Shane Walker has some counterintuitive plans for the new network he's trying to launch on college campuses.
"One thing we're not allowing on our programming is cursing, gratuitous sex or violence," says Walker, a 38-year-old indie film producer whose U Network is set to launch Sept. 8.
What the network will have, though, is "The W Show" -- a weekly program devoted to the president's reelection campaign.
Banking on the theory that at least some college students want their own conservative television news, the small, Muncie, Ind.-based network plans to be in New Mexico today to cover a youth rally with George Prescott Bush, the president's nephew.
Walker, a former fashion designer who raised money and wrote promotions for the Santa Monica production company Cineville, says that after he moved to Indiana to raise a family, he saw a TV business opportunity.
"MTV is doing a fair job of covering [Sen. John F.] Kerry," Walker says. But he says he did not see as much coverage of the Republican ticket. "Hopefully, we can fill that niche with the president."
Sharon Castillo, a spokeswoman for the Bush campaign's youth coalition, says the campaign is "thrilled" to learn that a weekly show devoted to President Bush will be targeted to the 18-to-24 demographic, but that the U Network will be subject to the same rules as any other network and will not receive any special access.
"We hope that once they see we're doing a good job that he [the president] will be available to us," Walker says.
Walker won't divulge the individuals who are bankrolling the U Network. He says his small company is not trying to compete head to head with MTV, a division of Viacom, which earlier this year launched mtvU, a campus network that broadcasts round-the-clock programming to 6 million students on 700 campuses. However, he notes he is "going after the same demographic," a captive and lucrative student market known to spend more than $200 billion annually.
An MTV spokeswoman would say only that the network covers both parties equally. She said MTV executives were not available for further comment.
Walker saysd he has contracts with, among others, the California Community College system's 109 campuses, Pepperdine and Brigham Young University. The network plans to use the cable systems of each university to distribute its programming.
Walker says he is not bent on pushing a conservative agenda, though PR for his network is being handled by the Atlanta firm 815 Communications, run by conservative author Phil Kent ("The Dark Side of Liberalism: Unchaining the Truth").
Walker says the U Network will eschew racy programming in favor of higher-brow content such as an issue-oriented talk show called "Dinner and a Debate" and a possible reality show featuring Juilliard students.
It's no surprise someone would come up with the idea of covering the Bush camp as a counter to perceived Kerry programming, says David Morrison, president of Twentysomething Inc., a young adult-focused marketing firm and author of "Marketing to the Campus Crowd." "The networks are battling for college eyeballs," he says. "Without question, there will be more student turnout for this presidential vote than we've seen in a very, very long time."
"Ideally, in the future, it would be great to have these channels with embedded reporters in both camps and ask the same questions of both candidates so there's a fair and accurate portrayal on the same channel," he says. "Most schools are not going to be carrying both."
USC is not going to carry the U Network. But it already has come to the attention of the editor of an alternative newspaper there. "It's part of a multilayered effort to not only shift the debate on college campuses, but feed into a number of conspiracy theories of what liberalism is all about," says student Joshua Holland, 34, editor of USC's independent alternative paper the Trojan Horse. He calls the U Network "Fox, Jr."
Walker says politics is just one facet of his brainchild. His real dream is to have the U Network become "the minor leagues for Hollywood," where students can show their films. "It's just a matter of time before we set up in Santa Monica," he says.