In a Flyover State: Go Hunting for This Demo

I have written in these pages before about my annual fishing trip to Alaska with my redneck brother-in-law. Last year, I wrote a column saying someone should start a Redneck Channel dedicated to, well, you know.

I was actually pretty serious, though quite a few people thought I was making fun of rednecks (a term I consider a compliment, and probably secretly aspire to be referred to as), and lambasted me for being everything from a bra-burning liberal to a homophobe.

But since I like to get trashed equally by both sides, I am now going to admit something that many people from a different background will probably be disgusted by: I have (legally) taken animals with a firearm. It’s true: I have a freezer in my garage full of meat that I did not buy at Trader Joe’s.

I am not here to write about what is right and wrong. I am not here to write things like, how can you ask a hunter how they could kill a deer and then go have a nice steak dinner yourself? I am also not here to write about how someone can defend to their death the right to bear arms when kids are killing kids every day with guns. You all can argue about that until you are red or blue in the face. What I will say is that while Hollywood and a massive demo in our country don’t play nice together in many respects, thumbing noses at each other is a big waste of time and opportunity.

I recently put my crosshairs on this relationship by attending a huge firearms show called SHOT (Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade) in Las Vegas. Not open to the public, the convention drew 61,000 people to Sin City to check out the latest in guns, ammo and everything related. And no shock, you could find camo everywhere—from baby clothes to the lingerie a girl might wear to get her man in the mood to make something to put in those baby clothes.

So what was I doing there? How did a Jew who works in the TV business end up in a place where Hollywood is a four-letter word to many, and where, judging by what I heard, I wouldn’t expect to see too many attendees planning to join me in synagogue on the High Holidays? I was there to study up on an incredibly powerful demo that is incredibly overlooked by the TV industry…and having a damn good time doing it.

The first night, I attended a beautiful party and awards show thrown by Sportsman Channel, a network that just hit the 30-million-homes mark, run by well-regarded industry veteran Gavin Harvey. Harvey not only knows TV, but walks the talk: he is a dedicated outdoorsman himself. And while you probably don’t watch the network, you ought to check it out—they have programming that absolutely could run on any network. Yes, they have plenty of what I call “hunting porn”: shows with little story line and lots of fi nishing shots. But they also have shows like Dropped: Project Alaska, a new series that puts a pair of brothers in the middle of our largest state for a month with no food and instructions that they have to hunt and fish to survive. The quality—both in story and production—is outstanding, and it absolutely could run on any network from Discovery to TruTV.

The second night, Outdoor Channel—now in more than 36 million homes—had its awards event, and it was majestic. In a massive theatre at the Hard Rock, it featured a full concert from the wonderful Zac Brown Band and appearances from people like “Uncle Ted” Nugent (who as usual told everyone to vote Republican and “get these punks out of the White House”) and Joe Mantegna, who hosts a show on the network as well. Mantegna was funny onstage, but no funnier than when he once told me while we were golfing together that he is so thankful to Mandy Patinkin for dropping out of the lead Criminal Minds role that he has a photo of Patinkin over his bed. I think he was kidding. Not sure.

But in my view, the best thing to see on Outdoor Channel is an on-air couple named Lee and Tiffany Lakosky. They are Minnesotans, so I am biased, but they are TV stars, with a show called The Crush. If I were ABC, I would seriously be looking at Tiffany for Dancing With the Stars. She has a magnetic personality, would bring in a whole new demo to the network, and she is, um—sorry here, Lee—absolutely offthe- charts smoking hot. I took a photo of my redneck brother-in-law with her, and the youknow- what-eating grin he had on must have been as big as the one Bernie Madoff sported the first time someone wrote him a check.

Perhaps the best part of the Outdoor bash was that it was in the same hotel as a popular porn convention. The cross-section of rednecks and porn actresses in the bar that night had to have led to some great script ideas, if not run-throughs.

Another highlight was Steven Tyler coming to the SHOT show, where he was presented with a massive knife. Unfortunately, he got it the morning that the dismal Idol premiere ratings came out. Made me a little nervous.

Throughout the weekend, I heard tons of shots (as in barbs—not gunfire, thankfully) taken at Hollywood people. It was similar to the way I hear many Hollywood execs dismiss hunters and the religious right, and the like. What a huge mistake.

There is opportunity here. Outdoor and Sportsman execs know it, and they are being handed more market share as places such as ESPN and NBC Sports Channel are increasingly getting out of the outdoors game. Meanwhile, other nets are trying to step in. Smart move.

Many of the folks who make television disagree with some core beliefs of a whole mess of people. And that’s fine. But if they can target them—and I mean with programming—it’s a great business idea. And ignoring the opportunity to program to them is a huge miss.

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