Andy Sullivan: Against the Grain
USA Network originally launched on September 22, 1977 as the Madison Square Garden Sports Network(not to be confused with the New York City-area sports network of the same name-simply known now as the MSG Network). The network was founded by cable provider UA-Columbia Cablevision and Kay Kaplovitz. USA is owned by NBCUniversal Television and Streaming.
On April 9, 1980, the channel changed its name to USA Network after the ownership structure was reorganized under a joint operating agreement by UA-Columbia and the then-MCA Inc/Universal Studios. That fall, USA began signing on at noon eastern time on weekdays. It added some talk shows and a kids show called Calliope to its schedule. Sports programming began airing at 5 pm eastern time weekdays and all day on weekends. Later in ’82, Time Inc and Gulf + Western’s Paramount Pictures unit(now part of Viacom CBS) would buy stakes in the venture. The three partners had a no-compete clause that would prevent them from owning other basic cable networks independently from the USA joint venture, but said clause would cause Time Inc to drop out of the venture in 1987, as the company attempted(and failed) to buy CNN from Ted Turner and run it independently from USA. MCA and Paramount subsequently became sole owners of the channel(with each company holding 50% interest).
In the fall of ’82, USA began operating a 24-hour a day schedule; running a mix of talk shows, children’s shows and low-budget movies from 6 am-6 pm. The station ran a mix of ‘60’s and ‘70’s Hanna-Barbera as part of the USA Cartoon Express block. They aired sports in the afternoon and evening. Overnight consisted of old low-budget films and film shorts, and music, as part of a show called Night Flight. Night Flight is now broadcast on IFC(independent Film Channel)
1984-86 saw a shift from sports to general entertainment shows not shown on other networks. I’m guessing that ESPN. Founded in 1979, put an end to USA’s sports programming at that time. The ’85-’86 season saw the comedy Check It Out hit the airwaves. In January ’89, the network debuted USA Up All Night, a showcase of low-budget feature films that aired as part of the weekend overnight schedule. The program, hosted by Gilbert Godfried and model/actress Rhonda Shear(the later had replaced original co-host Caroline Schlitt in 1991. Though the program was cancelled in ’98, late-night movies on USA continued to be branded under the Up All Night banner until 2002.
1996 saw a new on-air logo appearance. In September of that year, USA replaced Cartoon Express with USA Action Extreme Team. In ’98, the network discontinued its animation block outright and replaced it with USAM; comedy in the morning. I’d record these shows to watch after school or on the weekends. It was filled with shows like the Jeff Foxworthy Show, Hearts Afire and Something So Right. All these shows, ironically, were cancelled after reaching 100 episodes. USAM was discontinued in 2002. At this time, Martin, Living Single and Wings filled the schedule.
2001: USA sold its non-shopping tv and film assets to Vivendi Universal. In July 2002, USA debuted one of my all-time favorite original series’ of theirs: Monk. Running until December 4, 2009, Monk starred Tony Shalhoub as Adrian Monk, a former San Francisco police inspector-turned consultant who suffers from various obsessive compulsive behaviors that includes the ability to pay attention to detail when solving crimes. He would always walk around framing scenes with his hands as if he were a movie producer and at the end of the episode when he solved a case, he’d always start his explanation with “here’s what happened”. It was the best show!
2005-2016 was the “characters welcome” and “blue sky” era. “Characters Welcome” was meant to emphasize the wide range of programming the network offered. Psych, USA’s longest-running series, running for 8 seasons, Burn Notice(7 seasons) and Royal Pains were their flagship originals. WWE Monday Night Raw had been since 1993, minus a brief stint at TNN when the were The National Network. In October 2005, Raw returned to USA after Viacom didn’t renew its broadcasting agreement with WWE.
In April 2016, USA unveiled a new branding campaign slogan, We The Bold. The campaign was designed to reflect the channel’s focus on rich, captivating stories of unlikely heroes who defy the status quo, push boundaries and are willing to risk everything for what they believe in. USA had quietly discontinued the “characters welcome” tagline in the lead to rebranding. Three logos, 11 slogans and 43 years later, USA Network is still going strong!