USA Now Making Reality TV With “Christian Values”

Slate's Culture Blog
April 11 2013 2:55 PM

USA Makes Reality Show With “Christian Values”

themoment
Kyle Shields on The Moment.

Grant Halverson/USA.

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

The most interesting thing about The Moment, a new reality series that premieres on USA tonight, is what it says about the cable TV landscape. USA has ruled the cable ratings for seven straight years, with light, bright procedurals like Burn Notice, White Collar, Royal Pains, and Covert Affairs. Now, starting with The Moment, USA is adding reality shows and comedies to its lineup. Is this a case of fixing what isn’t broken, or a smart business move?

I found The Moment, in which ordinary Americans are given a second chance at their dream jobs, worthy but not terribly compelling. Then again, I’m not much of a reality fan. And even if I don’t watch, the fact that The Moment is on USA’s schedule won’t spoil my appetite for the network’s perky procedurals. (After all, it didn’t change my rosy view of Mad Men and Breaking Bad when AMC aired the execrable Small Town Security.) USA will continue to develop new dramas—Graceland, an original series about undercover agents who live in a bitchin’ beach house, will premiere on June 6—and its summer schedule is packed with familiar favorites.

But USA appears to believe that it has maxed out its current audience. Earlier this week, USA’s co-president Chris McCumber told me, “To grow, we need to be in reality.” USA is also moving into comedy, having laid out big money—$1.5 million per episode—to air Modern Family in syndication, though it hasn’t scheduled any original sitcoms yet.

Advertisement

The network’s success to this point is based on creating shows that share a pleasing similarity without becoming joyless clones. As I wrote last year:

USA series like Burn Notice, set in Miami, and Royal Pains, in the Hamptons, are all sun, swimsuits, and seersucker. The heroes are smiling and stylish … and they’re always surrounded by a loyal coterie of friends and family. They’re exceptionally good at their jobs, sometimes freakishly so … and best of all, you can miss an occasional episode and still know exactly what’s going on.

The Moment drawns on many of the standard USA procedural elements. It’s aspirational and upbeat—what could be more pleasant than seeing good people get another chance to accomplish their life goals? Friends and family are front and center—the dreamers are nominated by relatives, and, in the two episodes that I’ve seen, the love and support of friends and family is key to their success. The second-chancers are all talented—they’d have to be to take photographs for Sports Illustrated, drive on the NASCAR truck circuit, or skipper an America’s Cup vessel—and they’re mentored by seasoned pros.

There is, in other words, a wholesomeness to the show that’s sometimes hard to find in reality television. And though faith and religion aren’t specifically mentioned in the first two episodes, executive producer Charlie Ebersol told me that the show is designed to promote Christian values. (Make of that what you will.) In the early episodes, USA’s “blue skies” philosophy is taken quite literally: The first candidate gets a chance to take action photos of trick planes while strapped into a helicopter.

Later this year, USA will add Summer Camp, a reality competition; The Choir, in which British choirmaster Gareth Malone unites communities in song; and Partners in Crime, a “docu-soap” about a pair of Staten Island criminal attorneys. Sunny days, strong characters, and buddy comedies: USA obviously knows its brand. And by the time its peak season—summer—rolls around again, we should know whether it has succeeded in conquering new territory.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 8:15 AM Ted Cruz Will Not Join a Protest of "The Death of Klinghoffer" After All
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 9:03 AM My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. And Then I Found Myself With Someone Like Dad.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 8:27 AM Only Science Fiction Can Save Us! What sci-fi gets wrong about income inequality.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 7:30 AM Ring Around the Rainbow
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.