Cable’s “First Network for Men” is no more.
Reeling under the double-barelled assault of the rise of streaming services and its own decline in viewership and advertiser revenue (including some cable companies outright refusing to carry its networks) one-time cable giant Viacom has been in a process of reinventing itself, out of desperation to attract fleeing viewers. Viacom has vowed to focus attention and resources on six “core” networks. Five are longtime Viacom mainstays: Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., Comedy Central, MTV, and BET. The sixth, the Paramount Network (exploiting Viacom’s links with the old Paramount film studios), while unfamiliar to viewers, is not quite a newcomer; Paramount Network is simply the most recent “rebranding of the Viacom-owned basic cable network Spike TV, which became Paramount Network on Thursday, January 18th.
This isn’t the first time such a rebranding has occurred. In fact, throughout its history, the network has gone through a variety of names and images. Launched in 1983 as The Nashville Network, the channel focused on country-western music videos, concerts, and country-themed programming. In 2000, TNN was purchased by Viacom, which already owned its long-time competitor Country Music Television. While keeping the initials “TNN” intact, Viacom changed the channel’s name to The National Network, becoming a general-interest channel featuring reruns of popular sitcoms and other programming.
Then, in 2003, the channel was rebranded again, as Spike TV. At first, Spike continued to run the same innocuous fare as it did as The National Network; in particular, it devoted up to eight hours a day to reruns of the various Star Trek franchises. Such programming was inoffensive, but did not exactly light up the network’s ratings. As a result, Viacom decided to change directions again (though this time, without changing the network’s name).
Informed by consultants that viewers and advertisers perceived Spike TV’s programming as being “lowbrow, violent, and reliant on sex appeal,” Viacom deliberately chose to lean into and embrace the lowbrow – by creating and pushing into every cable household the crudest, most disgusting excesses of sexism and stereotyping imaginable. Today, the Harvey Weinstein scandal and many similar examples of rampant sexism have led to the widespread use of the phrase “toxic masculinity;” but masculinity was never as toxic as it was on the “new” Spike TV, which now claimed the title, “The First Network for Men”…although “The First Network for Mouth-Breathing Sexist Pigs” would have been more accurate.
Amply demonstrating the network’s new direction was its premier scripted drama Blue Mountain State. Revolving around Alex, Sammy, and Craig, a trio of slacker freshmen on a college football team, the program wallowed in sexism and graphic sexual content. Over the course of the program, viewers were subjected to the following:
- Alex has a threesome with two women, while Sammy kneels at the foot of the bed to watch and masturbates; the team coach bellows, “We suck the milk out of their mother’s t*** and use it as mouthwash! We rip off their d**** and invite them to an orgy!”; a cougar seduces Alex, begging him to urinate on her: “You came in my room last night, pulled out your little c*** and p***ed all over me. I’ve been waiting for a big, strong man like you;” and the three friends are forced into a “cookie race,” during which each inserts an Oreo in his anus, and the losers of the race are forced to eat it. (January 15, 2010)
- Alex visits a transvestite prostitute, who tells him: ”25 for the hand, 50 for the mouth and 75 for the a**. If the a** doesn’t interest you, I’m having a sale on ski shoots, two for 80 dollars…You know Craig Shilo? I want to suck his d***…I’m getting moist just thinking about it. If you could help me get those b**** right here, I will help you.” (January 29, 2010)
- Ronny, a middle-aged, fanatical college football fan, urges his daughter to have sex with Alex – against her will. ““Wait a minute aren’t you gonna go up with him? Are you serious? He’s nice. He’s handsome. Christ, if I were a girl your age I would have gotten things rolling on the way home.” When she refuses, Ronny tells Alex, “I have two other single daughters that might be more your speed. Rebecca’s fifteen in December. I know that technically that ain’t legal. But you won’t tell, I won’t tell. You got first dibs.” (March 19, 2010)
And throughout the rest of its first season, Blue Mountain State featured other similarly charming content, like the entire team sharing Todd’s “pocket p***y” sex toy – and getting syphilis as a result; a mass orgy of third-string players with women, during which one player flings his freshly-used condom into Alex’s face; a “drug Olympics,” with each player forced to ingest a different mixture of illegal drugs; the team members passing a drug test by drinking clean urine from elementary-school children; an entire episode devoted to players trying to outdo each other in finding the most bizarre experience to have while masturbating; a (presumably underage) high-school girl agreeing to have sex with the entire lacrosse and football teams; and the team forcing a professor to give them passing grades by threatening to rape the professor’s mother, while forcing him to watch.
But Blue Mountain State just scratched the surface of Spike’s delight in depravity. Stripperella was a faux superhero cartoon (created by Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee, and voiced by Pamela Anderson) about stripper Erotica Jones, who moonlights as a superhero/spy. The program featured topless nudity and sniggering, juvenile double entendre; Stripperella’s boss at the spy agency FUGG is Chief Stroganoff, while her main enemy is Queen Clitoris – facts which should give ample evidence of the show’s strong sexism and weak writing.
Also airing on Spike was Half-Pint Brawlers, a program literally about midget and dwarf wrestlers, who are thrown down the lane of a bowling alley and crash into the pins; attempt to ride a calf; dance nude with a stripper wearing a huge costume rabbit head; have billiard balls shot into their crotch; and humping a full-sized woman’s rear end. The program also included hazing of new wrestlers which required them to wear a dog collar that administers electric shocks.
Yet another Spike program was 1000 Ways to Die, which glorified grotesque and graphic gore by playing accidental and tragic deaths for laughs, by making disgusting jokes about the victims. For example, in a segments showed a bank clerk locked in the vault and suffocating (as the show’s narrator sneers “Teller she’s dead!”); a baker sexually harassing a female employee (“Bob really wanted to stuff his pastry chef!”), catching his tie in a mixer and fracturing his skull; a woman who falls onto a stack of champagne glasses and impales herself (“Heather went from toasting to toast. She went bottoms up!”); and a paramedic who used nitrous oxide and defibrillates himself. (This recreation gratuitously featured a woman stripping off her shirt, revealing bra-clad breasts, for no reason whatsoever – other than to appeal to Spike’s audience of drooling, sex-crazed idiots).
A final re-creation showed a man attempting to set a record by stuffing five wild ferrets down his pants. “Reggie feels a nasty nip where the sun don’t shine,” grates the show’s narrator. “He had a swollen internal hemorrhoid that burst like an overripe grape. There’s nothing like a little blood to wake up a starving ferret.” As blood is shown fountaining out of the man’s rear, soaking the seat of his pants, a charming graphic shows the ferret pushing past his flesh and gobbling away. “Once the ferret burrowed into his rectum,” the narrator continues, “it clawed and gnawed at his hemorrhoidal tissues, it caused tremendous amounts of internal bleeding and death,” as an onscreen title reads, “Way to Die #780: Critter in the S****er!”
But the feculent jewel in Spike’s cracked crown was its long-running program MANswers. Purportedly, the program consisted of “a magazine-style format which presents hypothetical questions of interest to men, with a narrator who discusses the topics over a reenactment of them.” This ludicrously sedate description makes the program sound erudite and even stuffy, perfect fare for Sunday mornings on PBS.
Here’s the reality. Imagine a narrator, at the top of his lungs, bellowing:
“You’re horny and your go-to porn devices are busted. Don’t worry, dude! There’s always the fridge – and inside, the food the feels most like female flesh! What fridge food is the most bone-prone? Reach for the meat that can’t be beat – WHEN YOU BEAT YOUR MEAT!”
“Jiggly juggs are great to look at – but it you stare at a chick’s cha-chas long enough, can they control your mind? Can you be hypnotized by boobs?”
“HOW CAN MY GIRLFRIEND MAKE HER BOOBS BIGGER without going under the knife? DAMN! THAT’S SOMETHING EVERY DUDE’LL WANNA KNOW!”
In a typical-for-MANswers “discussion of the topic over a reenactment of it,” the last question was answered in the following manner. After stating that augmentation surgery can cost $10,000, the narrator offers, “There’s gotta be a better way to supersize those snuggle pups!” This is tastefully accompanied by a scene of a nurse holding a tape measure up to a small-breasted woman’s chest, as the recipient pouts in dismay.
“What IS the secret to touching tatas and making them bigger?” the narrator bellows, as various women grope one another’s breasts. “Slathering Vitamin E on them won’t TRANSFORM A COUPLE OF A-CUPS INTO GINORMOUS JUGGS! To find out the secret to knockout knockers, we’ve gotta travel to Thailand, where they can turn a pair of tiny tamales into GRAND TETONS!” The answer lies in a technique involving pressure – tastefully rendered by MANswers into visuals of women violently slapping and beating their own chests, followed by their breasts inflating like balloons as men gleefully ogle them.
Yes – throughout Spike TV’s tenure, every cable and satellite subscriber in America was forced to support a show that featured constant references to “flesh melons,” “cottoned cataloupes” and “bodacious bazongas” – along with the violence of Half-Pint Brawlers and 1000 Ways to Die, the blatant sexism of Stripperella, and the casual use of child molestation and rape as subjects for humor on Blue Mountain State.
Given what we now know about the state of Hollywood writing rooms, it seems that the tawdry material shown on Spike wasn’t unusual — in fact, it was typical of Hollywood, and Spike was just a bit more open about it. But oddly, the interested reader of Spike TV’s Wikipedia page will look in vain for any reference to these programs. Gee – it’s almost as though, post-Weinstein, Viacom is ashamed of producing such shows (and has paid someone to edit Wikipedia to remove references to them from that website).
While now, in today’s more “woke” environment, Viacom understandably wants this seamy past to disappear down the memory hole, the fact remains: for the better part of a decade, Viacom – and Spike TV – were in the business of pushing hopelessly crass and disgusting misogyny at young male viewers. While it is obviously going too far to blame sexual harassment and rape solely on a TV show, one does have to wonder: did Spike’s programming influence its viewers’ attitudes toward women, and encourage disrespect for them? Even a little?
Judging from stories in the Hollywood trade press, the new programming on the Paramount Network promises to have its own problems, and plenty of them; but at least viewers are now spared – and subscribers no longer have to pay for — Spike TV’s crude filth and blatant disregard for women.
Spike TV is gone – and good riddance.