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Saturday, 17 of April of 2021

USA: Spies (and Other Characters, We Guess) Welcomed

As Nick noted, USA Network is rapidly becoming the spy-procedural channel, much in the way CBS has become the cop-procedural channel. Their recent announcement of Covert Affairs (punny), a show about  CIA newbie Annie Walker (portrayed by Piper Perabo) who for some reason becomes a field operative and is dealing with the break-up with a mysterious boyfriend who happens to be of interest to her boss. (You can read the full rundown from THR here.)

But what’s more is that while CBS has replicated its procedural approach across many of its dramas, USA is hybridizing its shows to create its network identity without getting the ribbing CBS does for its CSI-cloning.

Covert Affairs sounds like Burn Notice (spies!) mixed with White Collar (mysterious significant other!), much the same way Royal Pains was quickly recognized as being Burn Notice, but with a world-class doctor in the Hamptons as opposed to a world-class spy in Miami. (USA helped make this connection even more explicit with their tongue-in-cheek marketing of the show.) And this is in much the same fashion that Psych is fairly similar to Monk: quirky detectives using their keen senses of observation to solve crimes that otherwise competent police can’t. (Of course, we can add Detectives Goren and Nichols from Law & Order: Criminal Intent to that list as well since the show immigrated over to the network from NBC.)

Noticeably, the network hasn’t really found a way to mix its other original program, In Plain Sight, with anything. I have my doubts that Perabo’s Annie will be tough-yet-vulnerable like Mary McCormack’s Mary Shannon, or that Covert Affairs will match Sight‘s slightly darker tone (though, with a new showrunner, I can’t help but wonder if Sight will become quirkier and more upbeat to match the rest of the network’s original programming).

But this hybridization of its own programming is working for USA. Its shows are ratings titans, consistently watched (though I personally find Royal Pains to be a rather…beige show) and renewed. Much in the same way NBC overpopulated itself with Friends clones in the 90s and CBS has overdosed on CSI and similar shows in the past decade, USA has managed to create a network identity through its programming (the goal of any network on television). The difference, I think, lies in the fact the USA brings its characters together (like in the spot linked above, or the Monk farewell promos) to create a fuller realized network brand, one that feels homey and just different enough that you don’t notice the borrowed parts.

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