When USA’s drama series Shooter was originally supposed to premiere in late July 2016, Hillary Clinton was comfortably leading Donald Trump in the polls by 10 points, and, boosted by a strong Democratic National Convention, was cruising toward becoming the first female US President. After two delays following the shootings in Orlando, Dallas and Baton Rouge, Shooter, originally slated to debut on July 19 and then July 26, premiered on Nov. 15, a week after the presidential election which, in a shocker, was won by Republican Donald Trump.
Premiering in a very different political climate, Shooter — starring Ryan Phillippe as a former Marine and decorated sniper who is on the run trying to clear his name and save his family — appeals to a lot of the constituency in the flyover states that helped Trump get elected (hacking scandal notwithstanding). Despite lukewarm reviews, it was embraced by viewers — a large part of them in the heartland — instantly becoming one of USA Network’s highest rated series, and is fully expected to be renewed for a second season. Its success also may serve as a guide for a television industry that is going through some soul-searching post-election whether it reflects and serves enough middle America.
Season-to-date, Shooter averages 2.3 million total viewers and 889,000 adults 18-49 in Live+3. It ranks as the No.3 USA scripted series in viewers (behind Suits and recently departed Royal Pains) and 18-49 (behind Suits and Colony). A large portion of Shooter‘s viewership comes from live viewing, something very valuable for ad-supported networks whose revenue depends on people sitting through commercials. In Live+same day, Shooter, which follows live WWE Smackdown telecasts, is virtually tied with Suits for No.1 in 18-49 and is No.2 in total viewers.
Smackdown and Shooter have been very compatible, appealing to similar audiences, with Shooter retaining 78% of its lead-in. It has helped USA rank as he #1 ad-supported entertainment cable network on Tuesday nights from 8-11 PM. Shooter, which is skewing young, also has been very consistent week to week, indicating that the show has quickly found a fan base.
“People want heroes who take matters in their own hands and want to make their own world a better place, people are looking for characters who defy the status quo, rebels who are disruptors,” USA President Chris McCumber said. “That’s probably one of the reasons why Shooter is resonating so well right now.”
Starting with its name, USA, whose logo at one point incorporated the American flag, has a tradition of doing well in the heartland with some of its scripted dramas, the very popular WWE series and other realty fare, like hit Chrisley Knows Best. That is balanced out with an urban, upscale series like Mr. Robot.
Such a mix is something networks, which had been focused heavily on glossy drama series over the past several years, are starting to seriously consider post-election. ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey was recently quoted as telling a media conference in the U.K. that “in recent history, we haven’t paid enough attention to some of the true realities of what life is like for everyday Americans in our dramas.”
There is an effort to add such dramas to the networks’ development mix for next season. (Blue-collar comedies always have had a place on TV, including currently with series like The Middle, Superstore and Mom.)
Shooter‘s perfect timing has been years in the making. The bestselling Bob Lee Swagger novel Point Of Impact, which the series was based on, was first adapted as the 2007 Paramount movie Shooter starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by Antoine Fuqua, which grossed $47 million domestically. Wahlberg is executive producing the TV series version, which was first sold to TNT in September 2014. Three months later, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper exploded. Fueled by conservative audiences, the movie, about hero sniper Chris Kyle, became a blockbuster, grossing $350 million in North America.
By March 2015, with the Shooter series languishing at TNT, producer Paramount TV took it back, and USA brass, who already had been tracking the project, pounced with a big commitment. The subject matter was red-hot at the time, with NBC picking up sniper miniseries The Reaper from the Weinstein Co.
Shooter‘s marketing campaign relied heavily on painting Phillippe’s character as an American hero, with the American flag featured prominently in the original outdoor campaign in the summer as well as in the second one when the series was pushed to November. Here are the two billboards, which used the same tagline, “Veteran. Hero. Target”:
In addition to traditional outdoor, print, radio, TV and multi-platform campaign, the show employed veteran outreach, landing Got Your 6 certification for accurate portrayal of veterans, and holding veteran’s screenings in multiple markets. USA also used its WWE shows, known for their support of veterans, to promote the series.