Albie Hecht credits the streets of Queens for the creative juices that have fueled his career as studio musician, music-video pioneer, kids-TV producer and cable-network executive.
"It was just so great to grow up in an environment like that," he says, recalling inventing games for his bored friends by fusing others, like stickball and basketball. "So energetic. To feel the whole energy of New York City and the inclusivity of that population was amazing."
Now, as president of Viacom's TNN, Hecht will be calling up as much of that creative energy as he can when he relaunches the network as a men's portal, Spike TV, on June 16. "You know how you feel in your stomach when you're not sure whether it is incredible excitement or incredible anxiety? That's what we are sitting with."
After Queens and New York's Columbia University, Hecht got his start in the mid 1970s as a reviewer of kids TV for the Hearst papers. But he was soon exploiting his musical talent as an A&R man for CBS's custom label, Lifesong Records. By the close of the disco decade, he had moved on to writing for and directing music videos.
In 1987, Hecht was able to pour 13 years of experience in journalism, film and music into TV-production company Chauncey Street Productions. "I got to do two things: create shows for CBS, ESPN and HBO and [produce] great commercials for MTV and VH1. And I learned how to do IDs and promos. That's where I established relationships with animators."
Those relationships paid off. In 1991, Hecht's two partners, Fred Schibert and Alan Goodman, moved on. But he kept things churning at Chauncey Street, entering into a production deal with animation-laden Nickelodeon and forging a friendship with Nick's then head of programming, Herb Scannell. Two years later, Scannell, now president of Nick, encouraged a reluctant Hecht to come aboard.
"I probably wouldn't have gone to work for anybody else but Herb because he had the vision I respected and the smarts and the leadership," Hecht says. "I felt like I could work in a corporation for him."
At Nick, Hecht turned the Chauncey-spawned Kids Choice Awards into a big draw and called on those animation contacts to develop hit shows like SpongeBob Squarepants
and Dora the Explorer.
In 1997, with Nick Movies under his guidance, Hecht oversaw the $350 million expansion of Nickelodeon Animation Studios, the first studio built in Los Angeles in 35 years. It was a veritable playground for the guys who "were always given the back room, the back office and the used equipment." In return, they gave him The Wild Thornberrys, The Rugrats Movie
and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.
Hecht hopes to calm the butterflies generated by the Spike TV launch with a fresh slate of programming, including an adult animation block featuring Stripperella (voiced by Pamela Anderson), Gary the Rat
(Kelsey Grammer), and both old and new episodes of Ren & Stimpy.
There will also be reality and unscripted shows to tempt young men, including A Guy and His Stuff, based on the Stuff magazine column on the latest gadgets and toys for men; Ride With Funkmaster Flex,
a peek into car culture with DJ Funkmaster Flex; and 10 Things Every Guy Should Experience,
where Spike TV takes a few lucky men to ultimate sporting events, such as The Super Bowl and Kentucky Derby.
"The greatest challenge will be to own the emotional space in their minds, [to convince them] that we're their home base," Hecht says of his 18-49 male target audience.
"I want to make a difference," he adds. "To show [men] a bit of the promised land of what a really good guy and a good dad and a good person in society could be. And also, just to have a good damn time."