The Ren & Stimpy Show
and extreme basketball on a trampoline court—coined Slamball—don't sound like typical general-entertainment fare.
But the goal at Viacom's new
TNN: The National Network is to be different, an alternative for young adults.
That means providing "a young demo with programming they won't get anywhere else," EVP and GM Diane Robina said at an upfront presentation last week. Nickelodeon's classic cartoon Ren & Stimpy
in Tollin/Robbins are just two of TNN's new shows designed to lure young viewers. TNN's overall target is nominally broad, adults 18-49, but execs say all fare must pass a 25-34 year old filter.
"We know that audience well because we raised them from Nick to MTV and, now, TNN," said MTV Networks Chairman Tom Freston.
Fueled by male-magnet World Wrestling Federation on Monday nights—most weeks it's still the highest-rated program on basic cable—TNN has done demographic cosmetic surgery to its audience profile. When Viacom acquired the channel 18 months ago, the median age was 57; now, that number is 36, according to Herb Scannell, president of TNN, Nickelodeon and TV Land.
Cartoons help. Filling out the block along with Ren & Stimpy
will be: Gary the Rat, a half-hour cartoon about a New York lawyer who becomes a rodent overnight, with Frasier
star Kelsey Grammer's voice and executive producing; Stripperella, with Pamela Anderson's voice for a stripper/superhero; and Joe Duffy, about a limo driver with a crazy family, executive-produced by Mary Tyler Moore
veteran Ed Weinberger. TNN is negotiating with Ren & Stimpy
creators for several new episodes.
TNN's biggest arrival will be off-nets of CBS's hit CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,
debuting in September. CSI
will air Monday nights at 11 p.m. following wrestling (the deal requires TNN to keep CSI
out of prime). "We will dump a 5.0 household rating into it at 11 p.m.," Robina said, explaining the decision to stack WWF and CSI
on the same night. "We'll get a great promotional platform out of those three hours with big numbers."
A heavyweight Monday-night lineup could be an effective programming strategy, said Zenith Media VP Roy Rothstein, adding, "You can run through promoting the whole week's schedule."
But he cautioned that WWF skews young and male on TNN, while, for CBS, CSI
draws a gender-balanced 18-49 crowd.
Since shedding its Southern roots as The Nashville Network in 2000, household Nielsens have jumped an average 50% and Viacom has invested more than $1 billion to overhaul the channel. In first quarter 2002, the channel logged a 1.0 prime time average. Some months have harvested ratings as high as a 1.2.
TNN execs are focused on demographic gains. TNN posted a double-digit rise inthe first quarterin the three key demo categories. Delivery to adults 18-49 and adults 25-54 increased 21%, and adults 18-34 rose 11%. That growth outpaced broad-based competition USA, TBS and TNT in all but one category (USA gained more viewers 18-34).
Two live-action shows should appeal to the wrestling crowd. On a Candid Camera
-style game show called Oblivious,
unwitting participants are quizzed for prizes. And joining Robot Wars
on TNN's Slammin' Saturday nights will be six episodes of Slamball.
TNN also shares rights to 15 James Bond
movies from corporate cousins CBS and UPN. TNN plans to air the movies unedited and uncut, as it recently did with The Godfather
trilogy. Though a recent ABC run of Bond movies tanked, Robina said she was encouraged by the demos Bond delivered. She added that TNN's "the full length-version uncut adds appeal."
Non-scripted originals, Conspiracy Zone
with Kevin Nealon, Ultimate Revenge, Robot Wars, Small Shots
and Famed for 15
have been renewed for new seasons.