Five Ingredients That Make USA Network Shows Work
by Rich Keller, posted Apr 14th 2010 3:11PM
A while back, while announcing the season premieres for 'Burn Notice' and 'Royal Pains', I briefly mentioned the reason why these original USA network programs, as well as their other offerings, work so well. As I thought about it some more, I realized that it wasn't just the focus on characters and the mix of comedy and drama that made these shows click with audiences. There was more to it. In fact, three more 'its' to make a TV Squad list. How's that for ironic!
So, if you'll indulge me for a moment, here are the five things that make USA network shows resonate with viewers.
1. Actual character-driven shows -- When USA uses the tag line "Characters Welcome" they aren't kidding. Every original program since 'Monk' has been character driven. They haven't relied on special effects, or musicals, or unanswered questions that, when answered, produced more unanswered questions. It's characters that drive the shows and move them forward.2. Characters are good at what they do, yet flawed -- These are not perfect people. Though they're excellent at what they do, they all have their problems. For instance, Monk was one of the best detectives out there; yet, he was afraid of everything and anything. Mary Shannon of 'In Plain Sight' is an excellent U.S. Marshal, but she can be a bit selfish and definitely has anger issues. Even 'Psych's' Shawn Spencer is flawed. Despite his special memory skills and the good-looking charm that naturally oozes from him, Shawn has put his foot in his mouth on more than one occasion.
3. Characters are thrown into unknown waters -- Most of the original series take their characters and throw them into unusual situations where they need to adapt. Take 'Burn Notice's' Michael Westen. After spending years as a covert operative, Westen was fired and dropped in the middle of Miami with nothing but his skills to keep him going. Same could be said for Hank Lawson of 'Royal Pains.' After being fired from a prestigious New York hospital because he decided to save a regular person rather than a corporate donor, Hank had to find his way and his work around the wealthy conclave of the Hamptons.
4. Veteran co-stars -- USA originals don't fill their casts with a group of unknowns. Each series offers up veteran actors who have fully fleshed-out stories and, sometimes, become the focal point of an episode. On 'In Plain Sight,' Leslie Anne Warren plays Mary's mother -- a woman who was abandoned by her husband and has plenty of demons of her own. On 'Psych,' Corbin Bernsen is Shawn's father -- a retired police officer who trains the young Spencer to use his skills. And on 'Burn Notice,' Sharon Gless portrays Michael Westen's protective mother, while Bruce Campbell plays his friend/former FBI tail.
In addition to these folks, there are a number of new veteran actors coming on board this season. Henry Winkler will play Hank and Evan's father on 'Royal Pains;' Allison Janney will be joining 'In Plain Sight' as Stan's new boss; and on 'Law & Order: Criminal Intent,' Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio joins the Major Cases squad as its new captain.
5. A mix of comedy and drama -- Call it melodrama, dramedy, comedrama, or a word you make up on your own. Whatever the name, the USA series successfully mix both comedy and drama into their scripts, which allows the viewer to see many aspects of the characters. True, sometimes they lean heavier to one genre than another in some episodes (heck, even 'Psych' can get heavy once in awhile), but they always seem to insert some kind of humor or drama just to even everything up. It's this type of setup that keeps viewers tuning in every week.