Spike TV is making a bigger play for its target 18-49 male audience with an increased output of original scripted comedies, focusing on shows with sports themes.
This week, the network will begin filming the pilot presentation for Back Nine, which follows a washed-up former golfing champ who travels the country, drinking booze and hustling players in small-time tournaments with his estranged son and longtime caddy. The show comes from writers Mark Perez (Accepted, Herbie: Fully Loaded) and Jason Filardi (Bringing Down the House).
“We thought, it is sports-related, we know our guys love golf, and hey, what is funnier than Caddyshack?” says Spike TV President Kevin Kay, citing the memorable 1980 comedy. “When you are talking to guys about movies they love, Caddyshack is right up there on the sports movie list, on the all-time comedy list.”
Spike has already given the green light to two sports-themed comedies this year: Players, about two brothers who own a sports bar, and Blue Mountain State, about a college football team. The network is also bringing back Bob Einstein's hapless daredevil character, Super Dave Osborne, for a four-part series this summer.
Players, which was developed as part of the network's attempt to generate low-cost presentation pilots, kick-started the move toward the genre. After viewing the pilot presentation, the network decided it could use its existing sports and sports-related properties to promote its original series.
“Whether it is UFC or TNA wrestling or Pros vs. Joes, and now as we evolve into Michael Irvin's [upcoming series] 4th and Long with the Cowboys, it is sports entertainment anyway,” Kay says. “You have a platform to promote to guys, in these sports entertainment and sports vehicles, and likeminded programming would be scripted sports comedies.”
Sports comedies also serve as a way to differentiate Spike from sister network Comedy Central.
“I'm not saying they will never do sports comedies—that's up to them—but it is a point of differentiation, certainly for now,” Kay says.
Spike may have a tough road to hoe with the new series. While scripted sports-themed shows have long appeared on the broadcast and cable networks, few have found mainstream success. Among the more famous flops are Sports Night from West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin and the ESPN series Playmakers.
The network also fills some of its primetime with off-net reruns of CSI and CSI: NY, which draw a slightly older crowd.
“Because of CSI being older and making up a big part of our schedule, our audience tends to be a little older than Comedy Central's, which I think in some ways gives us a license to be a little broader,” Kay says. “When you look at shows like Blue Mountain State and Players, I think there is a little more physical comedy, and the sports angle makes it a little broader and appealing to young guys and older guys.”