"We don't have a format," Dave Navarro boasts about Spread Entertainment, his talk show for Mania TV!, the Denver-based Internet-television purveyor. "We don't walk in and a band plays and there's a monologue. But my favorite thing to do is, my partner, Todd Newman, and I go out and shoot clips — we basically take the camera and mike out on the street and talk to everyday people doing everyday things. And I'd say 90 percent of the time, regular people are more entertaining than somebody who's pushing an album."
That may be true — but these days, the folks at Navarro's network would rather have regular Joes and Janes watching the online network's fare than contributing much to it. When ManiaTV! (at ManiaTV.com) bowed in 2004, much of the talk was about interactivity: Viewers could upload mini-movies, oddball footage, amateur animation or whatever. As a result, ManiaTV! was soon inundated with submissions — but today, given the primacy of YouTube, such material has become more of a burden than a draw.
"We're having to manage 20,000-some-odd pages of content," says Jason Damata, communications director for ManiaTV!, "and a lot of the user-generated things aren't very good. They're grainy, poorly produced and not getting much of an audience — and they're sucking bandwidth. It was an instrument of growth for us, but we found that it was drowning out the truly premium stuff we're getting."
For that reason, ManiaTV! plans to jettison the vast majority of its user-generated library by mid-October and put strict limits on what will be accepted in the future. Meanwhile, the network is concentrating on the stand-alone program concept, much as MTV did when it transitioned from endless loops of music videos to a schedule jammed with offerings such as Wild 'N Out. "We're all about shows," Damata emphasizes.
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This process began in earnest with comedian Tom Green's literally homemade offering, Tom Green Live, which debuted on ManiaTV! in June 2006. Before long, Green was attracting a viewership of around 25,000 per show, partly because of high-profile guests who enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and the opportunity to chat without fear of offending officials at the Federal Communications Commission, whose regulations don't apply on the web.
Among those who accepted an invitation to bounce on Green's couch was Navarro, whose career has taken plenty of bizarre twists over the years. The public at large first eyeballed him when he played with Jane's Addiction, a boundary-pushing band that made some of the best hard-rock music of the late '80s and early '90s. Unfortunately, the act was too volatile to survive over the long haul, due, among other reasons, to Navarro's own addictions — most notably, one to heroin; his 2004 book, Don't Try This at Home, deals in part with his successful efforts to kick the habit. ("I haven't touched drugs or alcohol in a long, long time, and it's made my life much more enjoyable and productive," he says.) After the group imploded, he joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers for a few years, participated in at least two Jane's Addiction reunions, and served as a rental guitarist for artists as disparate as Marilyn Manson and Christina Aguilera. But he truly became a mass-market personality thanks to the reality-TV boom. His romance with pneumatic former Baywatch trollop Carmen Electra was memorialized in Carmen & Dave: An MTV Love Story and a sequel about their wedding, 'Til Death Do Us Part: Carmen & Dave; inevitably, they split up shortly thereafter. In addition, he served as a co-host and judge on two CBS efforts, Rock Star: INXS and Rock Star: Supernova, proving that his sexy bad-boy persona could also work in the mainstream.
Instead of continuing on this path (and probably winding up in an embarrassing sitcom), Navarro ventured into other media, beginning with Camp Freddy Radio, a program on L.A.'s Indie 103.1, and Spread Radio Live, an Internet radio show. He added a webcasting component to both, but, he concedes, "There's not a lot to look at — just a guy talking into a microphone. You get the picture after a few minutes. So when Mania came along, it just seemed like a perfect fit. Because basically they were providing me with the technology to expand on something I was already deeply into."
Unlike Green, Navarro didn't want his home to be invaded — so ManiaTV! struck a deal with the Dragonfly, a Santa Monica Boulevard bar where Spread Entertainment gets under way Thursdays at 6 p.m. Mountain Time. Before Dragonfly patrons and co-host Newman (who's usually accompanied by at least two foxy ladies), Navarro quizzes a range of A-Z listers who often take advantage of the no-restrictions policy regarding language and subject matter. During her appearance, for example, original supermodel turned plastic-surgery guinea pig Janice Dickinson let the profanities fly while discussing everything from Navarro's sex life to childbirth and episiotomies.
Along the way, Navarro and Newman take breaks to plug cell phones by Verizon, the company that sponsors the program; for the most part, ManiaTV! incorporates advertising into the body of its shows, as opposed to running commercials users can skip. "I have no problem pushing a product I like," Navarro stresses. "If they were asking me to talk about — I have no idea — Kotex or some shit, I'd be like, 'What has that got to do with me?'" A moment later, he reconsiders this statement: "No, I would have a tampon sponsorship, for sure," he decides.
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This kind of attitude has endeared ManiaTV! to corporate America. In terms of advertising, spokesman Damata notes that The Daily Independent, hosted by CJ Christy Kruzick, "has been sold out for a year, all with nothing less than a Fortune 500 company." Such firms haven't been nearly as enthusiastic about ManiaTV!'s user-generated content, and no wonder. As Damata points out, "If you upload a photo of yourself in your underwear, Adidas doesn't want to sponsor that."
On top of dumping the user-gen catalogue, and cutting four production positions associated with it, ManiaTV! has asked Denver's Factory Design Labs to produce a new version of its site. That eliminated the need for eight positions on the ManiaTV! tech crew — and another eight part-time programmers were let go due to the decision to cut back on some live programming. But these resources are being reallocated to expand operations in SoCal, the celebrity center of the universe. A part-time crew was brought aboard for Spread Entertainment, and numerous positions will be added in Los Angeles in anticipation of ManiaTV! launching a couple more star-driven shows by year's end. "We're looking for studio space out there," Damata says, "and by leveraging partnerships and creating bandwidth, we can hire people in L.A. without increasing our cost of doing business."
That doesn't mean ManiaTV! is about to abandon Denver — but it is going Hollywood. For instance, ManiaTV! personnel have become regular participants in movie junkets, recently interviewing stars such as Matt Damon. There's hardly a shortage of such stuff in the media, but Damata insists that ManiaTV! gives it a different twist. "The average age of the network TV viewer is, like, late forties, and we're aiming for mid-twenties," he says. "We're asking questions that the younger generation cares about. We don't have to hit the parents and grandmas, like the ETs and Extras do. We're able to talk about what the kids want to know." To get even more mileage out of such snippets, ManiaTV! has begun syndicating them through recent agreements with outfits such as Yahoo, along with samples of Green's and Navarro's shows. Westword is in business with ManiaTV!, too.
Audiences may not be huge thus far, but Navarro, who's in Denver this week to host the 4th Annual Adult Film Star Ball at La Bohème, is smitten by the potential. "You're asking a lot of a viewer to look at a little tiny window on their computer for an hour. I can't do it. I can't sit there and watch anything longer than three or four minutes," he says — an acknowledgement that prompts Damata to note that ManiaTV! has a full-screen option. "But I'm certain it's going to expand to the point where you can basically stream onto someone's flat screen. You know that's going to happen — and when it does, we're going to be way ahead of the curve."