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Esquire Network Preview: New Channel Tries to Scratch a Niche

Esquire might need to expand into TV, but do guys need the branded channel?

Lord knows magazines need to creatively exploit new revenue streams, but why viewers need an Esquire network remains a mystery. Having finally settled on a Comcast channel to displace (Style, we hardly knew ye), the new venture launches Sept. 23, with a variety of lifestyle-oriented programming, ostensibly aimed at men. Yet a preview suggests the hipster vibe speaks to an audience that should be too cool to watch most of this stuff, or too male to commit to much other than sports, manly men in dirty jobs and the occasional gritty drama. Frankly, if a magazine-derived, male-tilted network is going to succeed, put your money on Maxim.

Most of the series previewed (either in full or promotional form) could easily be found on the Travel Channel, a la “The Getaway” (pictured), in which a different celebrity each week spends a weekend eating and drinking his or her way through some fabulous locale. Others, like “Knife Fight,” in which two chefs square off, have an amped-up “Iron Chef”-like feel; or “Brew Dogs,” which raises the question of just how devoted men are to the subject of micro-beers.

“Boundless,” meanwhile, features a couple of Canadian buddies subjecting themselves to intense physical challenges (the Hawaii installment contains a lot of vomiting over the side of a boat), while the most thematically interesting show previewed, “White Collar Brawlers,” is also the most potentially disturbing: A “Fight Club”-like conceit, in which office mates train and eventually box against each other.

Granted, TV has a lot of putting-people-through-physical-ordeal shows, but most don’t culminate in pummeling the person who regularly sits in the cubicle next to you. That said, it’s one of the few programs in the opening Esquire portfolio that look provocative enough to generate some buzz.

Esquire will have access to lots of NBC Universal reruns (“Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Burn Notice”) to augment its original efforts, but none of that answers the burning question of whether the channel’s niche is deep or well-defined enough to gain the necessary toehold with viewers.

As Variety‘s Brian Steinberg cogently suggested several months back, “Guys have always hunted and gathered. If I want to see someone gorge on barbecue, I can find ‘Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.’ If I want sports, I’ve got umpteen options. Do I need everything on one network?”

Put another way, whatever equity resides in the Esquire brand, there’s a fundamental difference between wanting to read an article about a topic and actually sitting through a TV show devoted to it, as efforts to translate other magazines have discovered.

“It’s very bold, and it’s very confident,” Ilan Hall, a past winner of “Top Chef” and the proprietor of the restaurant in “Knife Fight,” says by way of describing a dish — as only a true foodie could appreciate — during the show’s Sept. 24 premiere.

Based strictly on this preview, Esquire gives off the impression that it might be a little too confident — and from a programming perspective, not bold enough.

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