Follow TV Tropes


Creator / USA Network

Go To

Host: What is Burn Notice?
Contestant: Well, I know it's on USA, and I know that characters are welcome there.'s a show about...characters?
Host: Can you be more specific?
Contestant: No.
Saturday Night Live, "What is Burn Notice?"

The USA Network is a cable channel owned by NBC Universal (initially it was owned together by Universal, Paramount and HBO, but HBO sold their stake in 1987 and Paramount sold out in 1997). Initially debuting as the Madison Square Garden Network from 1977 to 1980 (no, not the one that shows the Knicks and Rangers, although they were staples of the network's early years). Over the years, it has shown a variety of series and events, most notably WWE Raw and Smackdown (until it moves to Fox in 2019), Monk, Psych, Burn Notice, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and U.S. Open tennis.

Back in the 80s and early 90's, it was essentially cable's "melting pot", or less favorably, "used car" network. It reran everything under the sun—from the usual assortment of sitcoms, dramas, movies, cartoons and sports, to the less expected, such as game shows, court shows, and news updates. During the early to mid 90s their slogan was "The Remote Stops Here", to emphasize the variety of programming and that theoretically you could stay tuned and see everything.


They started changing in the mid-90s, dropping the court and game shows and starting to focus more on original productions and off-net reruns, with the slick, CGI-heavy look dropped in favor of a new, "star" logo, and a look based off a behind-the-scenes look at the fictional "USA Studios" (which was now the brand for USA original programming). This was replaced in 1999 with a new "flag" logo and flat CGI graphics (they had dropped the cartoons and news updates by this point); that lasted until 2005, when the current logo and look was adopted. However, this isn't a case of Network Decay—primarily because USA catered to a wide audience, and never really had much of a focus.

In 1998, media mogul Barry Diller bought the USA network and Universal's television division. Diller, the former CEO of Paramount and Fox, and owner of the Home Shopping Network (HSN), decided to use these assets to create a new conglomerate, USA Networks Inc. Diller re-branded Universal Television as Studios USA, which continued making the Universal shows for networks, cable and syndication. When Universal bought USA back in 2001 it was renamed back to Universal TV; there were also film and home entertainment divisions (the former created by merging October Films and Gramercy Pictures after he acquired them along with USA, and has since become Focus Features, the latter absorbed into Universal's video division). Diller also created USA Broadcasting and began converting his over-the-air HSN stations into independent stations airing syndicated and local programming (a format dubbed CityVision, and modeled after Canada's Citytv); this experiment was carried out in Miami, Boston, Atlanta, and Dallas, but any further attempts to expand the format were quashed by fiscal issues (indeed, the New York station was on the verge of switching to the new format) and the stations were sold, after a bidding war with ABC, to Univision (which utilized the stations to form a secondary network named Telefutura, since renamed UniMas).


One of USA's notable characteristics from the early 2000s to the 2010s was their programming choices and their focus on unique characters, which gave the network the tag line USA: Characters Welcome . They liked to make new shows with unique premises starring talented but largely unrecognized C- or D-list actors, but with an optimistic edge to their characters who are usually Jerks with Hearts of Gold and promoted by the network under a theme known as the "Blue Skies" concept. This worked out pretty well; how many Emmys did Monk win again?answer  Often, they guest-starred actors from cancelled shows on sister NBC Universal networks Syfy and NBC.

Starting in The New '10s, USA began moving away from its "Blue Skies" programming concept and deliberately commissioned series that were significantly Darker and Edgier and Hotter and Sexier than the frothy procedurals the network had become known for. Shows like Suits, Complications, Satisfaction, and Mr. Robot all featured dramatic storylines along with more swearing, sex, and drug use. Even older comedic shows like Royal Pains started veering towards drama rather than laughs. To some, this symbolized USA's entry into a Dork Age as the response to many shows was that they were being "adult" simply for the sake of being "adult" rather than actually addressing mature themes through meaningful stories. The fact that outside of Suitsnote  and Mr. Robotnote  many of these new shows had short runs seems to be testament to that. In fact, not a single USA show that debuted from 2012 to 2015 managed to survive. However, it is a decision USA stuck to. When Royal Pains, the last of the "Blue Skies"-era shows, ended in 2016 and USA longer had any truly family-friendly programming on its slate or in development.

This ushered in USA's "We the Bold"-era. Coinciding with the quiet retirement of the network's "Characters Welcome" tagline, this new phase sees USA Network doubling down on its Darker and Edgier programming. Its original-scripted programming is now entirely made up of intense dramas conceived to push the boundaries of what's acceptable on basic cable. As a consequence of this decision, future Psych movies will be jumping over to NBC's Peacock streaming service as its cheerful nature is now the antithesis of USA Network's current slate.

Then, by The New '20s, rumblings of another new phase began to emerge, marked by USA's shift away from scripted programming in favor of cheaper, unscripted entertainment. This was signaled by the announcement of NBC Sports Network ceasing operations by the end of 2021, with most of its sports coverage moving to USA Network afterward (though some events on NBCSN will be simulcast on USA prior to the closure). This could signal a return-to-the-roots sort of phase, where USA had a more diverse variety of programming until the mid-'90s.

Some other notable USA Network programs and blocks:

  • Airwolf (1987 episodes) — The final season of this show was made for this channel, though it was known as the season with No Budget.
  • "Back-to-Back-to-Back NCIS" (an eight-hour block of NCIS every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday)
  • Briarpatch (2020), a miniseries starring Rosario Dawson
  • Bumper Stumpers (1987-1990) — Canadian-produced game show from Dan Enright and Wink Martindale. Hosted by Al Dubois, and aired in Canada on Global TV.
  • Burn Notice
  • Calliope, a response to Nickelodeon's Pinwheel
  • Campus Cops, a mid-1990s sitcom
  • Check it Out, a No Budget Canadian sitcom (co-produced by USA), which was an adaptation of the notably bad British sitcom Tripper's Day. It's all about a fictional supermarket and its weird crew of employees, centered on the Only Sane Man store manager played by Don Adams, of all people. It managed to run three seasons (Tripper's Day only lasted one).
  • Commander USA's Groovie Movies (1985-1989) — Showcased horror and science fiction movies on Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Colony (2016)
  • Complications
  • Common Law
  • Covert Affairs
  • Damnation
  • Dance Party USA (1986-1992) — Philadelphia Dancing program. Originally a local series on WPHL-TV from 1981 to 1987 called Dancin' On Air.
  • Dare Me
  • The Dead Zone
  • Dig
  • Donny!
  • Duckman (1994-1997) — Animated series from the creators of Rugrats.
  • Eyewitness (2016)
  • Fairly Legal
  • Falling Water
  • The New/$40,000 Chain Reaction (1986-1991) — Canadian-produced revival hosted by Blake Emmons for a short while, and then by Geoff Edwards. Aired in Canada on Global TV. (USA also aired reruns of the Cullen version before this version premiered.)
  • Graceland
  • In Plain Sight
  • Jackpot (1985-1988) — Canadian-produced revival hosted by Mike Darrow, and aired in Canada on Global TV.
  • Jonny's Golden Quest (1993 revival telefilm of Jonny Quest, subsequent revival projects aired on TBS, TNT and Cartoon Network)
  • La Femme Nikita (1997-2001) — Canadian-produced program starring Peta Wilson, based on the 1990 French film Nikita.
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent — in this case, actual new episodes instead of just reruns, until the series ended in 2011.
  • Lots of reruns of various Law & Order shows (except for the original, to which TNT/Sundance/We/WGN/Ion co-own the rights)
  • Modern Family
  • Monk
  • Mr. Robot
  • Necessary Roughness
  • Night Flight (1981-1988) — Aired on Fridays and Saturdays late at night. A freewheeling compendium of music videos, concert films, Cult Classic movies (mainstays included Reefer Madness and Pink Flamingos), plus live-action and animated shorts. In its final year, it introduced Super Sentai to the continental United States with a Dynaman parody dub.
  • Pacific Blue
  • Playing House
  • Political Animals (2012) — Critically-acclaimed political mini-series.
  • Psych
  • The Purge - a 10-episode miniseries based on the film series of the same name.
  • Queen of the South
  • Radio 1990, a music video show
  • Royal Pains
  • Rush 2014
  • Sailor Moon: Reruns of the DiC dub as part of the Action Extreme Team until Toonami picked it up.
  • Saved by the Bell: The New Class (1993-2000) — Was rerun from 1997 to 2001.
  • Shooter
  • Silk Stalkings (1993-1999 episodes) — After two seasons on CBS from 1991 to 1993, this crime drama jumped ship to USA for its next six seasons.
  • The Sinner
  • Sirens
  • Smush (2001) — Short-lived game show hosted by Ken Ober.
  • Strip Poker
  • Suits
  • Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills (1994) — USA’s second “sentai” show (after Dynaman), as well as their attempt at producing a completely American take on Power Rangers that didn't have footage recycled from a tokusatsu series.
  • Treadstone, a miniseries set in the world of The Bourne Series.
  • Unsolved, a true crime series.
  • USA Cartoon Express, a block of classic and new cartoons which ran from the 1980s until 1996 when it was rebranded as the USA Action Extreme Team. Originally showed Hanna-Barbera and Ruby-Spears cartoons that had little to no syndication demand (and weren't licensed by Ted Turner); Turner bought up the entire HB and RS libraries when forming Cartoon Network, leaving the Cartoon Express with a random assortment of pre-existing cartoons and lower-quality original cartoons until the change to Action Extreme Team. That block, which featured (in addition to Sailor Moon) Universal creation Exo Squad, Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM), Gargoyles, as well as four original series: one based off The Savage Dragon, Street Fighter (following up from the Universal movie), Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm, and Wing Commander Academy (all of those shows once had a Cross Through arc involving the "Warrior King" chasing down a powerful sphere through all four shows' universes). It lasted until 1998 in favor of infomercials and more endless repeats of Wings, which defined the network's image in the mid-to-late 1990s.
  • USA High (1997-1999) — Teen comedy from the creators of Saved by the Bell.
  • USAM — A comedy block consisting of America's Funniest Home Videos (the Saget years), Wings and some of NBC's few 1990s "Must See TV" failures getting a second life as morning Filler.
  • USA Fun and Games, for lack of a better term, which ran from 1984 to 1995 with such shows as Tic-Tac-Dough, Pyramid, Press Your Luck, The Joker's Wild, High Rollers, The New Hollywood Squares, Scrabble, Sale of the Century, Wipeout (1988), Caesar's Challenge, and the Canadian game shows mentioned above; they also ran two original game shows from Stone-Stanley Productions in 1994: Free 4 All and Quicksilver.
  • USA Saturday Nightmares, a horror-movie block that ran on Saturday nights in The '80s and eventually merged with USA Up All Night
  • USA Tuesday Night Fights (1982-1998) — Boxing program hosted by Al Albert and Sean O'Grady
  • USA Up All Night (1989-1998) — A late-night interstitial program showcasing edited versions of cheesy B-Movies that typically ran on Friday and Saturday nights from 1989 to 1998. The successor to Night Flight, it counts as a More Popular Replacement that is still fondly remembered by longtime viewers.note  Gilbert Gottfried hosted on Saturdays from the beginning of the run in January 1989 to the end in March 1998, Caroline Schlitt hosted on Fridays from June 1989 to December 1990, and Rhonda Shear replaced her on that edition from January 1991 to March 1998. After that, only the name remained as the banner for overnight movies until 2002. Adam Sandler's debut film Going Overboard (under its alternate title Babes Ahoy) was featured on the show before he even joined the Saturday Night Live cast.
  • The War Next Door
  • Weird Science: The Series (1994-1997) — Based on the 1985 film of the same name.
  • White Collar
  • Wings
  • Other WWE/WWF programming:
    • Miz And Mrs. (2018-present): A Total Divas spinoff focusing on The Miz and Maryse.
    • Tuesday Night Titans (1984-1986): A talk show in which Vince McMahon interviews WWF talent interspersed with sketches, included several genre parodies with Mr. Fuji.
    • WWF Action Zone (1994-1996): A Sunday morning program which featured high-quality matches between top talent for its first two years.
    • WWF All American Wrestling (1983-1994)
    • WWF Heat (1998-2000): the Sunday night show which served as a pre-show on pay-per-view weeks.
    • WWF Livewire (1996-2000): For a portion of its run it was a call-in talk show.
    • WWF Mania (1993-1996)
    • WWF Prime Time Wrestling (1985-1993): the direct predecessor to Raw on Monday nights.
    • WWE Tough Enough (2011, 2005)

Also, USA Network tends to have a weekend marathon almost every weekend, picking one show from its popular lineup, which means (at the moment) all of its current original series (with the exception of Fairly Legal, which doesn't have enough episodes quite yet), plus NCIS (ridiculously common) and Law & Order: SVU (less so).


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: