Genre Welcome?: Formula, Genre and Branding in USA Network’s Programming and Promotional Content (A thesis)

It has come to my attention that I have yet to link to a work that I spent the last year working on, my MA thesis. Thankfully, I busted my butt last summer and didn’t have much to re-write or tinker with over this school year, but all sorts of other responsibilities kept me from officially finishing this sucker until early February. Then, of course, university processes took even longer to get it approved and published on the proper channels and platforms. In any event, you can access the entire thesis, in PDF format, in this location. I’ve included the abstract below, in case you’re curious. As the headline suggests, the thesis covers USA Network, its programming and its promotional content (namely, the Characters Welcome branding campaign). Please check it out if you’d like.  Writing this thesis allowed me to speak to CNN.com about USA Network as well, which was a really great opportunity. 

Abstract:

In the fragmented post-network era of television, networks are looking for any advantage in attracting audiences. One way networks try to draw attention is through branding. Branding helps networks stand out among the hundreds of other choices, but can also link all of a network’s programming under one carefully-crafted theme. When viewers access a network’s content from numerous devices, it is crucial that each experience evokes similar images, styles and themes. It is my assertion that cable giant USA Network has succeeded with its branding campaign like no other contemporary television network. By combining a programming formula of blue skies, cool cases and pretty faces with thematically-connected branding under the “Characters Welcome” label, USA Network and its structurally formulaic programs are activated into a new genre of television. This activation from formula into genre is accomplished narratively, thematically and aesthetically within the programs themselves, but is primarily driven by the commodification of those narratives, themes and aesthetics through an overarching branding campaign (television spots, on-screen chyrons, print ads, web sites, Tweets, various other intertextual directives) that promises diverting, but not mindless, fare. The brand emphasizes escapism and inclusivity through sunshine-drenched imagery and a laid-back, summertime ideology. Using Jason Mittell suggestion television genres exist as “cultural categories” created through discourse, this thesis discusses how USA Network exists as a generic category shaped by branding and how critics and audiences embrace and acknowledge that generic category.

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