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Host: What is Burn Notice?
Contestant: Well, I know it's on USA, and I know that characters are welcome there. Sooooo...it's a show about...characters?
Host: Can you be more specific?
Contestant: No.
Saturday Night Live, "What is Burn Notice?"
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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, Smackdown (until it moves to Fox in 2019) and WWE NXT, 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.

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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).

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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 an Audience-Alienating Era 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, USA no 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 Twenties, rumblings of another new phase began to emerge, marked by USA's shift away from scripted programming in favor of cheaper, unscripted entertainment as well as limited series. 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 were 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. USA currently only has one ongoing scripted program, Chucky, which is shared with Syfy.

USA Network original programming (also includes foreign programs with first-run rights)

Bold denotes ongoing programs.

Reruns

  • 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
  • "Back-to-Back-to-Back NCIS" (an eight-hour block of NCIS every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday)
  • 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.
  • Strip Poker (syndicated game show later picked up by the USA after its run ended)
  • Wings

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).


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