…and make a great meal!
Seriously, can USA keep up its winning streak? The network announced today a new 11-episode legal series Facing Kate, starring Sarah Shahi (above), who is beloved by fans of The L Word for her role as Carmen and has made a name for herself doing sidekick and co-star roles on NBC’s short-lived Life and USA’s Psych. Shahi is staying in the NBC family with Kate, and thank God! We love her.
NBC’s cable subsidiaries — USA and Syfy chief among them — continue to generate more buzz and rising revenue (fueled of course by the 18-49s) than the company’s flagship NBC.
It looks like Kate is another addition into USA’s tried and true formula: taking leftovers and making tasty meals.
Shahi is just the kind of multicultural actress (American-born of Iranian and Spanish descent) underrepresented on television who has seemed poised for stardom but hasn’t had her huge break — I think The L Word was her “big” break. So USA took her and gave her a show, knowing she doesn’t have to be super snazzy and interesting, simply pleasurable enough for viewers to want to spend time with every week.
With nearly every one of its well-rated shows, USA has taken actors who are normally cast as best friends and sidekicks (at most a co-star sharing the spotlight) and made them stars. Burn Notice upgraded Jeffrey Donovan from his role as “random douchebag;” Royal Pains put Mark Feuerstein’s nice guy tendencies to good use; I doubt anyone could’ve seen The West Wing‘s Mary McCormack as a star before USA gave her In Plain Sight; White Collar‘s Matthew Bomer was plucked from doing short stints on short-lived or low-rated TV shows (the persistent Chuck!) before headlining the network’s solid hit; USA turned Tony Shalhoub into a star in Monk.
It’s an odd formula because it’s so risky, and yet, it seems so reliable. Some of the best cable shows today don’t need big stars. Damages, a favorite of mine, has struggled almost from day one, despite Glenn Close’s mega-stardom (and fantastic job in the role). Meanwhile, series like Sons of Anarchy, The Closer, Mad Men and Breaking Bad have turned B-listers into A-listers and revived waning careers.
Obviously, part of what explains the phenomena is the lower (but rising) ratings expectations on cable. Furthermore, while many cable shows are quite daring — Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Nip/Tuck — I hasten to ascribe the success of USA, as of now the top cable net delivering scripted programming, to being “experimental” or “edgy.” Quite the opposite. What’s shocking about USA’s success is it takes actors with presumably little or undiscovered “star quality” and puts them in very formulaic series (or mostly formulaic, with a twist).
Are cable networks benefiting from a perception of being “off the beaten track” — USA’s “character’s welcome” motto gestures in this direction — without actually having to deliver something ingenious? Maybe. Probably not, because I don’t think regular viewers care about the cable/broadcast distinction as much as media types (and they’re probably right to avoid it; after all, the same companies own them all anyway). Either something really interesting is going on or something really simple: cable networks have lower standards and their “hits” are broadcast also-rans.
Either way, Sarah Shahi’s getting her own show and I’m happy.
From the press release:
FACING KATE centers on Kate Reed (Sarah Shahi), a top litigator who became frustrated with the endless bureaucracy and injustice she witnessed on a daily basis and decided to become the ultimate anti-lawyer: a mediator. Using her knowledge of the law, along with intuition and a whatever-it-takes approach to resolving conflict, Kate finds the middle ground for a wide variety of adversaries — from Fortune 500 corporations to bitter divorcees. After the death of her father, she finds herself at odds with her new boss, her stepmother (Virginia Williams) … and in bed with her ex-husband (Michael Trucco), himself a lawyer in the DA’s office. Helping her keep all of this chaos at bay is her trusted, geek chic assistant Leonardo (Baron Vaughn).