The Nashville Network at Grandma’s House: The Story of “TNN”

Photo: Television with TNN on screen
Photo: Television with TNN on screen

When I close my eyes and try to recall the sweet memories and images of my Appalachian childhood of the 1980s and 90s, visions of stuffy public school classrooms, summers spent swimming and playing with my friends in the mountain snow are never too far away.

As accurate as these memories are, perhaps no one single scene incapsulates the Appalachian childhood of my generation quite as well as an image of me sitting in a dated elderly person’s living room while The Nashville Network blared unnoticeably in the background.

Whether it was Crook & Chase, Bill Dance’s Country Sportsman, Dukes of Hazzard, or in the latter years, Roller Jam, The Nashville Network offered viewers something missing on television these days — a return to a more simple and innocent time.

Yes, a lot about the channel was a bit cheesy, but in an era when satellite television was in its infancy, the program was a rare gem and offered an opportunity of bonding with one’s grandparents that has long since faded away.

These days, I have nothing shy of one-thousand channels on television, sadly, The Nashville Network is no longer one of them.  What happened to this channel that once served as the most powerful driving force for rural media and why did it appear so suddenly then vanish away?

The story of The Nashville Network began on March 7, 1983, when it was launched as a basic cable and satellite television network from the now-defunct Opryland USA theme park near Nashville.

Unfortunately, the network was forced to “play second fiddle” to CMT, as County Music Television’s launch was hurried and went live two days prior to TNN and was able to claim the title, “first country music cable television network.”

Only a few months after its launch, Gaylord Entertainment Company purchased TNN and the Opryland properties.

In the early years, nearly all of the network’s programming was geared around the Nashville music scene and local Nashville personalities such as Ralph Emery, Dan Miller, Charlie Chase, Lorianne Crook, Gary Beaty, and Dinah Shore.

In 1991, Gaylord Entertainment purchased CMT and operated the two networks in tandem with each other, with CMT showing only music videos while TNN phased out videos blocks for programming that was of interest to rural viewers.

Through the latter half of the 1990s, the network dedicated its entire Sunday lineup to motorsports and became a hub for all things NASCAR.

In 1997, Westinghouse Electric, who at the time owned the CBS network purchased TNN and CMT, which allowed the network rights to air shows such as The Dukes of Hazzard and Dallas.

It was during this same time period, however, that the network attempted to distance itself from its country music and country lifestyle image in an effort to court a younger demographic of viewer.

In 1998 the network dropped “The Nashville Network” moniker and shortened its official name to TNN.

Ownership shifted to Viacom and TNN’s headquarters were moved from Nashville to New York City and the network was folded into Viacom’s MTV Networks division.

In 2000, Viacom again attempted to rebrand the network and once again changed its name to The National Network, then “The New TNN”, reformatting the network to compete with TNT, TBS, and USA Network.

This name, however, did not carry the pazzass New York managers were hoping for, so the name and channel was again relaunched in 2003 as Spike TV.  Three years later, it was again rebranded simply as Spike.

This past year, the network again underwent and entire rebranding and is now the Paramount Network.

I do not know if forsaking its country roots and trading in The Duke Boys and NASCAR for CSI: New York and Married with Children was profitable for the network — I can only offer my personal opinion by saying that I sure do miss seeing The Nashville Network I remember from my childhood.  Like so many other things, the old TNN is a distant relic of American goodness before New York suits got a hold of it and ruined it!

Do you like Appalachian History? Then you would love Appalachian Magazine’s Mountain Voice: A Collection of Memories, Histories, and Tall Tales of Appalachia!  Click here to check out the book on Amazon!

Share this article with your friends on Facebook: