USA Aims to Launch New Star in 'Rush's' Tom Ellis

The NBCUniversal network's marketing campaign focuses on the 35-year-old Brit, lead of a new medical drama, as its next potential breakout.
USA Network
Tom Ellis

USA Network is heading in a more provocative direction — and it hasn't been shy about it.

Freshman dramas Rush, about a morally ambiguous doctor for hire, and Satisfaction, centered on a marriage gone awry, signal the NBCUniversal cable network's aggressive push into more dramatic fare, moving away from the quintessential "blue-sky" offerings it's become known for. (Both Rush and Satisfaction debut on Thursday.)

USA's marketing efforts for Rush have relied heavily on the potential stardom of leading man Tom Ellis, already a known entity in the U.K. for BBC series Miranda. It's a strategy the network previously used during the early days of White Collar for Matt Bomer and Covert Affairs for Piper Perabo, boosting their stocks significantly. (Bomer, for his part, recently earned his first Emmy nomination for HBO's The Normal Heart.)

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"We knew we had a star in Tom Ellis — he's magnetic, he pops off the screen. So we decided to invert the marketing paradigm; instead of leading with the character, Dr. William Rush, we led with the actor," USA's executive vp marketing and digital Alexandra Shapiro tells The Hollywood Reporter of the network's strategy. "This is sort of his 'coming out' in America."

One of the ways USA sought to stand out from the summer TV glut was through a Rush-centric style lookbook — which could have been easily confused for an actual lookbook (see below) — that offered a snapshot of Ellis' personality while highlighting men's fashion. That particular idea was inspired by Shapiro's previous stint in the fashion industry working at Calvin Klein.

"When you get the lookbooks from the various fashion houses, they're so well-conceived. Every detail from how the story is told to the paper they use and the size, we thought, 'Why not borrow that DNA and apply it to this show?'" Shapiro says. "It felt like a great way to elevate Tom Ellis."

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Landing Ellis was another story. Creator/executive producer Jonathan Levine, best known for The Wackness, 50/50 and Warm Bodies, described the process in finding Rush to be painstakingly long. The original intention had been to fill the role with an American. When that didn't happen, the mandate changed and the casting net expanded to the U.K. — with only weeks to spare.

"We had a very high bar because the character was pretty strong," Levine tells THR. "By this point, we had been beaten up by the casting process — we hadn't found our guy and we were scared. Tom came in and I looked at executive producers Grant [Scharbo] and Gina [Matthews] and said, 'He's pretty good.' But it was touch and go for a while." Ellis shows off his American accent on the show, though Levine admits there were discussions, albeit fleeting, about possibly making Rush an England transplant. "That's a f---ing horrible idea!" he recalls saying.

USA is targeting a specific audience for Rush: progressive thirtysomethings, both male and female, who don't discriminate between The Walking Dead and mass procedurals (think CBS' NCIS or CSI). Shapiro justifies their ideal viewer by putting it this way: "Things will be familiar in this storytelling and this formula, but a lot of it will be unfamiliar. It's that combination that will appeal to our core viewer and hopefully new viewers as well."

The official Rush lookbook below.

Rush premieres on July 17 at 9 p.m. on USA.

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