TV's 'Nashville Network' (TNN) Returns, Digital-Style

Tuesday, 24 July 2012 07:00 AM Written by 

From 1983 until 2000, The Nashville Network (TNN) was the premiere place for country music, paving the ways for cable channels like CMT and Great American Country (GAC) and in later years RFD-TV. As the first country cable channel, TNN offered various programs, some great, many good, others mediocre and a few barely watchable.   Soon, TNN will return to the airwaves, albeit not on cable but as a digital broadcast channel offered to stations around the country.

In its prime, TNN was home to the prime time Nashville Now, where former WSM all night DJ Ralph Emery hosted stars in a Tonight Show setting.  This is a 1980's episode featuring guests Waylon Jennings alongside fellow country legend Ray Price, reminiscing.

Here, Emery hosts Hank Williams Jr. in 1989. With him is his manager, Merle Kilgore, himself a singer-songwriter who co-wrote Johnny Cash's hit "Ring of Fire" with June Carter before she married Cash.   Note their discussion of his then-brand new Monday Night Football tune and preview of the video. 

Crook and Chase paired Lorianne Crook and ex-Nashville weatherman Charlie Chase for a Regis and Kelly style talkfest with stars.  TNN's lifestyle shows embraced cooking, hunting/fishing and RV travel. 

Music programming, however, was the major focus, with shows like the 1991-1998 Statler Brothers Show, along with The Texas Connection, Bobby Bare and Friends, featuring the singer interviewing songwriters.  This is Bare (known for recording the classics "Detroit City" and "Drop Kick Me, Jesus") interviewing Bluegrass creator Bill Monroe.

In the mid to late 90's, TNN also offered a Biography style series titled Life and Times and Yesterday and Today, examining aspects of country history (disclosure: I appeared as a talking head on both these programs).

In 1998 TNN was sold by its owner, Gaylord, (owners of the Grand Ole Opry), to CBS. In 2000, the network ended the country programming. This was their sign-off video for the channel's Nashville era.

CBS, calling it by the TNN acronym, changed the programming to what it is today and renamed it SpikeTV in 2002. The new programming will include a number of show, among them Crook and Chase (which wasn't that good on the old TNN), a cooking show called Celebrity Kitchen and Music City Tonight.

Crook's husband, producer Jim Owens, teaming with Chattanooga-based Luken Communications, who own a number of digital TV stations, are reviving TNN to distribute digitally to broadcast stations around the country who can run over the air and on cable systems.. Luken's TV oldies channel RTV, for example, is run by WBGN in Pittsburgh.

The new TNN is aiming for a more tradition-minded demographic, since they're blending new programming and remastered reruns of some classic shows.  Given the reality that CMT today is a mélange of reality shows, movies and occasional music features aimed at the youngest demographic, this is a boon for older viewers and many younger viewers who love classic country and want to hear more than they can on CMT.

 No word yet which (if any) Pittsburgh station will carry the new TNN.

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