On September 8, 1971, the Madison Square Garden Network was launched. It aired college sports and less well known sporting events. It was relaunched January 3, 1979 as the USA Network, this channel has been in many hands over the years, causing themselves to be unable to establish an identity other than a late night insomnia cure in the 80's and early 90's. The USA Network of today has not always been the leader in “network branding” nor has it always been a source of “must-see” television. Within these pages I will tell you how a fledgling cable network became the number one basic cable channel consecutively for 8 years running, with the mantra of “characters welcome.”
When USA Network ...view middle of the document...
By 1997 USA Network was in new hands. Paramount had merged with Viacom, who sold their shares to Seagrams/Universal who then sold the network to Barry Diller, who created USA Network Inc. 1998 brought on an anther identity change for the network complete with new logo and a “Made by” tone. By this time all the cartoons were gone and replaced with reruns of cancelled sitcoms and original program Silk Stalkings followed by Le Femme Nikita. In 2001, USA Networks, Inc sold its non shopping television and film assets to Vivendi/Universal.
With the start of the new millennium came the beginning of the Renaissance of USA Network. In 2002 the show that would change the network, Monk, debuted. The show about an obsessive compulsive detective became an instant hit and the beginning of a new dawn. The following year GE's NBC acquire 80% ownership interest in Vivendi Universal's North American based films, entertainment assets rebranding themselves as NBCUniversal. It wasn't until 2004 when NBCUniversal officially took over USA that Bonnie Hammer became president of the network. Hammer along with the then head of marketing, Chris McCumber, ushered in a new era. With the new era came the most comprehensive brand, “characters welcome.”, that the network had had in its 30 years.
2004 - Present
The idea for “characters welcome.” came after USA asked their viewers what they liked. The reply was astounding in that they wanted strong, relatable characters. Together Hammer and McCumber developed 3 elements that the shows on their network would be screened through. The overall show had to have strong, compelling, sometimes complicated, and often funny characters who are on their second chance in life. The first element blue skies, which literally means the show must have blue skies during the day, clear skies at night, and a happy ending. The second element says that central characters have an unusual/best skill set that are quirky/flawed but loveable. The last element is levity, the show must use humor to lighten depressing tones of the show. The 3 elements together are used within the standard procedural model that most law/doctor dramas use. While most networks were showcasing the grittier side of life, USA was showcasing the fighting and fun spirit of dark situations. USA began making true escapism television. Since the creation of Monk, all the original programs for the network go through a screening to assure that the network stays loyal to its brand.
USA also defined their audiences as characters, so to continue with the new brand the network started showcasing regular people who were characters themselves under the slogan “characters wanted.” This became the target audience for the network, people who are characters themselves. USA ran 30 second promos during all their programming showcasing characters in movies, on shows and in life. USA also became known for their regular marathons of the syndicated shows Law & Order:SVU, NCIS, and CSI, the...