Spike plays sports, rewrites history
Spike TV, the aggressively male cable network known for Ultimate Fighting and the Guys Choice awards, has put together a slate of programming that's heavy in two areas: historically based infotainment and scripted sports shows. There's also a Gordon Ramsay-like character thrown in to shake up underperforming bars and nightclubs, a la "Kitchen Nightmares," in a series called "On the Rocks" and a nod to the current pop culture obsession with the paranormal, "Haunted Civilization."
"It feels like the most ambitious group of shows we've ever done," said Kevin Kay, Spike's president, who's been going "door to door" to woo advertising and media agencies to commit their ad dollars for next season on the channel. "We want to make sure all guys know that Spike is for them."
So while many other networks are struggling to age down and attract more advertiser-coveted 18- to 34-year-olds, Spike is trying to broaden its series offerings to appeal to the older edge of the 18-49 demographic.
That's why there's a comedy called "Back Nine," starring John Schneider as a washed-up pro golfer trying to get back in the game. But then, Electra's in that show too, so it's not necessarily just for Dad. (And there's a sex-addicted caddy named Tiger. Zeitgeisty!)
And execs think they can bring in older men who aren't already watching Spike with "Rebel League," from Denis Leary and Jim Serpico's Apostle Pictures. The scripted comedy follows a start-up pro hockey league that's trying to be more down and dirty than the NHL. There was a void in the market, Kay said, for sports-themed scripted shows, and Spike already has a foot in that genre with the recently renewed football-centric "Blue Mountain State."
The channel had an unexpected hit two seasons ago with "Deadliest Warrior," which pits historical figures like Attila the Hun against Alexander the Great. It's known as "the show that settles a thousand bar bets," Kay said, and it encouraged executives to develop more programming in that genre.
Hence "Weapon X," coming later this year from the guy (Thom Beers) who created "Deadliest Catch" and "Ice Road Truckers." It asks: What would've happened if losers in famous battles had a secret game-changing weapon? Under this lens, the panel of hosts and experts will dissect everything from the Tet Offensive to Gettysburg. And "Alternative History" looks at what the world would be like if events had happened differently, say, if the South had won the Civil War or if JFK had never been assassinated.
These shows came from network research that found guys wanted information, mainly the kind they can share with their buddies at the bar, not the grainy newsreel History channel kind. "We're not going too deep," Kay said.
There's miscellaneous goofy fun on the schedule too, like "Phoned!" It features a cast of characters from the syndicated radio program "Elvis Duran Morning Show" doing what they do best -- humiliating and ambushing people.
For first quarter 2011, the network plans a comedy starring "That '70s Show" alum Danny Masterson in a buddy cop show called "Playing with Guns" and a cubicle-jockeys-find-their-mojo sitcom, "Kings by Night," set in a makeshift casino.
These will join series like the late-night "Manswers," not-as-morbid-as-it-sounds "1,000 Ways to Die" and "Ultimate Fighting Championship."
-- T.L. Stanley
Photo: John Schneider (right) in "Back Forty." Credit: Spike.