SPIKE executives hope the network's beefed-up approach will help propel it past its competitors. Key to the network's rebranding is a new slate of action programs in development, including "Amped," a drama about a mysterious outbreak in Los Angeles, and "The Kill Pit," which follows a bank robbery gone awry. Also in the works: "Afro Samurai," an animated series about a black samurai produced and voiced by Samuel L. Jackson and scheduled to premiere in November.
"We think we will consistently have something that will interest the audience that nobody else does," said Pancho Mansfield, executive vice president of original programming. "Fun is a big part of it. We're not out to be provocative to the critics necessarily."
The network is hoping to make a big splash this week when it airs the two-hour premiere of its first original scripted series, "Blade." Based on the popular Marvel superhero, the drama features Kirk "Sticky" Jones as an immortal warrior engaged in a battle with a vampire underworld seeking to destroy the human race. The series is being produced by David S. Goyer, who wrote the screenplays for the successful "Blade" movie trilogy that starred Wesley Snipes.
"It's a great franchise -- it has its own brand, its own following," Mansfield said. "There isn't anything like 'Blade' on. This is a bit grittier and darker than most things on television."
Jim Rosenthal, president of New Line Television, said production turned out to be more substantial than originally planned, as producers sought to replicate the high-end action scenes of the films.
Young men "are so fickle and choosy," Rosenthal said. "You've got to get it right or they might not give you a second chance."
Spike is trying to build a buzz for series through a major online marketing effort that includes trailers posted on websites such as YouTube.com.
"We have to go where the guys are," Herzog said.
Another tent pole of the network's new strategy is its partnership with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the top producer of the increasing popular mixed martial arts fights.
Spike recently renewed its deal with UFC through 2008, and no wonder: The third season of "The Ultimate Fighter" -- a reality competition among 16 mixed martial arts fighters around the world that was scheduled to end Saturday night with a live finale -- drew an average audience of 2.2 million viewers and in its Thursday night time slot enjoyed an audience jump of 410% among males 18 to 34.
"It is to boxing what snowboarding is to skiing: faster and more extreme and more dangerous," Herzog said.
"And most importantly, your father hates it."
That said, the Spike TV president said he didn't want to leave the impression that network is now only for men interested in bare-knuckle combat or bloody vampire slayings.
"This is a big, wide-open category, and we want to appeal to a lot of different guys," he said. "It's not about being the toughest guy -- it's about not being afraid to be a guy."