USA Network has recently started a campaign called "Characters Welcome." It's fairly low key, as far as promotional campaigns go. It never spells out exactly what it wants you to think, but shows that "characters" are what make the shows hits (and USA actually has three shows that could be considered cable breakouts: "Monk," "Dead Zone," and "The 4400").
USA Network is not only a place where characters live, it's a place where characters come alive.
Where we connect with the people we see on the screen and on the street.
Because each of us is a character. Yes, even you.
An overall promo pays tribute to the characters in everyday life - the office prankster, the rowdy sports fan, hair dressers, etc. - the folks that make the world a more interesting place. It then rolls out key characters from its programming lineup in the same context - it's characters that drive entertainment and make these shows great.
In addition, they've created humorous vignettes that highlight a character from one of the shows, and puts a humorous spin on one of their quirks or abilities. Each is funny, and relatable - even if you don't watch the shows. Further, it really helps to solidify what the character is about in a "nutshell" for the viewers who are new or, in the case of 4400 or Dead Zone, may be struggling with some of the more esoteric precepts.
They've also "peopletized" the site - viewers send in photos that captures their character (and you can vote on them, review the highest scoring, watch videos, etc.).
There's a lot to be learned from this campaign - and it's one that USA is hammering right now. The value of story telling, character development, and most importantly, laying that information out for your audience is clearly something that we all could do more of. There's no doubt that USA has researched this angle, and they have a lot on the line right now as the attempt to further ramp-up original programming and compete with FX, TNT and other cable channels that have breakout hits, which frankly have much more buzz (i.e. "The Closer" and "Wanted" on TNT, "Nip Tuck" and "The Shield" on FX, and even shows like Comedy Central's "Daily Show").
Selling the story - and not the hype is what USA has decided to do. Whether it's developing a new band, a new jock, or just a new on-air feature, making sure that "character" comes through - that there's more to it than just the single performance or spin to back it up, that's what makes entertainment great and lasting.
Buzz is important, and always will be for driving new cume and sampling, but the development and reinforcement of backstory and characters is what makes the difference between a flash-in-the-pan and long-term success.
Check out USA's Web site for the vignettes and the promos - http://characters.usanetwork.com/