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TNN Brings the Country Indoors

ZAP ! WHAT'S ON CABLE? Third in a series spotlighting cable networks, leading up to cable's ACE Awards on Jan. 13.


The Nashville Network is not MTV for country-music fans. TNN's mission is to be broader than MTV-to be the source in country music, entertainment and information and provide programs that reflect a country lifestyle.

For all you city slickers, country music is "taking a big breath of fresh Rocky Mountain air and fishing along the stream," said C. Paul Corbin, TNN director of programming. "If you listen to the music and lyrics in country music you will find pretty well what a country lifestyle is. We want to make sure our programs are not the same that are available on the other networks."

While MTV's schedule still mainly consists of videos, TNN has 39 series, including flagship show "Nashville Now," a live weeknight music-talk program hosted by Ralph Emery and a puppet named Shotgun Red. The show is celebrating its seventh anniversary.

Other series include: "Grand Ole Opry Live"; "A Conversation with Dinah," a talk show hosted by Dinah Shore; "VideoPM," a three-hour weeknight music video show; the how-to series "Backyard America"; "Cookin' U.S.A."; "Country Kitchen" with Florence Henderson; and a celebrity interview series, "Crook and Chase."

Sports fanatics can catch more than 18 hours of auto racing, rodeos and fishing and hunting programs on Saturdays and Sundays.

Responding to potential criticism from animal-rights activists, TNN general manager David Hall insists no animals are killed on-screen on the "The Outdoorsmen" and "Celebrity Outdoors" hunting series.

"We don't kill Bambi," Hall said. "We show the technique and theory (of hunting). I have a real thing about that. If they are on a hunting expedition and they kill a great elk, it's already (happened) by the time the camera gets there."

Based on viewers' reaction, Hall said, "You can kill all the fish you want, but you can't kill Bambi."

TNN is a division of Opryland U.S.A. Inc. of Nashville. The network began seven years ago as an 18-hour-a-day ad-supported cable service.

"We own the Grand Ole Opry," Hall said. "Long before MTV, we had a good feeling for the loyalty and size of the country music audience and fans. We thought there was a large enough audience to support a cable TV network."

TNN kicked off with a five-hour live music show from seven cities and came back the next morning with a game show, a sitcom, a concert music series and a live talk show.

Every year, TNN provides 3,600 hours of original programming, including more than 1,100 live hours.

"People love live television," he said.

"I don't know anyone who does a live variety show every month," Corbin said . " 'Nashville Now' is a phenomenal program. Our country artists can come and sing and Grandma and the kids can watch it without being embarrassed."

To get a large viewer base, TNN was originally offered to cable systems for free for the first three years and was broadcast to 7 million households. Today TNN is the sixth-largest basic system with a subscriber base of 52 million households; it's in more than 210 markets and in every state. According to Hall, the network is turning a profit.

TNN viewers generally are 25 or older, Corbin said.

"As a youngster, you may reject country music and go to rock music," he said, "but in your late teens and early 20s, you take a look at life and your goals and your objectives and then all of a sudden, country music means something to you. After you reach the age of 25, you are back into country, and it speaks to day to day emotions and frankly it deals with life and the way it is."

TNN, he said, has helped boost the popularity of country music.

"Country record sales are just soaring," he said. "This year there were 33 country albums which have been certified gold, platinum or multiplatinum. Particularly with new artists they are succeeding because they get exposure on TNN."

"I look on TNN very positively," said Gene Bridges, program director for Los Angeles country station KLAC-AM (540). "I don't sit and watch record sales, but probably record sales have improved by exposure on TNN. I personally see it as a country music partner, helping us spread our message about country music. It's my perception that country music is being accepted rapidly all over the world, particularly in the United States, and I think that TNN has helped do that."

TNN tries to be a homespun cable service. "We really are very much in tune with our audience," Corbin said. "We really care about phone calls and letters. We respond to each and every letter. Sometimes they write back and we become pen pals. It is our way of doing things. We respect this audience and really admire them for their involvement."

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