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A cable station mans the battle lines

MTV Networks plans to relaunch TNN as men's channel Spike TV, but there's a hitch: Director Spike Lee has filed an injunction.

June 16, 2003|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

James Brown may wail the anthem, and the 50%-plus of the population that doesn't carry the Y chromosome may agree: "It's a man's world." But according to the president of the "first" network for guys, the male sex has been underrepresented on television. Never mind the testosterone-driven programming on TBS and such sports networks as ESPN, Outdoor Life and the Golf Network. And let's not even get into all of those war documentaries that pop up on the History Channel, Discovery and A&E.

The folks at MTV Networks decided some months back to relaunch their TNN -- once the Nashville Network and more recently the National Network -- as Spike TV, the first channel build specifically for men. At least that was the plan.

But before Spike could unveil its new lineup of shows today, the network was faced with a man-sized problem. On June 5, filmmaker Spike Lee filed an injunction against MTV's owner, Viacom, saying the public associates the name "Spike" with him. In court papers filed in New York, Lee stated, "The media description of this change of name, as well as comments made to me and my wife, confirmed what was obvious -- Spike TV referred to Spike Lee."

And who knows? Maybe director Spike Jonze and Spike the dog from "Rugrats" will file their own injunctions.

On Thursday, Lee won a preliminary injunction in New York preventing Viacom from using the name "Spike TV." MTV Networks countered that it would quickly try to overturn the court order. On Friday, MTV Networks and Viacom were unsuccessful in overturning the injunction. They vow to continue to fight, but in the meantime, the new lineup of shows is being introduced by the New TNN.

Spike TV/The New TNN President Albie Hecht said the name "Spike" has multiple meanings, even though the filmmaker wasn't one of those he cited in an interview prior to last week's court hearings. "Spike is a dog's name, which I love. We are sort of man's new best friend. Then there are financial spikes. Spiking a football, spiking the drink, the prankster spike."

No matter the name, Hecht said his reconceived network is aimed at providing an alternative to all the networks geared to the fairer sex. "There are three channels that are aimed and say they are television for women -- Lifetime, WE and Oxygen.... Half of the population doesn't have a channel of their own."

So what about the sports channels?

"You say that guys like sports, and we do, but women like sports," Hecht said. "But guys only spend 13% of their time watching sports. They only spend 8% of their time watching comedy. There is really no place, one place, someplace where entertainment, information and interests can be satisfied and can be home base for men, and that is what Spike TV will be."

If and when it gets rights to the name, that is.

Whatever the moniker, the channel relaunches today with a mixture of repeats of "Miami Vice," "V.I.P.," CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "Star Trek: The Next Generation," action flicks, wrestling and other sports-oriented programming, such as "Slamball." The channel, available in 86 million homes, already carried a lot of this programming before today.

Because the old National Network's audience was 60% to 65% male, Hecht said, changing it to an all-boys' network was a natural evolution. It wasn't hard, he said, "to get a branding piece that can build a direct connection and loyalty and emotional connection to an audience and give it that kind of personality that MTV Networks have done with their other channels."

This is the parent company, after all, that made MTV synonymous with young music lovers, TVLand the bastion of classic TV and Nickelodeon the home of children's programming.

The network kicks off its first original programming block on June 26 with three adult-oriented animation series: "Ren & Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon"; "Gary the Rat," voiced by Kelsey Grammer; and Stan Lee's "Stripperella," which the cartoon maestro concocted with Pamela Anderson, who provides the title character's voice and visual inspiration.

Introducing an animation block, Hecht says, "is a great way to connect with guys and also serve an underserved population which wants adult animation. By us launching three original series in a block, you are making a statement that you can find adult animation on Spike TV.

"['Ren & Stimpy's'] original creator, John Kricfalusi, is back, and it's sort of his bad boy personality coming out and doing the show he has always had lurking inside," Hecht said.

"Gary the Rat" finds Grammer playing a Wall Street lawyer who wakes up one morning as a giant rat. But that doesn't prevent him from continuing to practice law. And "Stripperella" chronicles the adventures of a stripper by night who is a superhero by later night.

The channel has also hired St. Louis Ram Jason Sehorn in several capacities. "Jason is doing the men's health minutes over the summer, and he will be doing sports, fashion and fitness programming for us," says Hecht. "I think Jason is a terrific athlete, and he's a very good spokesperson. He has an interest in fashion, and he's a guy's guy."

In late 2004 or early 2005, says Hecht, TNN/Spike plans to develop one-hour dramas, and original movies may follow. "I think we will be doing more original reality movies," Hecht says. "Guys like [their programming] raw now. They like things unfiltered." And apparently it doesn't matter under what name that programming is offered.

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