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The Guy's the Thing at Revamped TNN Channel

January 10, 2003|Sallie Hofmeister | Times Staff Writer

If women have Lifetime Television, this could be Miller Time TV.

TNN, which has struggled to find a winning identity under the ownership of Viacom Inc., announced Thursday that it plans to build on its predominantly male audience and remake itself as television's first entertainment network devoted exclusively to men.

The network said it would place an emphasis on original programming in areas ranging from video games to men's health to finance and unscripted shows.

Albie Hecht, a veteran producer and longtime member of Viacom's MTV Networks team, was named president of TNN on Thursday as part of the makeover. Diana Robina, the general manager of the channel, will have a new role at MTV that has yet to be determined.

"We are going to present a channel that speaks to and listens to men," Hecht said in a statement. "Our look, sense of humor and style will all come from a male point of view ... developed through a men-first filter."

Analysts were not enthralled with the strategy -- TNN's second effort to revamp itself in the last few years.

"It doesn't sound too exciting," said Derek Baine, who follows cable programming for Kagan World Media in Carmel. Still, he noted, if TNN succeeds in attracting a young male audience, it could reap rich rewards: Advertisers pay top dollar to reach that demographic.

What's more, Baine said, TNN has little choice but to focus on some niche -- even one as broad as men -- given how many channels are competing for viewers.

Today, there is a channel devoted to virtually every interest -- from fishing to opera to do-it-yourself home repair. Viacom, for its part, has mulled over creation of several narrowly tailored channels, including one for gays and another for seniors.

Viacom prides itself on being a "cradle-to-grave" cable programmer, with Nickelodeon for kids, MTV for teens and VH-1 for music-loving adults.

TNN became part of the MTV Networks family after Viacom's 2000 acquisition of CBS. Under CBS, TNN was known as the Nashville Network and sought to capture the country music lifestyle. Viacom refocused the channel on pop culture, renaming it the National Network, but none of its original programs have gained traction.

Gender-centered programming can be controversial. When cable executive Geraldine Laybourne formed the Oxygen network in the late 1990s, critics questioned why there was a need for a channel targeting women.

Another network, Lifetime, bills itself as "television for women."

Whether TNN's focus on men will generate any public relations backlash remains to be seen.

"Hopefully, the channel will be more progressive than other male-oriented programming -- with something besides babes, cop shows and contact sports," said Marilyn Hoder-Salmon, a feminist scholar at Florida International University.

Probably not.

TNN said it plans to debut a "provocative" adult animation block anchored by "Striperella," starring Pamela Anderson; "Gary the Rat," starring Kelsey Grammer; and new episodes of "Ren & Stimpy."

Viacom isn't the only company thinking about the male viewer.

Maxim, the fast-growing magazine for young men, has considered launching a channel. And billionaire Paul Allen, the controlling shareholder of Charter Communications Inc., the nation's third-ranked cable operator, has discussed a possible channel with Details magazine.

"There are multiple networks dedicated to women ... to sports fans, weather fans, comedy fans and movie lovers," said Herb Scannell, a top Viacom executive who oversees a group of channels, including TNN, "but until now there hasn't been a basic cable entertainment network made specifically for men."

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