of a sin committed, which becomes his fascination with the case," Feke says. "I don't care if the bad guy gets arrested or is caught at the end. It is not about finding out who did the crime. It is about--in some instances--the perpetrators of the sin or the victim of the sin and how that has affected their lives." Perth developed "Sins" because it wasn't the typical cop show. "At the center of the show was a character who was very flawed," he says. "We felt it had the possibilities of being very interesting at a level that otherwise simply isn't on [television]."

The challenge for these series will be to attract an audience on a night when many people are out for the evening. "I did 'Profiler' for NBC for two years, so I know what happens on Saturday night," producer Feke says.

"Our demographic was skewed heavily toward women--younger women and predominately women who had young children. I think the cable audience is a little different. They are surfing and looking for something other than the cliches on the network. In cable, you can have a little bit more leeway to give them that. I think we are trying to go for a fairly adult audience who wants to see drama rather than flash and splash."

"We hope they can attract viewers who have been written off on Saturday nights," Perth adds.

Both producers are thrilled that their series don't star household names. "My feeling all along is that TV makes stars," Feke says. "People come seemingly out of nowhere and becomes stars on TV. I think part of it is because you see something fresh and you grow with that character and you become fascinated."

"Nobody knew who Brad Pitt was when he was in something I did called 'Glory Days,' " Hasburgh says. "Jason Priestley was an extra on 'Jump Street.' No one had heard of Johnny Depp. TV is where those guys began."

"The Net" premieres Sunday at 9 p.m., followed by "Sins of the City" at 10 p.m., on USA cable. The shows then move to Saturday at those time slots.

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