Spike TV President Resigns; Program Changes To Occur

Keith Wilcutt

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – Albie Hecht, president of Viacom-owned cable network Spike TV, announced his resignation Sunday, a move sources say is part of a strategy shift for the male-targeted channel.

A release issued by Spike’s immediate MTV Networks parent explained Hecht’s parting as due to “creative differences.” Herb Scannell, president of MTV Networks Group, said in the statement, “As Spike TV’s first president, Albie Hecht led the effort to create the first network for men. He’s a talented producer and executive who will be missed.”

No successor was named for Hecht, but sources believe Comedy Central president Doug Herzog will add Spike TV to his responsibilities. Herzog has been rumored to be under consideration for some kind of leadership role at Spike TV since he rejoined Comedy Central in March, especially in the wake of the ascension of former MTV Networks chairman/CEO Tom Freston to co-president and co-chief operating officer of Viacom, which triggered an executive reshuffling at the cable division. ADVERTISEMENT

The resignation came on Hecht’s second anniversary at the channel, formerly known as TNN before Viacom relaunched it as the ultimate destination for male viewers in June 2003. Its lineup features such testosterone-pumped programming as pro-wrestling, auto racing and babe-boasting original fare like the Pamela Anderson-produced cartoon “Stripperella.”

“Stripperella” and countless other original programming efforts flopped at Spike TV, which has been home to only one true breakout success: “The Joe Schmo Show,” a reality series that fizzled in its second season.

Sources now say MTV Networks brass want to broaden Spike TV’s appeal beyond its traditional male focus by potentially creating scripted dramas rather than stick with Hecht’s unscripted-comedic approach.

The move is prompted less by failure than the network’s biggest success to date: syndicated acquisition “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” is hitting such a broad audience duringt its weekday airings in primetime that making the network palatable to more than young males is a no-brainer. The Jan. 20 8 p.m. episode of “CSI,” for example, drew 3.8 million viewers — beating even ABC and the WB Network in the time slot.

The network likely will build a new, broader identity around “CSI” and another recent acquisition, “CSI: NY,” which it purchased for $1.9 million per episode in November — then a record sum in syndication. That won’t necessarily mean changing the Spike TV name, but it could mean refining the Maxim-ish brand sensibility Viacom has spent millions to market with little success (though a widely reported legal battle over the brand name with filmmaker Spike Lee helped).

Previously known as TNN, the new TNN, the National Network and the Nashville Network, the channel has something of a cursed brand to begin with, given the sheer number of identities it spawned even before Viacom purchased it in 2000. The channel started 22 years ago as a source of country music-inspired programming.

Given Herzog’s solid track record for developing original programming like “South Park” at Comedy Central and “Malcolm in the Middle” at Fox Broadcasting Co., expanding the executive’s oversight to Spike TV will help the channel this spring when advertisers start buying slots for the 2005/06 season.

As for Hecht’s future, Scannell said in the release that he will remain in some capacity at Viacom. “Albie has accomplished much as a producer in film and television, and we’re beginning discussions about how he might continue working with our company in those capacities,” he said.

Sources said Hecht might be headed back to the film side of Viacom in some capacity now that it is under new leadership. Hecht, a former New York-based producer, joined Nickelodeon in 1993 as head of development where he was instrumental in the creation of such key franchises as the Kids Choice Awards and “Blue’s Clues.” He was promoted to president film and TV entertainment at Nickelodeon in October 1997 and also oversaw creation of Nick Animation Studios in New York and Los Angeles.

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