6-Year-Old Nashville Network Prospers by Broadcasting Twang With the Talk
Programs on The Nashville Network may look like “The Tonight Show” and “Entertainment Tonight,” but there’s a twang with the talk on this ambitious channel.
TNN, an upstart 6-year-old cable station, is using guitars, fiddles and fringe as keystones of programming that highlights country music.
The toe-tapping sounds and a potpourri of other shows are aimed at the U.S. heartland by TNN, a cousin to the corn-pone TV show “Hee Haw” in the Gaylord Broadcasting corporate umbrella.
“Our target audience is you and me,” general manager David Hall said. “We own a home, have cars, have kids. Our audience is America.”
Since 1983, TNN has brought a flavor to the screen that distinguishes it from its cable comrades.
On ESPN, you see football helmets; it’s cowboy hats on TNN. HBO has movies; TNN has the legendary Grand Ole Opry. MTV offers screeching electric guitars; TNN’s music is wrenching country weepers about heartache and roaming romance.
“Our mission is to be the No. 1 source for country music entertainment and information,” said Hall, who swept floors at the Opryland USA theme park while in high school.
Some country music stars say TNN, which uses a guitar neck as its logo, is indeed reaching a receptive middle American audience.
Fiddler-guitarist Charlie Daniels said: “We were on the ‘Tonight’ show recently, and I’ll bet no more than six people mentioned seeing us. But after we’re on TNN, people everywhere come up and say they saw us.”
Singer Randy Travis said, “TNN has taken country music to a lot more people, and I think that’s good for us all.”
“Nashville Now,” broadcast for 90 minutes each weeknight, is TNN’s answer to the “Tonight” show. It has music, talk, a live studio audience and host Ralph Emery sitting behind a desk, much like Johnny Carson.
It is TNN’s most popular weeknight show, seen by up to 750,000 households.
TNN’s “Crook and Chase” is similar to “Entertainment Tonight” except there’s a live studio audience and emphasis on country music performers, who often appear to talk with the hosts.
The network, available to about 46 million households on cable systems across the country, has not restricted itself to rhinestones to attract viewers. It has drawn on some prominent non-country celebrities to widen its audience.
Dinah Shore has a talk show. John Davidson and Florence Henderson star on cooking shows. Wolfman Jack is host of a rock ‘n’ roll oldies show. Kent McCord and Martin Milner, who formerly starred in “Adam 12,” have reunited in a two-hour movie for TNN to be broadcast later this year.
“If you can find stars who don’t offend your core of support and might broaden your appeal, you try to do that,” Hall said. “You bring them in to open things up and give people a sample, and they find that country music is very enjoyable.”
Other programming includes country music videos, Western movies, concerts, rodeos, stock car racing features, fishing, remodeling, gardening, motor home use and a talent show resembling “Star Search.”
TNN was started by WSM Inc., the same broadcasting company that started the Grand Ole Opry radio show in 1925. Gaylord bought the Opry, TNN, Opryland and related properties in 1983.
The Opry music show is broadcast on the network for 30 minutes every Saturday night. Another half-hour is devoted to backstage interviews.
“If you’re a country music fan, and you have the chance to watch the Opry at home on a Saturday night, you do it,” Hall said.
TNN is privately held and does not release how much money the network makes.
According to Paul Kagan Associates Inc., a Carmel consulting company, TNN has made a financial recovery since a loss of $6 million in 1985.
The network has made money every year since and is expected to earn $25 million this year after taxes, the consultant said.
There are shortfalls in the country’s two biggest markets. TNN is not available in parts of New York City and has to share a channel in Los Angeles.
Still, TNN said it penetrates 50% of U.S. TV homes and 90% of cable TV homes.
Hall said, “For a 6-year-old cable TV network to reach 50% in such a short span of time and continue to grow at a dramatic pace is remarkable.”