Gunning for Guys on TV

Hand over the remote, ladies. Now dudes have a cable channel to call their own.

Guys might find themselves switching stations a little less now that "The New TNN: The First Network for Men" is on the dial. The channel, to be called Spike TV (search) now that Spike Lee's lawsuit has been settled, hopes to appeal to the much-coveted 20s and 30s, educated male set -- but targets the entire 18-49 age group.

"There wasn't that one place where [men] could go," explained Kevin Kay, TNN's vice president of programming and production. "I'm hopeful that TNN is the first place guys will check out, and they'll make it a favorite on their remote."

Though the revamped TNN (search) just launched last month, it has already attracted some die-hard viewers.

"I am a big Spike TV fan," said New York bartender Blake Wilson, who is originally from Atlanta. "We have TNN on all night (at the bar)."

Wilson is particularly fond of Spike's Most Extreme Elimination Challenge (search) -- a Japanese game show dubbed into English where contestants perform ridiculous stunts.

"I have everyone at my restaurant addicted to Most Extreme Elimination Challenge," said Wilson, 23. "I call my friends back home to tell them about it. It's just awesome."

Other men in the target audience haven't caught onto the new TNN yet, but are intrigued. Jim Smith, 41, of Indianapolis, said he'd check out the channel's car shows -- which will start airing in August -- and sports, like the full-contact basketball game, Slamball.

"I probably would watch it," said Smith. "It probably would be a good channel."

After "Lifetime: Television for Women (search)" was introduced in 1984, other female-oriented channels like Oxygen and WE followed suit. But until TNN reinvented itself, there was no cable channel for guys.

Spike isn't entering totally foreign territory, though. Programming like Comedy Central's The Man Show, Fox Sports' Best Damn Sports Show, Period and ESPN's World's Strongest Man was already tapping into the "guy" niche.

But some wonder whether gender-targeted channels just perpetuate tired stereotypes.

"I think you have to be careful," said TV Guide senior editor and columnist J. Max Robins. "I don't think there are male appetites that are specific to all men."

Early Spike skeptics say some of its animated shows like Stripperella (search) and Ren & Stimpy are clichés of what entertains men: sex and toilet jokes. But Lifetime, one of the most successful -- and criticized -- channels has weathered accusations that it stereotypes women.

"We listen to our viewers, not our critics," said Tim Brooks, Lifetime's executive vice president of research. "And what they're telling us loud and clear is that they find the kinds of programming we put on empowering."

Kay said the men Spike researchers spoke to bristled at being typecast -- and the channel plans to be as diverse as its audience.

"When we talked to guys in focus groups, one thing they said is, 'Don't stereotype us. We don't just want T & A. We're better than that,'" Kay said. "We have to be smarter, deeper and appeal to guys with interests across the board."

That will likely be a challenge, according to Robins -- who pointed out that cable TV is full of male-oriented programming.

"I don't know that it's an audience that's so under-served," he said. "I don't get the sense that men were saying, 'Gee, there's nothing catering to my needs and wants' as they sat in the Barcalounger with the remote."

It also remains to be seen whether Spike can appeal to its vast target of upscale 18- to 49-year-old males.

"I think they have an uphill battle getting that demographic," Robins said. "There are a lot of other networks going after those guys."

So far, Spike's lineup is all over the map, ranging from shows for frat-boy types to those for 30-something yuppies with families. In addition to programs like Stripperella (a cartoon about a stripper/crimefighter with Pamela Anderson's voice) and Slamball (search), the network airs a slew of James Bond and "guy" movies and male-oriented shows like Baywatch.

If it goes the way of Lifetime, which despite its sometimes-schmaltzy reputation routinely scores top ratings, Spike TV will be a hit.

Wilson, for one, is already a convert.

"Women had like three different channels they could pick," he said. "Men had none. I got tired of watching Golden Girls reruns on Lifetime."