Cable will become conspicuously feminine on Jan. 28, the date of CBS' Super Bowl XXXV broadcast and one of the most testosterone-driven days in television.
Traditionally, cable networks kick back during events like the Super Bowl, which draws 63% of all viewers, most of them (57%) guys.
Last year, "regular guy" network TBS ran 24 hours of Andy Griffith
and Comedy Central did an Absolutely Fabulous
Big as the Super Bowl is, however, it, too, is showing signs of audience fragmentation. Ratings neared 50 in the early 1980s; now they're closer to 40. That means at least 60 million households are fair game, and the target there is usually female.
"Women largely, but not entirely, don't want to watch the Super Bowl," said Tim Brooks, senior vice president of research at Lifetime. "It's hardest for the guy networks."
This year, TBS (57% male in the fourth quarter of last year) is trying a new tack with Hand Over the Remote Sunday
, its stereotypically titled push for a day full of "chick flicks" in the vein of Prince of Tides, Steel Magnolias, Selena
and Up Close and Personal.
a network that skews more heavily male than Turner's "regular guy" network (58%), will do a stand-up marathon with female comedians from 2 to 8 p.m., followed by a chick flick and a send up of everyone's favorite reality show-a Strip Mall
episode called Psycho-Vivor
at 10:30 p.m.
"We're going for more female-skewing programming and short-form shows," said Susan Hummel, vice president, programming and acquisitions. "Depending on how the game is going, those invite sampling. You can come in for a few jokes and leave."
ESPN, the granddaddy of guy networks (70%), does girl things on Super Bowl Sunday. For the last three years, an evening of figure skating and fitness competition has netted ESPN around a 0.7 rating-nowhere near an NFL game, to be sure, but a fairly respectable cable rating. History Channel, the heaviest guy network (67%) next to the ESPN, will fall back on its copious catalog of Nazi programming with a 4-hour block of Hitler's Henchmen
from 8 p.m. to midnight.
FX, (54% guy) will take on the Super Bowl with an unmistakably male event, the Tough Bowl, a culmination of its amateur boxing Toughman
series. Former NFL stars Dexter Manley and Anthony Muñoz will square off in the Tough Bowl
during the Super Bowl MTV halftime extravaganza.
Programming strategies vary among female-skewing networks. Home & Garden Television (70% female, second only to Lifetime) will premiere new episodes of several design and decorating shows, including a celebrity house-tour special featuring the homes of Diane von Furstenberg and CNN anchor Willow Bay (wife of ABC/Disney's Robert Iger). On the other end of the scale, A & E (63%) is running Murder She Wrote
for 12 hours.
"We brought out our own workhorse," laughed Allen Sabinson, senior vice president of programming for A & E.
Quintessential girl network Lifetime (73%) will acknowledge the 40 million women expected to watch Super Bowl XXXV with NFL back stories. NFL Stories Straight from the Heart
airs Friday night. On game night, Lifetime returns to movies. Last year the network scored a 2.5 with the gruesome Jodi Foster vehicle, Silence of the Lambs, and a 1.9 with a repeat episode of Any Day Now.
Fox Family (62%) will repeat a couple of its own comedy romance movies at night and make a more aggressive grab for kids during the day with the Digi-Bowl, a gridiron-like contest among its Digital Monsters
hosted by Terry Bradshaw, followed by three hours of the Olsen twins.
Cartoon Network (56% female, but mostly girls) will throw its own Super Bowl with a face-off between Loony Toons characters Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Len Dawson, Dan Marino, and the other heavyweight hosts will provide analysis for the competitive cartoon-athon.
TNT, a network watched almost equally by men and women (49%-51%), will run Civil War movies all day, starting at 8:30 a.m. with Andersonville, followed by Gettysburg, Gone with the Wind
and Crossfire Trail.