Spike unveils macho makeover

Cabler to air 'Shield' uncut as part of on-air redesign

Spike TV will air racy cop drama “The Shield” uncut — the first step in a manly makeover of the men’s network.

An on-air redesign — cabler’s cursive logo is out — coupled with a new programming strategy focused on original drama will be unveiled as early as next week, when the Viacom cabler begins upfront presentations with advertisers in New York.

Topper Doug Herzog told Daily Variety the cabler will get into bolder programming, not entirely unlike that on FX, and will kickstart the effort by running its episodes of “The Shield” without edits. Skein makes its off-network premiere on Spike tonight and will later air back to back Fridays at 10 and 11 p.m.

Herzog said “The Shield,” which features strong violent and sexual content, will help set the tone for what’s to come on the net, including the summer launch of action hour “Blade.”

“The network is about testosterone, action and unpretentiousness,” Herzog said. “And we’re unapologetic about all of it.”

Exec has been shaping and strengthening the network’s brand since his arrival in January 2005. He envisions Spike as the premier destination for guys’ entertainment with a bent toward bold dramas and action-adventure programming. Originals won’t dip into the unflinching honesty of rival FX but will rep a significant departure from Spike’s reliance on light reality.

Prexy is pouring some $275 million into programming for 2007, according to Kagan World. Investment will help shift thinking about Spike, which had little traction with its originals before Herzog’s arrival while it was housed under the Nickelodeon Networks banner; “The Joe Schmo Show” ignited but flamed out quickly, and the net subsisted on James Bond film marathons and reruns of cult fave “MXC.”

“The Nickelodeon Group ultimately wasn’t the right place for a men’s network,” explained Herzog. “We see ourselves as an entertainment network for men, not a lifestyle one.

“Spike is a place where a guy can be a guy and not feel bad about it.”

Herzog now runs three nets for Viacom — Spike, Comedy Central and TV Land — which stand alone from the conglom’s Kids & Family Group and the Music & Logo Group.

Spike’s already working overtime to find the follow-up to “Blade.” Exec VP of original series Pancho Mansfield, whom Herzog enlisted to establish Spike’s scripted biz, is developing more than a dozen shows from such heavy hitters as Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan and Denis Leary (Daily Variety, Nov. 17). Among the projects are a sort of live-action take on the vidgame “Grand Theft Auto” and a mini about a mysterious illness that overruns Los Angeles.

Herzog disclosed that the cabler will produce at least two pilots and turn a third script into Spike’s first limited series.

“In a perfect world, 2007 would see a miniseries event similar to ‘The 4400’ in the first quarter, the return of ‘Blade’ (in success) for the spring, followed by a second drama series launch in the summer,” Herzog said.

While positioning will be heavy on the action-adventure genre, Herzog’s endgame is to have a portfolio of guy-targeted entertainment. “It’s not all about action. I’d love to have a soap opera for guys, like a ‘Rescue Me’ or ‘Sopranos,’ ” he said.

Spike also will launch two more tentpole events — one by the end of the year — in addition to the return of “The Video Game Awards” next year.

Despite the loss of World Wrestling Entertainment to USA, Spike finished 2005 up 26% in primetime, ahead of other male-skewing webs Sci Fi Channel, FX and Comedy Central. It’s had success with “CSI” repeats and new fight franchises TNA (Total Non-Stop Action) Wrestling and “Ultimate Fighting Championship.”