Tag Archives: USA networks

Culture Contest: Showtime vs. USA Networks


The Big C, the new show starring the deeply talented Laura Linney gives us a glimpse of what is now possible on cable. It resembles a second show on Showtime, Weeds.

Together these shows give us a glimpse into the Showtime thinktank.  (One of the principles, apparently: let’s see what happens to suburban living when we mix things up.)

There is a another experiment at work at USA Networks, from which a string of hits has recently issued (Burn Notice, Psych, Royal Pains, White Collar).  (One of the principles, apparently, stay as far away from the suburbs as possible.)

Your essay question:

1. Compare and contrast Showtime and USA Networks.  Identify the grammar or algorithm that produces the shows in question.  (Consider my "suburb" reference a hint, but merely one very rough indicator of the possibilities.  Please do feel free to contradict me.)

2. What larger cultural significance do you attach to the fact that these two approaches to making TV now exist?  Did they exist in the 20th century.  Why do they exist now?


Fewer than 1000 words.

point form preferred.

points for being crisp and clear.

Contest winners

Contest winners will receive a Minerva (as pictured) and a place on the winner’s list.  (And immortality as a contest winner, of course. See the list of previous winners, by clicking here.) (Note: the Minerva used to be called the "VOWEL.")

Contest judges

Normally I do the judging for Minervas.  But this is a recipe for provincialism.  So I am invited several people to act as judges.  They are:

Rick Boyko, Director and Professor, VCU Brandcenter

Schuyler Brown, Skylab

Bryan Castañeda

Ana Domb

Mark Earls, author, Herd

Brad Grossman, Grossman and Partners

Christine W. Huang, PSFK, Huffington Post and Global Hue

Steve Postrel

Chief Culture Officer

This is precisely the kind of question I would expect a CCO to hit out of the park.  If you are having trouble with this question and fancy yourself CCO material, you are not watching enough TV.  (When spouses or colleagues complain, look them straight in the eye and say: "It’s doctor’s orders."  (Trust me, I’m an anthropologist.)

Previous Winners

Juri Saar (for the "Who’s a good doggie woggie?" contest)

Reiko Waisglass (for the "Who’s a good doggie woggie?" contest)

Brent Shelkey (for the "Who’s a good doggie woggie?" contest)

Daniel Saunders (for the "JJ Abrams vs. Joss Whedon" contest)

Tim Sullivan (for the "Karen Black vs. Betty White" contest?)

The Secret Script at USA Networks (aka the enmeshed male)

I know you have watched something on USA Networks.  After all, it’s a hit machine.  It has give us Burn Notice, Royal Pains, White Collar and In Plain Sight.  

Bonnie Hammer (pictured) is the woman in charge. Ms. Hammer has a formula and I accepted this as the secret of her success.

But a couple of days ago, I was thinking about these programs and I noticed a similarity I had not seen before

See if you do too.

Burn Notice is about a former spy who has been booted out of the intelligence community and must now rely on his best friend, his sometime girl friend, and often his mother to continue in a low rent of espionage.

Royal Pains is about a doctor who was drummed out of his prestigious job as a New York City surgeon and must now rely on his brother, his girlfriend and a rich fella to eck out of living as a concierge doctor, low rent medicine indeed.

White Collar is about a jewel thief who has been fished out of jail by the FBI and can now do nothing on his own without the approval of his handler.  He still gets up to crime but it’s now a far cry from the old days of a glamorous thief.

In Plain Sight is about a woman who works as Witness Relocation sheriff and because she, her mother, her sister are emotional train wrecks of one kind or another, she manages only with the help of her long suffering partner, her boss, her secretary and her boyfriend.

See a pattern?  It is most clear in the case of the first three shows.  A man riding high is brought low.  He now survives by dint of his wits and only because he relies on people he never relied on before.  This man is now thoroughly enmeshed in a small group of friends and relatives. Without them he is nothing.

Ok, let’s say you’re Monni Adams, of the Peabody Museum at Harvard.  Professor Adams is famous for having detected and then explained patterns in Indonesian textiles.  Explain, please, why this new pattern is so much in evidence in these USA Network shows.

What is happening in American culture that might help explain this new vision of our masculinity?  After all, American culture has long been home to a notion of the unconstrained, rogue male.  Consider all those tradtional TV heroes and movie stars, men who answered to no one.  Why a new pattern? Why an enmeshed male?

Usual rules apply.  Best answer gets a copy of Chief Culture Officer.  Forgive me if I am a little slow getting to my "grading."  It is easier to stage these contests than to adjudicate them.


McCracken, Grant. 2009.  The Hammer Grammer.  This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.  August 31.  here.