Spike’s Zappala: “There isn’t anything we’d rule out”

Spike TV's executive VP of programming Tom Zappala (pictured) says the U.S. channel is looking for shows that move its audience away from its male-centric past, adding: "We don't want to be the sixth network on a concept."
June 20, 2012

When it comes to taking pitches for new original programs, don’t be fooled by Spike TV’s historical focus on the young male viewer.

The internationally-distributed U.S. channel is growing up, and making programming tweaks that reflect it. When asked about what kinds of show ideas it seeks, Tom Zappala (pictured), the New York-based company’s executive VP of programming, stressed: “There isn’t anything that we’d rule out.”

He spoke one-on-one with realscreen‘s sister publication Playback during last week’s Banff World Media Festival, between participating on discussion panels and meetings with Canadian and international prodcos. “There is a lot of the same out there and we don’t want to be the sixth network on a concept,” he added.

He noted that Spike was an early entrant in the factual program trends that are based on storage, such as Auction Hunters. “We like to be first: we’re trying to look for things that are different that appeal to a broad audience but maybe from a male POV. We like big characters and big stories and bold storytelling. Anything that fits in that space is something worth pitching to Spike,” he said.

In follow-up to a comment he’d made during a discussion session, Zappala said that while Spike is most interested in factual programs, the channel can see a day when it dives into original scripted dramas.

“I think if the right opportunity presented itself with scripted we’d look at it, but we are really focused right now on developing factual product and shows that will appeal to a broader audience than we have had historically on Spike,” he explained.

He held up, for example, Ink Masters. That program has had “a very balanced audience, and that is a show that appeals to men but is inclusive of women. I know that, looking at our development slate, there are opportunities to score in that category. We have Auction Hunters which is a big success that continues to grow and thrive, and Bar Rescue, which is coming back in July.”

And Zappala says the body art theme still has legs.

“We are developing more in the tattoo space, because we’ve had success with Ink Masters. We have Tattoo Nightmares coming in the fall; prior to that we have Tattoo Rescue that will air in the slot where we have Bar Rescue as a kind of ‘tattoo parlor rescue.’

“We are up to four nights of original series. We have a full compliment of original programming. That is the goal of [parent company] Viacom – to create content and to distribute that content worldwide. We own most of the content, which is critical these days, and we are able to control the distribution channels, which is so important right now.”

He acknowledged the Spike brand is undergoing some “fine tuning” to further the goal of differentiating itself from competitors. To that end, said Zappala, “We are more ambitious in terms of volume, we’ve been putting a lot more programming out there and we’re building nights… we’ve been very pleased with the results we’ve seen from the originals. We are working on getting that night-to-night-to-night [audience] flow.

“We are in growth mode and it’s a good place to be. We’ve let go of some of the vestiges of the past: The UFC for years was a staple on the channel and as the license fees escalated it just got to a point that it didn’t make sense, and the company has an ownership position in Bellator, which is the new league,” he added.

The Bellator Fighting Championships, a competitor to the UFC – whose fights are currently shown on MTV2 – are being migrated over to Spike later in the year, with a big promotion and shoulder programming to support the move.

“We had some great success with shows like MANsers and Deadliest Warriors, and they were more of the Spike that was very male-centric, and now we’re moving past that to a broader Spike. Those shows were hits in their day; it’s just that we’re outgrowing the playful, male-based shows.”

He also said the company is looking into a possible international broadcast partnership, a development that if it comes to pass would be a first for Spike, but wouldn’t provide any details except to say an announcement may come in a few months. He held up as an example of a successful international broadcast partnership Lost Girl, which has aired on Showcase north of the border and Syfy south of it since 2010.

“We see how other networks have done it. Syfy has Lost Girl which has been a home-run for them. They pay a license fee for it. People in the U.S. see it as a Syfy show; they don’t know about (the involvement of) Showcase; they don’t know that it’s created for Syfy. And it’s great. It’s a model that works so well and it’s a model we’d like to make for Spike,” he added.

From Playback Daily.

About The Author
Andrew Tracy joined Realscreen as associate editor in 2021, following 17 years as managing editor of the award-winning international film magazine Cinema Scope. From 2010 to 2020 he also held the position of senior editor at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he oversaw the flagship publication for the organization’s year-round Cinematheque programming and edited its first original monograph in a decade, Steve Gravestock’s A History of Icelandic Film. He was a scriptwriter and consultant on the first season of the Vice TV series The Vice Guide to Film, and his writing and reporting have been featured in such outlets as Cinema Scope, Reverse Shot, Sight & Sound, Cineaste, Film Comment, MUBI Notebook, POV, and Montage.