The Nashville Network (Johnsonverse)

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TNN logo.png
Logo since 2010
Owner: WSM, Inc. (1983)
Gaylord Entertainment Company (1983–present)
Group W Satellite Communications (1983–1995)
CBS Satellite Communications (1995–1997)
Westinghouse-CBS (1997–2000)
Viacom (2000)
Johnson Industries (1991-present)
Launched: March 7, 1983; 37 years ago
Language(s): English
Spanish
Picture format: 16:9 (letterboxed for 4:3)


The Nashville Network, usually referred to as TNN, is an American country music-oriented cable television network. Programming includes music videos, taped concerts, movies, game shows, syndicated programs, and numerous talk shows.

The network was founded by WSM, Inc. and Gaylord Entertainment Company in 1983, and was acquired by Johnson Industries in 1991. The network has since

History

Beginnings

The Nashville Network was launched as a basic cable and satellite television network on March 7, 1983, operating from the now-defunct Opryland USA theme park near Nashville, Tennessee. Country Music Television (CMT), founded by Glenn D. Daniels, beat TNN's launch by two days to become the first country music cable television network.

TNN was originally owned by WSM, Inc., a subsidiary of National Life and Accident Insurance Company, and initially focused on country music-related original programming. TNN's flagship shows included Nashville Now and Grand Ole Opry Live, both of which were broadcast live from Opryland USA. During TNN's first year of broadcasting, American General Corporation, parent company of NL&AIC, put the network up for sale in an effort to focus on its core businesses.

Gaylord ownership (1983–1991)

The Gaylord Entertainment Company purchased TNN and the Opryland properties in the latter half of 1983. Much of TNN's programming during the Gaylord era was originally produced by Opryland Productions, also owned by Gaylord Entertainment. Programming included variety shows, talk shows, game shows (such as Fandango and Top Card), outdoors shows, and lifestyle shows, all centered in some way around country music. Some of TNN's popular on-air talent included Miss America 1983 Debra Maffett (TNN Country News), and local Nashville media personalities Ralph Emery, Dan Miller, Charlie Chase, Lorianne Crook and Gary Beaty, as well as established stars such as country music singer Bill Anderson and actresses Florence Henderson and Dinah Shore. TNN even created stars, such as wily fisherman Bill Dance. Grand Ole Opry singer Bobby Lord, known for his skills as a sportsman, hosted the program Country Sportsman, featuring hunting and fishing excursions with various country stars. Inspired by ABC's The American Sportsman, the TNN show was later renamed Celebrity Sportsman after ABC objected to the similarity to their program. One of the most popular shows that aired on the network during this time was a variety show hosted by the country music quartet The Statler Brothers.

In 1991, Gaylord Entertainment purchased TNN's chief competitor, CMT, and operated it in tandem with TNN. CMT continued to show country music videos exclusively throughout Gaylord's ownership. Following the acquisition, TNN quickly phased out its music video blocks, while directing viewers to CMT for such fare.

Johnson ownership (1991-present)

On December 29, 1991, Johnson acquired a controlling interest in the network as one of its first acquisitions since Sheldon Johnson, Jr. took over as CEO. Gaylord Entertainment retained a 25% interest, while Westinghouse (which would later become CBS Corporation and then acquired by Viacom) retained a 10% share.

In 1993, Ralph Emery began a short-lived retirement from broadcasting, and left Nashville Now in the process. Upon Emery's exit, the show was merged with fellow TNN program Crook & Chase and renamed Music City Tonight (hosted by Lorianne Crook and Charlie Chase). The same year, TNN Country News debuted, and was hosted by Debra Maffett. The programming block TNN Outdoors debuted in 1993, and featuring hunting and fishing shows, as well as rodeo and bull riding series. In 1996, Crook and Chase left the show to relaunch their eponymous program in daytime syndication; it would return exclusively to TNN in 1997. Meanwhile, Music City Tonight was again overhauled to more closely resemble its original Nashville Now format, but was rebranded as Prime Time Country. This version was originally hosted by actor Tom Wopat. He was later replaced with singer/songwriter Gary Chapman, who has enjoyed relative success with the show ever since.

TNN had two subdivisions focused on specialty programming: TNN Outdoors and TNN Motor Sports. TNN Outdoors debuted in 1993, and features a wide variety of hunting and fishing shows, as well as rodeo and bull riding series. In 1998, country singer Tracy Byrd became the on-air spokesman for the TNN Outdoors block, who stayed until 2000. TNN Motor Sports was responsible for production of all of the network's auto racing and motorsports coverage. Regarding the latter, NASCAR races (including those of the then-Winston Cup Series, Busch Grand National Series, and Craftsman Truck Series) were the most prominently featured. However, races of other series such as IMSA, IRL, ASA, World of Outlaws, and NHRA were also showcased, as were motorcycle and monster truck racing. TNN Outdoors and TNN Motor Sports also were marketed as separate entities, selling a variety of merchandise and being branded onto video games such as TNN Bass Tournament of Champions and TNN Outdoors Bass Tournament '96.

In 1995, the network's motorsports operations were moved into the industrial park located at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, where TNN had purchased controlling interest in World Sports Enterprises, a motorsports production company. Notable TNN racing personalities included Mike Joy, Steve Evans, Eli Gold, Buddy Baker, Neil Bonnett, Randy Pemberton, Ralph Sheheen, Dick Berggren, Matt Yocum, Brock Yates, Paul Page, Don Garlits, Gary Gerould, Army Armstrong, and Rick Benjamin.

The outdoors and motorsports programs were so successful that, by the early 1990s, only those shows were seen on Sundays, with no musical programming.

Most of the original entertainment-oriented programming ceased production in the mid-1990s, and the network began to rely more on TNN Outdoors and TNN Motor Sports for programming. The network's existing ties to CBS allowed it to pick up country-themed CBS dramas from the 1980s such as The Dukes of Hazzard and Dallas, and also allowed it to carry CBS Sports' overruns, which happened during a NASCAR Busch Series race at Texas Motor Speedway and also a PGA Tour event at Firestone Country Club.

The late 1990s also saw the network's first attempts to distance itself from its country music/country lifestyle image and court a younger demographic. In 1998, the network dropped its "The Nashville Network" moniker and shortened its official name to TNN. 1998 witnessed the premiere of RollerJam, which brought roller derby back to television for the first time in almost a decade. The next year, TNN began its relationship with professional wrestling, signing a three-year deal with Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). ECW on TNN was the highest-rated show on TNN through 2000, despite limited advertising. ECW on TNN and RollerJam formed the core of the network's "Thrill Zone Friday" program block, which was responsible for an increase in the network's young male viewership on Friday nights.

2000 saw Johnson acquire CBS' (which had been acquired by Viacom in 1999) 10% stake in TNN. In 2010, the network was officially rebranded back to The Nashville Network, with a logo inspired by its pre-1997 incarnation, and brought back select country-oriented programming, though its sports programs remained.

Programming