Let’s try this again, shall we? Way back in April, I reported on the newly minted Esquire Network. The televised spin-off of the long-running men’s magazine was slated to take over programming of the formerly video game-focused network G4 on April 22. At the time, I expressed a healthy amount of skepticism about Esquire’s ability to launch an entire television network based around exactly two docu-reality shows (one cooking show and one travel show). Obviously the executives in charge were listening to me because less than a week before the net was set to debut, Esquire pulled the plug.
Now, after an entire summer’s worth of contemplation, Esquire is back, ready for its big debut. The shindig gets underway at least in grand style on Monday, Sept. 23, with the two-hour introductory special “Esquire’s 80th.” John Slattery from “Mad Men” narrates this retrospective of the namesake magazine’s long history of catering to manly men. Esquire’s most memorable articles and images will be showcased. Authors Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, and Scott Raab will be among the guest talkers, joining actress Mary-Louise Parker, designer and art director George Lois, film director Peter Bogdanovich, football legend Joe Namath and rival publisher Hugh Hefner. The TV special coincides with the 80th anniversary issue of the print magazine hitting newsstands right now. It’s also a smart, precedent-setting way to launch a new network. Unlike, say, OWN—which started off with as little Oprah Winfrey as possible.
Of course the Esquire Network has got a long way to go to establish itself in today’s crowded cable TV environment. On Tuesday, Sept. 24, the network premieres “Knife Fight” and “Brew Dogs,” two shows that seem well suited to a Friday night on the Cooking Channel. “Knife Fight” is yet another cooking competition that tries to hip things up with a few celebrity cameos and a bunch of tattoo-sporting chefs. “Brew Dogs” follows two Scottish brewers around the US taste-testing microbrews and visiting craft breweries. Both shows look well-made but rather familiar.
On Wednesday, Sept. 25, Esquire takes on the protective camouflage of the Travel Channel, airing “The Getaway” and “Boundless.” The first is basically “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” with a different celebrity host every week (from Joel McHale to Aziz Ansari to Aisha Tyler to Ryan Kwanten). The second follows two extreme sports enthusiasts in search of the world’s most grueling sports competitions—from 7-day ultra-marathons to 32-mile open ocean paddleboarding contests. Think “Dhani Tackles the Globe” crossed with a Vice magazine article. Both shows appear to have an edge, but neither stands out conceptually.
It’s not the worst first week ever. (FOX launched back in October of ’86 with “The Late Show” starring Joan Rivers, for crying out loud.) The lineup is a bit more sophisticated than TV’s other “men’s network,” Spike TV. And it clearly hints at the sort of metrosexual “lifestyle” programming Esquire wants to capitalize on. But the programmers will have to come up with some more innovative, standout material to make a real go of it here. Canceling “X-Play” and “Attack of the Show” just to air a goatee-wearing cooking show and reruns of “Parks and Recreation” seems like a spotty battle plan at best.