TNN used to be a joke. Back when it was The Nashville Network, it was, well, country ,and as much as there is a demand for that type of programming, that audience is (random Jeff Foxworthy joke). Moreover, after Viacom purchased the company, it became a direct competitor with that conglomerate’s Country Music Television, so something had to be done. Since then it’s been three years of attempted redefinition. Finally, with the June premiere of the Spike TV lineup, TNN has ceased to be a joke; it is now an offensive line.
Spike TV is the proposed name of this new-new-TNN. With “the first network for men” as its motto, Spike TV positions itself as both a revolution and, implicitly, a natural progression from previous stations such as Lifetime, Nickelodeon, and BET. After all, if females, children, and Blacks can get their stations, why not males? It’s only fair, and, more importantly, potentially lucrative. However, to quote James Schamus, that’s “dangerous and stupid.”
First the stupid: Spike TV is not the first network designed for men. Bypassing an argument over whether television has patriarchal origins, specific channels have emerged in recent history, which were effectively male-oriented. ESPN now features female athletic competitions without shame, but even now many of its thematic descendants, from corporate partner Classic Sports to niche stations like The Outdoor Channel, have practically no females on any of their programs. Comedy Central would be considered a man’s network if not for the fact that its shows, while male-dominated on-screen — of all its regular shows arguably only one possesses a female star (ironically Sports Night) –possess significant crossover appeal in their audience. The Sci-Fi Channel has more prominent, albeit lonely, female characters (see: Dana Scully) but probably fewer women wanting to watch them. In its Son of the Beach days, FX! was almost everything Spike TV claims to be.
Okay, so the motto is false advertising. That can’t stop Apple or Nike, so why should it stop something as tongue-in-cheek as Spike TV? Besides, how many males will be persuaded to stop watching shows such as 100 Most Irresistible Women merely because television exaggerates? Apparently, when Spike TV says “man” they don’t mean “adult.”
Pigeonholing is a potential danger with any network that concentrates on one demographic. Nickelodeon encourages the pugnacious as much as it does the precocious. Lifetime’s original movies are notorious for spending more time depicting females as victims than as strong individuals. As for BET, well, that’s an article in and of itself. If any of the aforementioned networks were totally irresponsible and pandering, they would be rightfully lambasted as exploitative. That is the reason Nick promotes community activism through the Big Help, why BET Tonight attempts to highlight news issues only superficially addressed by mainstream outlets, and it provides an excuse for Lifetime’s Intimate Portrait to lend an entirely different take on Hollywood sensationalism.
However, Spike TV has no such responsibility to (heterosexual) men, a group almost defined by its position in power. Therein lies the danger: it is as loose a cannon as a basic cable channel can be. It is designed to appeal the to the basest desires of mankind, and nothing else. Granted, as any advertising-funded network, it is still a slave to ratings, and any individual one of its programs could probably find airtime elsewhere (if it has not already). Let’s just hope that, given Spike TV’s programming executives’ definition of what men want, the network remembers its beginnings as a joke, and not become too serious of a problem.
Philip Burrowes, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.