“The people are starting to wake up.” That simple message from the official Mr. Robot Twitter account on Sunday night said it all. Awarded “Best Drama Series” at Sunday’s 73rd Annual Golden Globe Awards (Christian Slater was also awarded “Best Supporting Actor”), it was the culmination of 18 months of hard work, unique storylines and innovative strategies at USA.
USA President Chris McCumber spoke with NBCUniversal.com on Monday, mere hours removed from the network’s huge night.
NBCUniversal.com: How would you describe the last 24 hours?
McCumber: Sunday night was an incredible night for USA, for our team and clearly for (creator/writer) Sam Esmail, Rami(Malek), Christian and the entire Mr. Robot crew. What an incredible way to cap an amazing 18 months since we started on this journey with the show. I couldn’t be more proud of the Mr. Robot team, the entire USA staff and Jeff Wachtel's team at UCP (Universal Cable Productions) who have stepped up in every way possible.
To be recognized with a nomination is the first big deal for us, and we were honored to be nominated. But we went into last night cautiously optimistic, knowing this is a great show and that we believe in it and it deserves to win. Clearly Christian winning was huge, and the Best Drama award was amazing. Our only regret is that Rami didn’t win, but there will be plenty of opportunities for him, he’s such an incredibly talented young actor.
NBCUniversal.com: It started with shows like Suits and Graceland, but Mr. Robot is a different sort of show for USA. What made this show stand out?
McCumber: We always look for unique, original voices. That’s the first thing. When we read the pilot script, you could not help but be captured that this guy (writer Sam Esmail) has a completely unique point of view and vision for what he wants to do with the show. And credit goes to USA's Jackie de Crinis, who runs Programming and Development, and Alex Sepiol, who runs development - they championed the script early on. This one was a bit of a risk when we first read it. The logical questions were “Can USA do a show like Mr Robot? Will people come to watch it? How can we bring it to market?” But we believed in it from the beginning.
More generally, this show is part of a large directional shift in the way that USA does programming. We’ve been through an evolution the past few years with Suits and Graceland. And really, when we looked at it, Mr. Robot is the next in that line of really provocative, culturally relevant shows that strikes a chord with viewership to break through.
NBCUniversal.com: The marketing and press strategy on this show felt more like a film release than a TV show. Why was that your approach going in?
McCumber: I’m glad you brought that up. We weren’t sure our audience would love Mr. Robot, but what really surprised us was that a much broader audience really liked this show. We wanted to premiere Robot in a different way, and treat it like an award-winning film. We started at South by Southwest by winning the audience award, and took it to the Tribeca Film Festival as one of the first TV shows. Out of that, we got a lot of reviews and press, so our team started asking how can we really release this show in a unique way? Somebody on our team said “What if Mr. Robot hacked the pilot?” And so we rolled it out in the widest pre-linear digital launch that has ever been done in TV. Based on the extraordinarily positive feedback we received, we renewed it for season two before season one ever aired. We believed in the show, and we really believed in Sam.
NBCUniversal.com: Is this a changing model for how you release shows? What did you learn from that process?
McCumber: Every show is different. But you have to take a very different look at how you launch each one and bring it to market. A couple of years ago, we would not have been as open to releasing it on pre-linear. When you’re building an asset like Mr. Robot or our new series Colony (premiering Thursday), you’re playing the long game. People are just watching shows on their own schedule now. You have to adapt.
NBCUniversal.com: What does this win mean for your new shows like Colony and Queen of the South? How do you carry this momentum?
McCumber: Obviously the publicity and the spotlight on Mr. Robot and the network will clearly help us. Our upcoming new shows like Colony and Queen can definitely benefit from the momentum.