No more 'no girls allowed' at Spike

AP News
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Posted: Apr 01, 2015 3:35 PM
No more 'no girls allowed' at Spike

NEW YORK (AP) — With this week's premiere of a series based on Jimmy Fallon's "Tonight" show feature of lip sync-dueling celebrities, the Spike television network is throwing open the door of its boys' clubhouse to women.

Spike began 12 years ago with a laser-sharp focus of building an audience of young men, either in college or just out, and wound up doing it too well. And that's not as wise of a business plan as it used to be.

The effort at broadening Spike's audience began subtly a few years ago and is now more overt. Spike just introduced a new logo designed to seem softer, a tagline — "the ones to watch" — aimed at a general audience and a show like "Lip Sync Battle" designed to be enjoyed by everyone. Back-to-back episodes of the show air starting at 10 p.m. Thursday.

Fallon and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson are featured in the first episode, with LL Cool J as host. Emily Blunt, Anne Hathaway, Terrence Howard, Queen Latifah, Justin Bieber and Mike Tyson are among others who will show their performance chops on the show's initial run.

The young male focus was smart when Viacom converted the Nashville Network to Spike. It was considered such a tough demographic to reach that advertisers paid a premium to put their commercials on shows and networks that succeeded.

A Spike show called "Deadliest Warrior" was the first indication that something was amiss. The testosterone-fueled series pit creatures like vampires and zombies, or historical figures including Saddam Hussein and Pol Pot, against each other in mythical battles. The numbers showed four out of five viewers were guys, with a median age of 22.

That was too much. Spike needed to make changes to even things out a little, said Kevin Kay, Spike president.

"We never want to lose the guys that we've had all these years," Kay said. "We want to keep them. We just want to add their friends and their girlfriends to watch with them."

Advertisers still seek young men. But this group is abandoning live television so quickly that basing a network on reaching them is a dangerous strategy.

People aged 18 to 24 watched an average of 18 hours, 33 minutes a week watching TV during the last three months of 2014, the Nielsen company said. That's a staggering four-hour drop from just one year earlier, a swifter decline than any other age group, Nielsen said. Young men, on average, watch two hours a week less than young women. The reasons for the decline are multiple, among them video games and streaming.

"Deadliest Warrior" isn't around anymore. The tattoo artist show "Ink Master" has become one of Spike's most successful shows, and pulls in women along with men. "Bar Rescue," soon to sprout a spinoff, is enjoyed by men for its details on how to run a bar and mix drinks, and by women for the frequent family dramas involved in trying to turn around a failing tavern business, Kay said.

Network executives didn't consider changing Spike's name, because too much money had been spent establishing it and there was no desire to make existing viewers feel unwelcome. But programming and aesthetic changes were necessary.

"Even the core fans felt like we were shouting at them a little too much," Kay said.

There has already been some progress. Spike's audience was two-thirds male with a median age of 38 in 2010, and last year it was 58 percent male with a median age of 44, Nielsen said.

Spike is trying to bring in a few more big names, and this fall will begin a new fitness competition series with Jillian Michaels. "The Rock" has signed a development deal. The network is also, after an eight-year absence, getting back into scripted work.

The first, a glossy, six-hour miniseries on King Tut featuring Oscar-winning actor Ben Kingsley, will air this summer. Spike executives wanted an attention-getting first project to tell both the industry and viewers that it is serious about getting into the genre.

Spike had avoided scripted shows because it couldn't justify the expense because of the high failure rate. Money has been freed up by the expiration of a costly deal to air syndicated episodes of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," and by switching its martial arts programming to a Viacom-owned company.

"Scripted is one of those things that people sit around the next day talking about — 'The Walking Dead' or 'Game of Thrones,'" said Sharon Levy, executive vice president of original series programming and development. "It's just a medium where you can push the boundaries of storytelling."

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Follow David Bauder at twitter.com/dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder