While I wasn’t paying attention USA (the network) has built a really nice stable of original programming.

And I will also give them credit in that USA seems to schedule the programs all over the place on a wide variety of channels.

Oh. About that last point … and while I am kind of in the marketing-entertainment business I will admit I do not completely get why USA programs sometimes show up on TNT and sometimes they look like they show up on syndicated and then there are these random stations like a Usomething and Cloo where they also show up but regardless I would like to thank whomever actually manages that jigsaw puzzle of program scheduling because I don’t watch a lot of tv and somehow I still came across enough to wander my way thru the programs.

How did I finally notice?

I guess I got intrigued with the months and months of previews for Political Animals. Which actually looks like it will end up being a good show <I know I watch it when I can>. The pilot was good … pilots are always tricky because it just can’t be straight entertainment in that it also has to invest some energy in explaining shit so you know who is who and who of the who really matter. They balanced it well. And the story line is not just topical but meaningful. And it is unusual because they are using a big name actress Sigourney Weaver (perfectly cast in her role).

– side note: She makes me wish I had voted for Hilary in the last election.

Last on Political Animals (the newest USA show). My only wish?  They invite Aaron Sorkin in to write some episodes. While it is an entertainment show it could use some tightening on what I would call the “serious” bridges that make the show be bigger than a sitcom or soap opera.

Anyway. I didn’t want to write just about Political Animals. This is about USA and their original programming.

Because USA now has a real network.

While it seems like most of the big broadcast networks are retreating from original scripted programming USA <a cable network> has eight original series: Suits, Necessary Roughness, White Collar, Covert Affairs, Royal Pains, Burn Notice, In Plain Sight and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. USA Network uses “Characters Welcome” as their advertising and they have done a really really nice job delivering on it with programming that has a lot of quirky main characters with complex issues. I know I am probably overthinking but the whole “characters” thing <quirky, interesting, flawed ‘real’ people) are welcome on their shows and therefore “characters” <or people/viewers with character should watch their shows.

Regardless. Many of its programs are better, and smarter, than the schlock you find in typical prime time. It is almost like they have purposefully set off to build a location for “smart tv.” It certainly lends itself to thinking people. No bachelorette or gossip girl or reality crap. It isn’t PBS but it is often mindful of the mind in its entertaining mindlessness (hope you understand that).

Suits is an excellent program. Covert Affairs is well done. I almost believe Common Law is the best because it has a typical premise (effective detective team made up of opposite like cops) but they are going to marriage counseling to improve their relationship. It is an extremely well written program that operates on a variety of levels (entertainment, life metaphor, ethics and relationship self reflection). Burn Notice I came very late to (for gods sake I think it is in its 6th season) but it is very well crafted. Royal Pains is good (not the best but a fun watch on occasion).

I am not a big fan of Necessary Roughness or White Collar but they are still well written with interesting premises.

Why do I really care enough to write about TV programs? Well. Regardless of what I like or dislike <in terms of programs> USA has done a couple of things that really intrigue me (mainly because I am not sure I would have thought to do it let alone whether it would be a good idea to do).

What do I mean?.

First. I am sure if I researched this point I could tell you the technical aspect but I didn’t, and won’t, so suffice it to say that all their programming is filmed and edited the same way. Exactly the same. They all share a very similar look and feel despite some extremely disparate storylines. The film is very clean and bright (not moody).  There is no pixilation on any scene. It allows every single scene kind of make you feel like you are seeing it exactly as you would see it if you were there.

Second. And all edits are done exactly the same show to show. They manage scene transitions exactly the same <they speed up the film to communicate time is passing>. Look. You can nitpick the style if you want (I actually like it) but it tends to be straight vignette story telling. Easy to follow. Easy on the eye. Easy to move from vignette to vignette. And, once again, each show is done exactly the same.

Third. Characters. Well. This is also a neat thing. Until Sigourney Weaver none of the leading characters are well known. You may recognize one or two but no one you immediately “label” for something famous. What that permits is you (the viewer) has no character baggage when viewing. Their casting to date has been impeccable. The only one I kind of struggled with was Piper Perabo as a spy in covert affairs but she actually does a nice job.

Regardless. The characters fall into …well … character really well.

Suffice it to say USA is now a real destination channel for something other than movies like Road House and Dirty Dancing.

So. Where I give them huge ‘props.’

I admit. I am not sure I would have thought to build an entire network of original programming based on building a “brand look and feel” by making all the shows look and feel the same. Once again showing I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer. But they are pulling it off. And even better (in my eyes). They have kept their eye on the prize over time. No one could have afforded building original programming to the extent that they have overnight (in one year). Each year they have moved down the road a little more. That takes some visionary patience. And in today’s world that is saying something. (p.s. – someone deserves a big raise there).

Well done (and continuing well doing) USA. I will give you the ultimate Bruce compliment.

I wish I had been smart enough to think of something like what you have done.

And I will continue hunting their shows to watch.

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Written by Bruce