How Spike miniseries 'Tut' helped solidify the network's new future
Spike president Kevin Kay told Business Insider that "Tut" would come to represent a huge step in the network's rebranding, which he described as "a little bit of strategy, a little bit of smarts and a lot of luck."
"Tut" represents Spike's return to scripted television and biggest scripted project to date. It stars Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley and airs over three nights, six hours starting Sunday, July 19 at 9 p.m.
To understand why "Tut" means so much to Spike, we'll have to go back about two years when a big decision was made about the network's fu
Decision to rebrand: Hey Ladies!
"Viacom made a decision that we would take Spike and evolve it from a network for men into a big broad general entertainment network that including things like 'Lip Sync Battle,' the unscripted world, but also big scripted," Viacom's executive vice president of talent development and production, Casey Patterson, told BI.
The decision would open the network up to more growth in the marketplace, something it couldn't do if it continued programming to just young men.
"We never left the men behind," Kay reiterated, "because we had these incredible young men who were viewers and incredibly loyal. We felt like we can retain them, get older guys and bring some women in."
Originally, Spike had series that leaned heavily toward young men, such as scripted football comedy "Blue Mountain State"; advice show, "Manswers," and mixed martial arts shows like "Ultimate Fighter." In order to get the rebrand going, the network had to say goodbye to these types of shows and hello to shows that would give them a better gender mix.
That didn't mean everything had to go. Series like "Auction Hunters" and bar makeover show, "Bar Rescue," already had 40% and 45% of their audiences were female, respectively. Spike would then bring on Dave Navarro's tattoo competition, "Ink Master," which attracts a 50% female audience.
Spike then got the biggest unexpected boost in its rebrand process when producers for a new series pitting celebrities against each other in lip sync performances chose the cable network as its home.
"Spike was in the process of rebranding but had not rebranded itself yet," Patterson said. "We sort of told them where we were coming from, the direction we were taking the network in and they took a big leap of faith that we were going to get there, and that's a very modern way to think about your content. I remain very impressed with them for taking that leap."
"'Lip Sync Battle' seemed to do all the work [of the rebranding]," Kay explained. "It has big talent and appeals to men and women. It's just fun. It doesn't take itself too seriously. And, I think the broad audience loves that. And when you look at these stars - Dwayne Johnson, Jimmy Fallon or Anne Hathaway - these are the ones to watch, just like our new tag line says."
While "Lip Sync Battle" acted as an unexpected engine in Spike's rebranding process, the network began looking forward to the real test of its rebrand: scripted programming.
"We're in a time where the audience really loves scripted," Kay said. "If you're going to say that you're a general entertainment network, you have to have scripted."
"Tut" would become Spike's return to the scripted genre. After comedy series, "Blue Mountain State," ended and UFC left Spike, the network had to make up for the ratings. That's when they abandoned scripted TV in order to fill its schedule with faster and cheaper to produce reality TV shows. A couple years ago, things had begun to stabilize at the network.
"We've got a great schedule," the network president said. "We have the strength and we have the audience there, so why not get back into scripted. For us, 'Tut' is the perfect show to kind of make that statement."
When Kingsley read the script, his connection to the project came together quickly. The celebrated actor's participation also acted as a guarantee that Spike was making quality, which would bring more talented people to not just 'Tut,' but the network itself.
"Besides making a great miniseries, we also wanted to make a statement with 'Tut,'" Kay said. "There are a lot of competitors out there in scripted. If you're a Hollywood producer, there's HBO, there's Showtime, there's Cinemax, there's Netflix, there's Amazon, there's broadcast networks. We really wanted to make a statement that we're here, we're going to market your project in a big way, we're serious about the space. Bring us your projects. And it's starting to pay off."
Currently, Spike has development deals with Bryan Singer, Jerry Bruckheimer, Dwayne Johnson, Alcon Entertainment, "Biggest Loser's" Jillian Michaels, among others.
Watch a trailer for "Tut" below:
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