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Why Spike Perplexes Me

It's certainly not a name that cries out to be a men's channel 4/20/2003 08:00:00 PM Eastern

When word circulated in the office last week that, in a few hours, TNN, once the New TNN, once The National Network, and before that The Nashville Network, was hours away from announcing its new name, well, you can just imagine the excitement. A new name for TNN! And I would know it before most of the world!

Then we heard it: Spike TV, a name that the channel's President Albie Hecht said contains "all the qualities we want for the first network for men."

Boy, that's true.

I, like a jerk, favored Dude!, but I guess that doesn't contain all the qualities that Spike does. Dude! is irreverent, a good quality. But it is not irrelevant, which is cooler. Spike doesn't sound like the name of a men's channel, which I think must make it a lot hipper than a cable channel name that would at least have a vague connection to the audience it's trying to get. (I have a friend who insists Spike was intentionally chosen because a spike could be construed as a phallic symbol. And this person is not a radical feminist, either.)

No, Spike is not a name that jumps out at you and says, "Name a men's channel after me." (Likewise, I am assuming that Albie TV was focus-grouped and rejected.)

I've known of only four men named Spike: Spike Lee, the film director and Knicks fan; Spike Jones, the kooky and hilarious 1940s band leader who was once called "the man who murdered music"; Spike Jonze, the film director who directed Adaptation
and Being John Malkovich;
and Spike O'Dell, a radio talk host who was and maybe still is on WGN(AM) Chicago. Elvis Costello also has an album named Spike.

So Spike, in my mind, has been underused, just waiting there to become a men's channel.

When TNN renamed itself, I went to Google and typed in "Men Named Spike." This idea didn't turn out great, but I did come up with a Web site titled "Men to Avoid." They include "Men with little naked metal women on their mud flaps," "Men who say 'Have a good one,'" "Men with vanity plates like BMW4DAN or OKGUY," and "Men named Spike."

Then it began to dawn on me that maybe Spike-TV was a better name than I thought for a network that means to be about fast cars and animated versions of Pamela Anderson in Stripperella
and another season of the WWE's Raw.
Spike TV might be the cable equivalent of Alfred E. Newman's brother. It is not going to be a channel for brain surgeons. Or even, necessarily, men who have brains. To be fair, Spike seems to be intent on scheduling some relatively intelligent shows about investing and health, but, with its edgy, goofy name, I'm assuming its goal is to program to guys who look and act just like Tom Arnold, only younger.

There's a consistent thing about most television or radio "for" men: It is almost entirely mindless and repetitive. Strippers and burpers. Flatulence and dope. A fascination with oddly shaped people and midgets.

Women's networks such as Lifetime may be a little preachy, but I get the idea that, when their programming people strategize, it's not about how to make the channel less intelligent. And no one suggests to Carole Black that she rename the network Mildred.

I also believe that Spike TV means to be a little more sophisticated than The Man Show.
But that doesn't mean it's looking for ways to get very, very smart.

But seemingly every program targeted to young men seeks to readjust the lowest common denominator downward, and I'll be surprised if Spike, as a network, doesn't do the same. After all, some men's favorite television program is a commercial in which two women mud-wrestle over the attributes of Miller Lite.

Viacom's MTV, VH1 and Nickelodeon have an almost magical ability to give niche demographic groups exactly what they want. But Viacom has also owned TNN, in all of its manifestations, for a couple years, without figuring out what it is or can be, or how to get it there. Spike seems ambitious enough—bold and silly enough—to make a viewer believe that this iteration is somehow going to be the real deal. I don't know how. But I'm an old dude, and I'm not Spike.

Bednarski may be reached at pbednarski@reedbusiness.com

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