For a lifestyle network that’s being positioned as a destination for what David Granger calls “the high normal American male,” a port of call for well turned-out gents who take their bourbon neat and have strong opinions about Jonathan Franzen, NBCUniversal’s Esquire Network at first blush seemed to be weirdly obsessed with Louboutins and brunch.
Since launching on Sept. 23, the startup channel has aired repeats of Sex and the City no fewer than 151 times. A holdover from Esquire predecessor Style Network, Sex occupied a chunk of weekday morning hours, as well as some little-trafficked insomniac slots.
If the incongruity of Carrie Bradshaw and her gal pals rubbing elbows with the bros of White Collar Brawlers and Brew Dogs wasn’t lost on media buyers, the show was never designed to be anything more than a placeholder. (As of last week, Esquire net had sworn off Sex altogether, dropping the show from the schedule in favor of repeats of original series like Knife Fight and The Getaway.)
Such are the realities of converting a female-centric cable (women accounted for 84 percent of Style’s deliveries) into a competitive outlet for upscale men in their 30s and 40s. “You can’t just flip a switch and see your demos change overnight,” said one national TV buyer. “It’s hard enough as it is to reach men without sports, but to get them to come to a network that was once basically Kryptonite is something else altogether.”
While Esquire Net president Adam Stotsky has said that he’d like to program an all-original lineup in five years’ time, the initial game plan is to air all home-grown series on Tuesday and Wednesday nights in prime time. Currently, Esquire is leveraging the former USA Network hit Burn Notice in fringe as an on-ramp into new shows like the nightlife real estate series Risky Listing, the self-explanatory White Collar Brawlers and the travel opus Alternate Route.
Esquire Net has already cycled through four of its first eight originals, of which the top-rated Brew Dogs seems the most likely to earn a renewal. (First-run episodes of the antic and bibulous beer-buddy series averaged 64,000 total viewers.) Meanwhile, there are what one network exec characterized as “a ton” of shows in development, including an upcoming docuseries about 8- and 9-year-old football players (Friday Night Tykes, Jan. 14) and a seven-part strip about the pro handicappers who haunt thoroughbred temples like Churchill Downs and Saratoga (Horse Players, Jan. 21).
While Esquire magazine has gamely promoted the channel, running six full-page ads in both the October and December issues—a hypothetical $1.41 million write-off, per the 2013 rate card—it will still be a matter of time before the new property really takes off. In its first months of operation, overall deliveries are down 62 percent when compared to Style Network’s year-ago performance (69,000 total viewers vs. 182,000). That said, prime-time ratings for the dollar demo (men 18-49) improved 27 percent between October and November.