The USA Network is well known for its so-called “blue sky” series. USA shows are set in locations with great weather, such as Miami and the Hamptons, and feature exceedingly good-looking (and diverse) casts bantering and displaying high levels of competence. But these sunny exteriors have more serious underpinnings.
Broadcast networks have tried to diversify their casts in recent seasons, recognizing that characters of color and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) characters who get to have relationships can be a significant audience draw. They are latecomers to the strategy, though: USA (and the CW, another smart, under-covered network) has been working at becoming more representative for years. Five USA series have regular or recurring LGBT characters (two of those series have non-white LGBT characters). Six have significant characters of color.
Showrunners on USA Network shows also often meet with people who work in the field, whether at advocacy groups such as the NAACP and GLAAD or the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. This is hardly uncommon practice, though networks do not usually take pains to explain to viewers what parts of their favorite shows were inspired by real-life conversations. USA frequently does so in public service announcements that air during the relevant broadcasts.
The network even recruited President Obama to tape an introduction to “To Kill a Mockingbird” when USA re-aired the classic courtroom drama, and former President Bill Clinton shot a similar spot for “Philadelphia.”
USA’s latest get is Vice President Joe Biden, who draws on his experience drafting the Violence Against Women Act, which became law in 1994, for a PSA series with “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” star Mariska Hargitay, which will air during a marathon of that series this weekend. The network gave me an early look at one of the three spots that will be part of the campaign to share with you:
Maile Zambuto, chief executive of Joyful Heart, Hargitay’s foundation for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, helped pick the episodes that will be airing in the marathon, which is pegged to the No More campaign. Biden and Hargitay are wearing No More buttons in their PSA.
“Selecting episodes for the marathon was a collaborative process,” Zambuto wrote in an e-mail. “Mariska, the NO MORE team, USA Network, writers and producers worked together to identify episodes that speak to different aspects of these issues—teen dating violence, campus sexual assault, male sexual abuse, the cycle of violence.”
The hope is that survivors recognize that they are not alone — and that the people who might be in a position to help victims of such violence recognize abuse and assault for what they are.
“Domestic violence is never the victim’s fault,” Biden says in the PSA. After a fall dominated by coverage of Ray Rice’s assault on the woman who is now his wife, during which the Baltimore Ravens tried to paint the altercation as a fight between equals, that message is one worth broadcasting loudly, and not just to hard-core “Law & Order: SVU” fans.