What channel used the slogan “America’s Favorite Cable Network”?

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Published January 18, 2024

Duh! is a weekly column that gives circuitous answers to obvious questions. If you dig it, you can find 100 more of these essays in the Geeks Who Drink book, Duh!.

Fun fact: As of this writing, the only thing on the upcoming listings for the USA Network is reruns of Law & Order: SVU.

Of course, anyone who’s watched USA at any point since its 1980 debut will not be terribly surprised by this. From the beginning, reruns were its bread and butter;1 in 2024, the name itself likely provides a nostalgia hit – and a different one – to every segment of the American population below age 50… but it’s the meta-nostalgia of watching curated episodes of shows that someone older than you enjoyed.

It’s a weird trip, is what I’m saying. Just consider these long programming blocks that were on the channel around the time they debuted that “America’s Favorite Cable Network” slogan, in 1989:

  • USA Cartoon Express was a no-holds-barred dumping ground for everything from old Hanna-Barbera cartoons (all-timers like Scooby Doo, and weird relics like The Roman Holidays) to The Real Ghostbusters and Mr. Freakin’ Magoo
  • The five-hour (!) daytime game-show block consisted of new stuff like the weird vanity-plate game Bumper Stumpers and a Chain Reaction revival, plus reruns of mid-’80s fare like Name That Tune2 and The $25,000 Pyramid. (If anyone has an original pair of the giant golden dice from High Rollers, we’ll buy ‘em.)
  • USA Up All Night premiered its B-movie goodness in January, with none other than Gilbert Gottfried hosting. Its best-remembered version is the longrunning ‘90s one with helium-voiced Rhonda Shear, which started two years (and two hosts) later.

So was it really “America’s Favorite Cable Network”? In that incarnation, as a Viacom stablemate to MTV and Nickelodeon, it was more like a hall of funhouse mirrors. So maybe? It was damned interesting, anyhow.

After that, little by little, USA got its act together (and got less weird). In 1993 it started airing WWF Monday Night Raw; it’s stayed there for all but five of the years since then.3 In 2002, it debuted Tony Shalhoub’s Emmy-hogging Monk, ushering in a whole “Characters Welcome” phase with shows like Psych, Shooter, and Suits (plus some others with multi-word names).

Nowadays, well, it airs a bunch of sports it inherited when NBC shut down its all-jock NBCSN in 2022… and a hell of a lot of Law & Order. Meanwhile, the mantle of America’s highest-rated cable channel has gone to (checks notes) Fox News.

You know what? Some 1989 nostalgia isn’t sounding too bad all of a sudden.

  1. When NBCUniversal acquired it in 2003, those reruns naturally became NBC ones as often as not – hence SVU. But in 2007 they really broke the space-time continuum when they moved first-run episodes of L&O: Criminal Intent from NBC to USA, but reran them on the broadcast mothership as schedule-fillers for canceled shows. You know, in case you thought things didn’t get confusing until the streaming era.
  2. A YouTube commentator notes: “Name That Tune with Jim Lange only ran for one season, and yet it lasted for ten to fifteen years in reruns.”
  3. It’s leaving again this October, when WWE Smackdown comes back, having previously been on UPN, the CW, something called MyNetworkTV, Syfy, USA (again), and then a stretch on Fox and its related properties. You know, in case you didn’t think Law & Order’s broadcast history was convoluted enough.