Idiot Box: Paramount Network Returns

Devin D. O'Leary
3 min read
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It’s not unusual, in their never-ending quest to lure viewers, for networks to “change brands.” In 1991 the self-explanatory Court TV re-launched as truTV (a lowbrow reality TV network that subsequently started focusing more on comedies and hidden-camera prank shows in 2014). In 2010 the highly specific (and all but unknown) Gospel Music Channel became UP (uplifting entertainment for families). Televangelist Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network evolved into The Family Channel in 1990, The FOX Family Channel in 1998 and ABC Family in 2001, before crystalizing into the “millennials and teens” network Freeform in 2016. Also in 2016, H2 (History Channel’s “international” sister station) became the edgy, weed-and-skateboards channel Viceland. Now, the macho man network Spike TV (formerly known as The National Network, formerly known as The Nashville Network) is undergoing its latest image revamp. Say goodbye to Spike and hello to Paramount.

Network owner Viacom is currently trying to refocus the majority of its media business around its six “flagship” brands: BET, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., MTV and the Paramount Pictures movie studio. Oddly enough, this isn’t the first time Viacom has tried to launch a Paramount TV station. From October 1993 to September 2006, the United Paramount Network was broadcasting shows like “Star Trek: Voyager” and “The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer.” In 2006, however, the floundering UPN was combined with crosstown rival The WB to create still-going DC superhero/teen soap opera repository The CW.

Executives at the “new”-ish Paramount Network are trying their damnedest to forge an identity independent of their testosterone-addled predecessors—while still importing the majority of Spike’s popular shows. “Ink Master,” “Bar Rescue,” “Bellator MMA” and “Lip Sync Battle” will all make the migration from Spike to Paramount. The network will launch, in fact, at 7pm on Thursday, Jan. 18 with a live, hour-long, Michael Jackson-centric edition of “Lip Sync Battle.”

Despite the familiar shows, executives are still pushing their “reinvention” of the network, creating what they describe as a home for “premium, original storytelling.” That sounds a lot less focused than Spike’s “MMA-heavy shows for dudebros,” But lately, cable networks have become worried about their “specialized” audiences. (Remember a couple years back when the Sci-Fi Channel tried to dump the sci-fi and rebrand itself as Syfy?)

Perhaps Paramount Network will find a broader (read: more female) audience with its new shows. Kicking off Paramount’s first week is the high-profile “Waco” mini-series about the 1993 Branch Davidian compound siege in Texas starring Taylor Kitsch, Michael Shannon, Melissa Benoist and John Leguizamo. “American Woman” is a ’70s-set sitcom starring Alicia Silverstone as an unconventional single mom. The show’s retro style has even inspired advertisers to create faux-vintage commercials for their brands. “Heathers” is a “pitch black anthology” based on the 1988 cult movie and will include social media and Instagram feeds from the characters, allowing viewers to interact with the mean girls. Kevin Costner, meanwhile, will star in the modern-day Western “Yellowstone,” about a (fictional) family that owns the largest contiguous ranch in the United States—a piece of property bordering Yellowstone National Park—which puts them in regular conflict with a wide range of rivals. These Paramount Network shows—and others, presumably—are scheduled to debut spring/summer 2018.
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