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USA Network's secrets for success

Shows like ”Burn Notice” and ”Royal Pains” are part of the cable channel’s winning streak

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With shows like Burn Notice, Royal Pains, White Collar, and Psych, USA Network is churning out hits that often compete with — and even beat — network offerings. (The season finale of Burn Notice attracted more than 9 million viewers.) ”USA was viewed in the past as a little predictable — like a nice, old comfortable shoe,” says NBC Universal Cable Entertainment president Bonnie Hammer, who oversees the net. ”Now I want it to be comfortable enough to walk in, but it’s more of a sexy, sassy Louboutin.” We asked Hammer to take us through the five basic rules for any USA series.

1. CREATE STARS, DON’T HIRE THEM
”We have terrific actors like Jeffrey Donovan [Burn Notice], Mary McCormack [In Plain Sight], and Mark Feuerstein [Royal Pains] who were one perfect role away from a hit series, and we were lucky enough to find it for them. Tony Shalhoub [Monk] was a fabulous actor, but never front and center. Now he’s won Emmys. Most of our faces are on course to become stars in their own right.”

2. QUIRK IT UP
”We want our leading characters to be aspirational and great at what they do, but with a bit of quirky dysfunction that makes them relatable. They all have a fun flaw. Tony Shalhoub’s character is OCD. Mary McCormack’s character is brilliant at her job but is incapable of maintaining a relationship. People want to relate to aspirational, upbeat characters who don’t view themselves as victims and aren’t Debbie Downers.”

3. GO BLUE
”We always go for a blue-skies feel. Sometimes literally. When I read the first script for Burn Notice, the show took place in Newark, in rat-infested alleyways. I said, ‘I love the writing, but this is too damn dark for us.’ A couple weeks later, we got the same fabulous voice in sexy Miami. It brought a sense of humor and levity to the series.”

4. TAKE A PAGE FROM HISTORY
”Our favorite projects are forward-thinking yet retro at the same time. If you take a close look at Burn Notice, it’s basically MacGyver with some fun sex and buddies involved. Royal Pains is Marcus Welby, M.D. with McMansions and a bit of Robin Hood mixed in. And White Collar is It Takes a Thief with an even better-looking and hipper cast.”

5. KEEP IT LIGHT
”Every show has a dollop of humor, from the laugh-out-loud scenarios of Psych to the more subtle, sarcastic banter of In Plain Sight and Burn Notice. Where we could go dark and have a mea culpa scene, we often handle it with a wink, a nod, and humor attached, so it’s a moment of relief rather than depression…. And the real thing I’m a sucker for? Put a dog in the show.”

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