Cable's USA Network has a canny knack for out-broadcasting the broadcast networks, or at least its sister channel, NBC. Not only do USA shows often generate more buzz and viewer interest, the USA programs also seem to have broader, less niche appeal.
That also means they are safer and less challenging than a lot of what's on TV, but these shows sure seem to strike a chord. Viewers tune to "Burn Notice" to see things blow up and they watch "Psych," "Royal Pains" and soon-to-end "Monk" for character comedy.
That's also a key ingredient in "White Collar" (10 tonight), which also benefits in its 90-minute premiere from clever plot twists and a winning camaraderie among the characters.
The story begins as charming criminal Neal Caffrey (2000 Carnegie Mellon University graduate Matt Bomer, "Chuck") escapes from prison only to be picked up by the same FBI agent who arrested him the first time, Peter Burke (Tim DeKay, "Carnivale").
Improbably, the government makes a deal: Caffrey can serve his four-year sentence outside of jail if he lives within a two-mile area, wears an ankle bracelet and works for the FBI as a consultant to Burke.
Unlikely premise aside, "White Collar" is a fun show thanks to an upbeat tone, decent mysteries and especially the chummy rapport between Caffrey and Burke, who isn't too proud to ask Caffrey for advice on what to get his wife (Tiffani Thiessen) for their wedding anniversary. Granted, it's unbelievable that Burke would be so willing to trust his former arrest subject, but at the same time it's a relief that Burke doesn't go all Javert on Caffrey.
Bomer, who looks like a more boyish and youthful Jon Hamm, has been destined for a successful TV series since the lame ABC summer 2007 drama "Traveler" and his recurring role as Bryce Larkin on NBC's "Chuck." He makes Caffrey smooth but not obnoxious and confident but vulnerable when it comes to his MIA girlfriend.
DeKay plays the FBI veteran with just the right amount of grizzle and a hint of admiration for his new investigation partner.
Light with no pretensions of loftiness, "White Collar" offers pleasant enough entertainment.
Last night on CBS's "Survivor," former Pittsburgher Russell Swan was taken out of the game after collapsing from exhaustion during a reward challenge.
Even though CBS gave away Swan's medical emergency in promos for "Survivor: Samoa," the episode still tried to build some foreshadowing for Swan's accident, showing him fishing alone and being the Galu workhorse who keeps the camp running.
"After seeing the promo, it was interesting to me because reality came crashing down," Swan said in a phone interview yesterday. "As far as I knew, I was down for three minutes and they took me out and I was [ticked] off and that was pretty much it."
Swan said he was so out of it he has few memories of what happened, which was chalked up to dehydration and exhaustion. He was taken to a mobile clinic for some period of time -- neither Swan nor the show's publicist knew how long Swan was on the ground or at the clinic -- and then went to "the Ponderosa," a location where all contestants voted out of the show go until filming is complete.
"To be honest with you, I was being a complete jerk," Swan said of his behavior after being taken out of the game. "I wanted to be in the game like nobody's business and I didn't want to hear anything of what they had to say."
Swan said as his tribe's chief he was stressed throughout the game and didn't get much sleep. He has not been to the doctor for a checkup since he returned from filming the show but he intends to go.
"I worried about having to explain too much and it didn't seem like any problem. They did say my heart was fine," Swan said. "Once the 'Survivor' reunion is over, I've got to get my 42,000 mile checkup anyway."
Swan, 42, grew up in Homewood and now lives in Glenside near Philadelphia. His mother, Pittsburgher Diane Swan, was concerned after she saw CBS's "Survivor" promo.
"All they didn't have [in the promo] was a heart monitor with the sound of me flatlining," Swan said, laughing. "People started coming past my office. My phone started ringing with people asking, 'Are you dead?' My family in Pittsburgh was bombarding my mom with questions and she's like, 'What the heck is going on?' She's asking me questions and she thinks I'm being evasive because of the confidentiality clause [in contestant's contracts], and I'm like, 'Mom, I don't know.' I'm seeing it for the first time. In my mind's eye, it happened completely differently from that."
Swan said it was a "crushing disappointment" to leave the game the way he did, but he has a positive perspective: "My life continues and it's still pretty dadgone good."
Sunday on "Mad Men," Roger Sterling's elderly mother let rip with a bit of dialogue that should warm many a Pittsburgher's heart and reflect their thinking based on the phone calls I receive.
"Enjoy the world as it is," Mrs. Sterling says. "They'll change it and never give a reason."
Although this is sure to resurrect the long-standing, never-come-to-fruition rumor that "The Real World" will film an upcoming season in Pittsburgh (In a Mount Washington house! With a view of Downtown!), so far there's nothing to suggest that's in the offing.
"The Real World" will hold a Pittsburgh open casting call tomorrow, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., at The Town Tavern, 2009 Carson St., on the South Side. Anyone who attends should be between 18 and 24 and bring a recent photo that will not be returned and photo ID. Applications are also accepted online at www.bunim-murray.com.
Casting calls also happened this week in Portland, Ore., Richmond, Va., and Fayetteville, Ark., among other cities.
ABC has picked up a full second season of "Castle." ... The CW has renewed "The Vampire Diaries" for a full first season and ordered five more episodes of a Heather Locklear-infused "Melrose Place." ... Fox will bench "Dollhouse" through November sweeps and burn off the remaining episodes in December by running two each Friday. "Brothers" moves to 7 p.m. Sunday; " 'Til Death" goes on hiatus. ... George "Spike" Riel of McKees Rocks narrates three new episodes of Travel Channel's "America Haunts," airing at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday next week. ... WQED will rebroadcast "Speedy Delivery," the story of Mr. McFeely (David Newell) from "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," at 8 p.m. Nov. 5, the day Rogers' statue is unveiled on the North Shore.
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This week's TV Q&A responds to questions about "Cold Case," "Drop Dead Diva" and why shows are canceled. Tuned In Journal includes blog posts about a week of Mister Rogers celebrations, "The Jeff Dunham Show" and "Southland." Read online TV coverage at post-gazette.com/tv.
In this week's Tuned In podcast, classical music critic Andrew Druckenbrod and I discuss "The Venture Bros.," the annual "Simpsons" Halloween episode and "30 Rock." Listen or subscribe at post-gazette.com/podcast.
Contact TV editor Rob Owen at email@example.com or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv.