More and more channels these days are developing specific niches, and the programming that fits these new images tends to be very strong. But when these channels try to create programming outside of their stated purpose in order to appeal to specific demographics, they often create some awful programing.
While not every television show targets a specific gender, they almost all end up appealing to one gender more than the other. When one station compiles several of these male-leaning shows with shows that are purposefully aimed at men, it’s not surprising that the channel attracts a pretty homogenous viewership.
Two channels where this has certainly happened are Comedy Central and G4. For those who don’t know, G4 is a channel specializing in all things video games, Internet, comics, gadgetry, and sci-fi. It also airs reruns of “Lost” and “Heroes.” Basically, it’s a channel about everything I love. As for Comedy Central, I’m going to assume you all know what it is, or, if you don’t, that you can come up with a pretty good guess. And to those of you who are already objecting, saying “The Daily Show” and perhaps “The Colbert Report” appeal to both genders equally, you’re probably right about that. But for every “Daily Show” on Comedy Central, there are several shows like “Reno 911!”
These two channels appeal mainly to men, particularly adolescents and the adolescent at heart. That fact isn’t especially shocking, nor is it a bad thing on its own. But when these channels examine gender-related viewing trends and try to cater to male viewers with shows outside their pre-existing niches, the results can be agonizingly poor.
From Comedy Central, the obvious example is “The Man Show,” which aired from 1999 to 2004 — five years too many. I admit that the show was, in theory, supposed to be funny. Everything on the show was done in sketch-comedy form, but because so much focus was put on cleavage, no attention was given to making the show genuinely amusing. Plus, it was created and originally co-hosted by the unfunny-to-the-degree-of-inducing-nausea Jimmy Kimmel (“Jimmy Kimmel Live!”).
To put it simply, “The Man Show” could be the worst show ever created by Comedy Central. And I’ve seen “Strangers with Candy,” “Drawn Together,” and even, I’m ashamed to admit, “I’m With Busey,” featuring none other than the ever-bothersome Gary Busey himself (“Maneater”). If you haven’t seen any of those shows, save yourself the anguish. If you have, you know I’m making a very strong claim. “The Man Show” was that bad.
For G4, the show I think best exemplifies man-pandering is a little less obvious. My choice is none other than “Hurl!,” a hybrid game show created in 2008 that combines an eating competition with body-wrenching extreme sports (if you consider getting rapidly spun around an extreme sport). You can guess from the show’s name what the desired result of juxtaposing these two activities is. I’m aware that the word “man” never appears when describing what the show’s about, but it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to link excessive quantities of food, athleticism and vomit to a predominantly male audience.
And, of course, “Hurl!” is awful. But honestly, I don’t think there could ever be a decent game show where puking is the method of elimination. So how did a show this bad get aired alongside such greats as “Lost,” “Attack of the Show” and the must-see Japanese import “Ninja Warrior”? Ah, the power of unchecked testosterone.
I don’t have an ideological problem with the existence of shows like “The Man Show” or “Hurl!” If people want to watch that kind of thing, I give them my blessing. But I think that these shows have a specific time and place, and neither Comedy Central nor G4 is that place. But never fear. A safe haven for this kind of programming does exist, and its name is Spike.
From the moment TNN announced that it was changing its name to Spike TV, the network began proclaiming itself to be first channel aimed directly (and unflinchingly) at men. This is evidenced by current Spike shows with names like “MANswers,” “MuscleCar” and “Cock + Load,” desiring instead to focus even more closely on male-oriented programming. The channel has recently stopped airing classics like “Ren and Stimpy” or “Robot Wars,” each of which would fit in perfectly on more gender-neutral channels like Comedy Central and G4, respectively. And even though I would’ve liked to catch reruns of those shows, I approve whole-heartedly of the decision to target a specific demographic.
When Spike abandoned some of its more nerd-friendly and comedic efforts, it was solidifying its niche. On a channel designed specifically for men — the burlier the better — there’s no reason to air Nickelodeon shows or shows about dinky little robots. Spike is about men doing manly things, like driving big cars, kicking people in the ass (with Battle Pope), looking at cleavage, eating and vomiting. Comedy Central and G4 are not.
So to these two wayward channels, I say this: Sure, a lot more men watch you than women. But please don’t act any differently as a result. You are perfect just the way you are. Comedy Central: You and I have had some great laughs together ever since I was just a wee lad. And G4: Even though we’ve only known each other a few short years, we’ve already formed a truly emotional bond over video games and gadget news. So don’t be jealous of Spike just because it might be bigger and stronger than you. When I need to be entertained, I’ll be visiting you two first.