TNN goes National

MTV plans overhaul for country cabler

NEW YORK — Tom Freston, chairman of MTV Networks, said MTV has at last come up with a general entertainment network of its own. While the initials, TNN, will stay the same, the name changes to the National Network from the Nashville Network.

Reflecting a broader-based strategy, Freston will announce officially today that TNN will shift its headquarters to New York from Nashville, Tenn.

As part of that shift, Herb Scannell, president of Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite and TV Land, will add the presidency of TNN to his portfolio. Diane Rubina, senior VP and associate G.M. of TV Land, will get the new title of general manager of TNN. David Hall has resigned as the Nashville-based president of TNN.

One of Rubina’s duties will be to buy TV series and movies for TNN, Nick at Nite and TV Land. “We’ll be able to buy deeper in the catalogs of the major studios than any other group of cable networks,” Scannell said. “We’ll be the best one-stop shopping destination in the business.”

Off-net series buyer

For example, from one major-studio distributor, Rubina could be buying fresh off-network series for TNN, older library series for Nick at Nite and TV Land, theatrical movies for TNN and specials for all three networks.

Freston said MTV has drawn up a plan that will increase TNN’s production of original programming dramatically over the next five year so that, by 2005, 50% of the network’s schedule will consist of originals.

TNN will continue to operate its production facility in Nashville to help in that ambitious firstrun-series lineup, with the Nashville-based Brian Hughes, senior VP of sports and outdoor programming, reporting to Rubina. “We’ll still keep a substantial presence in Nashville,” Freston said.

Scannell said TNN will evolve over the next few years, shedding many of the country-music shows on its schedule, some of which will gravitate to TNN’s sister network CMT (Country Music TV), which now reports to John Sykes, the head of VH1. The Grand Ole Opry series, for example, will likely end up on CMT after its contract with TNN expires in a year or two, Freston said.

“We want to create a balanced programming schedule that will appeal to adults 18 to 49,” Freston said. “We’ll be working closely with Paramount and CBS,” with Paramount producing general-entertainment shows that could play on both CBS and TNN. Paramount, CBS and TNN are all divisions of Viacom.

Ready to rumble

Sports will figure prominently in TNN’s future, Freston said, particularly because TNN will soon start running the highest-rated weekly series, year-round, on all of basic cable: the World Wrestling Federation’s “Raw is War,” the Monday primetime series, which has made USA consistently the No. 1 rated cable network in the U.S.

Viacom outbid USA for the WWF cable package. USA sued earlier this year, claiming that Viacom violated its right of first refusal. A Federal Court in Delaware ruled in Viacom’s favor, solidifying the TNN deal. In addition to wrestling, motor sports and rodeo competitions will continue to be a part of the TNN programming mix, Freston said.

Scannell said the weekly WWF matches will help to elevate TNN into the big leagues of general entertainment networks like USA, TBS, Lifetime and TNT. He added that when the cable rights to the next major professional sports league come up for renewal, TNN will join in the bidding with the other powerful network players.

The same will be true for high-visibility off-network series and theatrical-movie packages, Rubina said. Sources said that over the next couple of years TNN’s programming budget could easily double the current Paul Kagan Associates projection of $173.4 million for calendar 2000.

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