We need the return of USA Network's "Blue Sky" era

With reports on the new scripted series The Rainmaker coming to USA Network, here's why we need a return to the classic "Blue Sky" period of shows!
MR. MONK'S LAST CASE: A MONK MOVIE -- Pictured: Tony Shalhoub as Adrian Monk -- (Photo by: Steve Wilkie/PEACOCK)
MR. MONK'S LAST CASE: A MONK MOVIE -- Pictured: Tony Shalhoub as Adrian Monk -- (Photo by: Steve Wilkie/PEACOCK) /

With news of a scripted series being ordered by the USA Network, it’s a welcome return of the “blue sky” period the network once excelled at and it’s needed more than ever!

It’s overlooked that USA Network was one of the first basic cable channels to do regular original scripted programming in the 1990s. Those were mostly action-adventure shows like La Femme Nikita and crime shows like Pacific Blue or Silk Stalkings, nothing too major. 

But in the 2000s, USA began a new standard in TV that would help put them on the map. It began with Monk, starring Tony Shalhoub in the title role of the quirky, obsessive compulsive detective aiding police. The show’s mix of comedy, mystery and great characters made it a huge hit as well as earned Shalhoub a few Emmy awards.

The series set the tone for what became known as the “blue sky” period of USA Network that included some fun shows: Monk (2002-2009), Psych (2006-2014), Burn Notice (2007-2013), Royal Pains (2009-2016), White Collar (2009-2014), Covert Affairs (2010-2014), and Suits (2011-2019). That’s not counting lesser-known but still fun series such as In Plain Sight (2008-2012), Fairly Legal (2011-2012), Necessary Roughness (2011-2013), and Graceland (2013-2015).

The excitement was in how the shows always had unique setups. Psych revolved around a brilliant but lazy detective claiming to be psychic to explain his genius. Burn Notice was a spy dumped in his hometown and preferring dangerous missions over handling his mother. And of course, Suits became a huge hit thanks to its “fake lawyer” angle. 

Sure, they had offbeat sci-fi bits like The 4400 yet the network’s success was on these shows, so named because of how optimistic many of them were. They were fun, upbeat, even the crime shows made you feel good and the success of so many of them helped push USA up more. 

This era mostly ended in the later 2010s, with USA Network going for darker fare like Mr. Robot and The Sinner. They then pretty much dropped out of the scripted game completely in 2021, but the recent announcement of a straight-to-series order for The Rainmaker, based on the John Grisham novel, gives hope this era can return.

Why we need the return of USA Network’s Blue Sky shows

Look at the current landscape of network and basic cable TV, and it’s packed with so many crime shows, procedurals, medical shows, or a mix of those. You’d need streaming or other cable channels to get a more varied fare, yet they seem obsessed with “prestige” programming more than something lively and entertaining.

That was what USA’s Blue Sky period offered, just pure fun. Even the crime shows weren’t that dark and gritty, as Monk and Psych were more pure comedies. Covert Affairs was a far more light-hearted spy show, and Royal Pains was as focused on the relationship between the brothers as any medical emergency. It was the characters who came first, not just the interchangeable plots. It's an art that seems lost these days.

It helped that each show had a vibrant cast with a few actors like Matt Bomer on White Collar, boosted to stardom thanks to the series. USA Network had a gift for finding the right talent for each show to make them click and take off for fans. That was another great aspect of this era that made it so successful. 

In a TV landscape of series that want to be award show bait or cookie-cutter procedurals, a return to the sort of programming USA Network gave us is more than needed. So hopefully The Rainmaker is the start of a new era for USA Network returning to its glory days of shows that entertained thanks to the characters and fun settings more than the usual cable TV fare these days.