This December will mark the 20th anniversary of GSN. Once not more than a place for reruns of 1950s and 1960s game shows, the net, previously known as Game Show Network, started to add originals a decade ago. The process has accelerated since the 2011 hire of former Bravo and Oxygen executive Amy Introcaso-Davis. On her watch, the network launched American Bible Challenge, which became the highest-rated original series in GSN’s history, as well as other breakouts like It Takes A Church and The Chase. The cable network, co-owned by Sony Pictures TV and DirecTV, has now logged three consecutive years of growth in the target demo of women 25-54 and had its most-watched year in 2013. GSN will continue to rely on acquired game shows — like Steve Harvey’s Family Feud, which has done extremely well — but the primary focus will be on development, with the goal to have 12-15 primetime original series in 2015, double the network’s 2013 output. We caught up with Introcaso-Davis to talk about GSN’s evolution and the new direction it’s taking with the provocative body-painting competition reality series Skin Wars, which debuts Wednesday.
DEADLINE: You’re taking on the popular naked reality show trend with your new series Skin Wars. What do you think is behind the proliferation of these shows?
INTROCASO-DAVIS: Nakedness certainly gets people’s attention, and in a noisy marketplace networks are always looking for what will break through. The reason that we love Skin Wars is that it was the first body painting competition show on TV. I think what differentiates this show from the others is that there is an actual reason for (participants) to be naked, you need to have a naked canvas to be able to paint the body. Everybody’s looking for that different kind of spin but this is really an art form, so we consider ourselves very different from those shows in that sense, because it’s really about art. Artists have throughout the ages revered the body and what is beautiful about it, and what I love about this show is that you’re using the whole body and that the opportunity to make great art is much bigger.
DEADLINE: You have as host Rebecca Romijn, who has experience in body painting from playing Mystique in the X-Men franchise.
INTROCASO-DAVIS: Yes, I think she’d been approached about (reality) shows before, but I think what made this show interesting to her is that she actually, as you said, had experience in body painting — she was the first model to be body painted for Sports Illustrated and also with her role as Mystique, so she really understood it. Honestly I didn’t think we’d be able to get her and we got her.
DEADLINE: Is she getting body painted on the show?
INTROCASO-DAVIS: No. She wouldn’t have been opposed to it but we just couldn’t figure it out time-wise for this season; we might do something like that if there was a Season 2. But she is definitely helpful to us behind the scenes. She had an affinity for the models who were standing there sometimes six, seven hours at a time having to be painted, she really knows what that’s like.
DEADLINE: GSN has had a lot of success with, I’ll call them wholesome shows, like American Bible Challenge and It Takes A Church. You’re going in a provocative new direction with Skin Wars. How did that come about, you seem to be pushing the envelope here.
INTROCASO-DAVIS: Yes, I do think that we are pushing the envelope a bit here. We’re all about game, so anything that has to do with competition or game we feel is right for the channel. With Skin Wars, we’re definitely going in a different direction. But what’s interesting about it is that you’re with the models for a little bit and then you forget that they don’t have their clothes on; particularly when the body is painted completely because it actually looks like they are wearing something. It isn’t sexual really, it’s provocative without being sexual.
DEADLINE: GSN has long been known as place for repeats of classic game shows. You are making a big push in original programming with shows like Bible Challenge and The Chase. What is the network’s programming strategy?
INTROCASO-DAVIS: I think GSN today is first and foremost a place where women — 25-to-54 is our primary target — can go for escape, for fun or game. That’s our primary focus. We are fun, family-oriented. Bible Challenge was interesting to us because it actually was a family-oriented program. Pegged to a very specific audience, but at the end of the day, what’s appealing to most people is that it’s a family show. Most game shows are. But what we really want to do is differentiate ourselves as new game and primarily we’ll be doing that in primetime. There will always be a place for the old-time shows on GSN but they will be primarily during the day.
DEADLINE: You come from Bravo where you worked on shows like Real Housewives and My Life On The D List. Is there room for docu-reality series on GSN in any shape or form?
INTROCASO-DAVIS: That’s something that certainly we’ve talked about. I don’t think at this point it’s the right thing for us. I think there’s lots of opportunity with GSN because we are about game. And that is very different than any other network out there; we’re very specific. If you look at the A+E networks and the Comcast networks, the shows are starting to become interchangeable. And I think there is starting to be some brand confusion particularly because of DVR — you’re DVR’ing the show and you don’t not necessarily know what network you’re on. With something like GSN where it’s very specific; you know what it is; there’s a very specific identity to it. I think that’s an advantage in this world where everything is sort of melding together.
DEADLINE: What exactly constitutes a game show?
INTROCASO-DAVIS: Well, for us it’s anything that has a game element. So we have our shiny-floor games, which are The Chase and American Bible Challenge. It Takes A Church is a competition between matchmakers to set up their person with a deserving dater from the church, and there’s a game element in that because you’re really rooting for which guy is going to make it to the final to get the girl. And then there’s the competition show, which is Skin Wars where someone gets eliminated each week. There’s a prize at the end and prizes along the way. We just shot this very cool show called The Line – and that’s a show where we will go into towns across the country– we just shot in Nashville — where people stand in line to go into a tent. There’s a ticker of money going on above the tent, and if you get to the front of the line, you go in, you have to answer eight questions and you win whatever money is on the ticker. That’s a super fun, different kind of show because we’re bringing the game to you in that case. We also have Idiot Test that’s coming up on August 12, which is a brain teaser game, and I don’t think there really has been that kind of show either yet.
DEADLINE: What about talent competitions? Is this a genre GSN could get in to?
INTROCASO-DAVIS: I think it’s honestly something that we’ll stay away from right now simply because there’s such a proliferation on them. I’m not sure that we could, but if (we do), it needs to be as unique as Skin Wars is. We won’t do anything that’s just a regular, singing competition show. It has to be a first or something incredibly unique for us to do it. We’ve had success at being first to market — we were the first to market in the Christian faith space with the American Bible Challenge; we were the first to market with Skin Wars with the body painting competition challenge. I think that it’s very helpful for a network like GSN to be first to market and be the first one to do it.
DEADLINE: Are there areas where you want to expand? Are you targeting any particular competition genres?
INTROCASO-DAVIS: One of the things that I tell my development team is to look at trends out there and the gamification of trends. How can we gamify something? And so we’re looking at pop culture and trying to think, what it is out there that we can gamify. We’ve got a show called App Wars in development. It’s crazy to me that no one has done this show but it’s really the competition to find the best new app out there and that’s the thing that everyone can identify with, right? Because you always think, oh, you come across an app and you think why couldn’t I think of that. It’s something that’s very, very identifiable and no one’s done it. How is that possible? Those are the kind of shows that we’re looking at.
DEADLINE: How do you see GSN evolving over the next 5-10 years?
INTROCASO-DAVIS: I think you’ll always see an element of game and I think that shiny-floor game which is the traditional game will always be a part of the GSN programming strategy. It Takes A Church is doing very well with women. I’d love to find other ideas, and we’re looking at other shows in that area that are single-episode format shows. The competition shows are honestly more difficult to find but when you find them, they’re golden. We have a couple in development but I’d love to find a couple more of those. There’s really three areas that we look at, which is the shiny-floor, the competition and the single-episode format.