Last week, the Paramount Network debuted on pay TV services across the country. It has been through so many changes over the past 35 years that it’s the perfect example of Kilgore’s First Law of TV: Every channel, regardless of original niche, becomes like every other channel.
(There is one exception, thank goodness. Please hang in there, Turner Classic Movies!)
What was the road to the Paramount Network? Wikipedia says it started on March 7, 1983 as The Nashville Network (TNN) featuring country music and NASCAR events. Gaylord Entertainment Company bought TNN in 1987. After Gaylord bought Country Music Television in 1991, it shifted TNN’s music programming to CMT. In 1995, Westinghouse/CBS bought both TNN and CMT, and Viacom acquired them in 1999.
Under Viacom ownership, TNN began to target a broader audience with general entertainment programming, as well as roller derby and wrestling. These changes culminated with TNN being rebranded as The National Network in September 2000, coinciding with its acquisition of WWF Raw. The network continued its shift to general entertainment with subsequent acquisitions, such as CSI and the Star Trek franchise.
In August 2003, TNN relaunched as Spike TV — the “first network for men”. The new branding was marked by an increase in original programming targeting a young adult male audience. In June 2006, Spike repositioned its branding with a more explicit focus on the action genre. In 2010, Spike re-branded with a wider demographic reach and an increased focus on reality series. In 2015, the network re-branded again to emphasize gender-balanced series such as Lip Sync Battle and a return to original scripted programming.
And that brings us to last week, when Spike re-branded as Paramount Network as part of an effort by Viacom to give the company a general “flagship” outlet for original scripted series (positioning the network as a competitor to other “premium” basic cable networks such as AMC and FX).
Because of its predecessors’ long history and Viacom affiliation, Paramount launched with about 80% of US TV households, a number that would be impossible if it had launched from scratch. That shows the value of any beachhead on the cable lineup, and is one of the main reasons why my First Law should remain true for as long as there is televison.