Guys! Do you wish you could watch more television, yet feel intimidated by the man-hostile environments of Spike TV, FX, various ESPNs, Fox Sports, Speed and Fuel TV? Well, you’re in luck! NBC Universal is finally creating a channel to target you, alongside all the other channels that target you.
NBC’s announcement on Monday confirmed an idea that had been floating in TV-industry reports for a while: in April, the company will rebrand G4, the gaming channel, into The Esquire Network—Esquire as in the magazine.
No offense to the many women who do far more gaming than I do, but I suspect that males were a not insignificant part of G4’s market to begin with. NBC Universal, however, sees more business potential in rebranding the channel as “an upscale Bravo for men,” which, despite the amount of actual Bravo I watch myself, I will endeavor not to take as an insult.
What’s more interesting here is the specific idea of manhood that NBC is building the channel around, and that it thinks there’s an audience for it. It’s been almost a decade since the old TNN channel was rebranded as Spike TV, which purported to be TV’s original channel for men. As I wrote at the time, Spike was already assuming a young-male identity that postdated classic men’s magazines like Esquire and GQ, with their aspirational, high-fashion and -culture masculinity.
Spike’s sensibility was more along the lines of Maxim–gadgets-and-girls-oriented magazines whose philosophy was not that men needed a magazine to make them better but that they were already good enough. Spike has dropped the “TV for men” branding over the years, though it still has MMA fighting and a logo that could serve well as a label for men’s body spray. (It also airs the brilliant reality-TV parody The Joe Schmo Show, which among other things is as good a spoof of reality-TV dudeliness as anything.)
NBC Universal says that Esquire won’t be programming shows for the new channel, just contributing the brand and cross-promotion. That’s just as well, since the turn-a-magazine-into-a-TV-network idea is not so new and not so historically successful. (My own employer, Time Warner, tried it with the CNNSI sports channel.)
But NBCU must think the Esquire brand has some value to the channel—that a certain breed of upscale male viewer will see it as promising the kind of avuncular man’s-guide-to-life service that the magazine serves up alongside its long news features and the Funny Joke from a Beautiful Woman column. Will there be shows about buying the perfect tux? On mixing Hemingway’s favorite cocktail?
So far, the few announced series include Knife Fight, a competition among young chefs, and a travel show called The Getaway. Cooking, travel—those sound like things that could appeal to a certain breed of demographically attractive, metrosexual men, and things that the rest of the cable universe kind of provides already, no?
Maybe Esquire can discern the exact note of leather-and-bourbon masculinity that will tell men these are shows they’ve been missing in their lives. If not, at least NBC can fall back on the other “upscale Bravo for men” it owns. It’s called Bravo.