Royal Pains premiered in 2009, and in many ways it stands as the exemplar of the (possible) USA Network genre. It uses the formula of Burn Notice and reproduces much of its form through similarly glossy cinematography of their respective vacation settings, the Hamptons and Miami. Moreover, USA wisely chose to market Royal Pains as heir to the Burn Notice throne. The selected clip is one of USA’s early ads for the show and features Michael Westen (Jeffery Donovan), protagonist of Burn Notice, explaining through voice-over the similarities between his situation and that of Royal Pains’s Hank Lawson (Mark Feuerstein). Westen is essentially explaining the USA Network formula. Its formula is part of its brand.
I argue, however, that USA Network has created a genre, extending beyond the Burn Notice formula and aesthetic as its brand. Royal Pains exemplifies this genre, but its corpus also includes White Collar, In Plain Sight, and--by early accounts--Covert Affairs. In terms of Rick Altman’s "semantic/syntactic" approach to genre, the syntactic genre characteristics of USA's original programming includes the formula: central character dismissed from/unable to pursue lucrative/traditional form of their job for bureaucratic/nefarious/mysterious reasons, chooses instead to help people/earn a living outside or ancillary to "the law" (a variation: pursues traditional form of job in untraditional ways that make them both good at their job but forever in conflict with reigning authority). Semantic generic characteristics include: glossy cinematography of underutilized-on-television locale, a central character who is almost impossibly competent, generic self-consciousness, and especially an overall humorous tone despite dire plot circumstances. A USA Network show knows that it is summer escapist television and plays with that conceit.
But perhaps the true test of my argument for a USA Network genre is whether or not it moves beyond the boundaries of brand. Can a "USA" show air on another network? Time will tell as we see how saturated or enduring the formula-cum-brand becomes, but TNT’s Leverage appears as a contender. Though it began airing in December 2008, it’s often described as a "summer series," and it certainly borrows heavily from the success of USA’s original programming like Burn Notice. Is it merely an outlier or an early example of the USA Network genre?
Author's blog: cehowell.wordpress.com