Sep 30, 2004

We Don't Care About Television In The US

When I created The X Bridge way back in the year 1998 (okay, it was a little over six years ago, but in web years, that's ancient), people wondered why I created a site dedicated to a block like Toonami. One of the reasons why I launched the site was because of the way the block presented itself, which was like nothing I've seen in this country . . . well, not since Sci-Fi's Animation Station block, but that's something I'll dwell on at the main site one day. When Tyler L. launched Toonami Multimedia (later Toonami Miscellanious) and Zogg started Toonami Basement that captured the on-air bumpers, idents, and openings the folks at Williams Street made, people knew that this block really had a good thing going. When Tyler and Zogg merged their sites into Toonami Digital Arsenal, the premiere destination for all multimedia relating to Toonami, the Toonami fan community were given a true digital gift that is, in fact, a historical archive of the evolution of a cable network programming block.

In fact, in the United States, TDA is one of the few online sources for television promotional multimedia. You won't find a complete archive of other network blocks, let alone other cable networks, in the United States. See, the thing that makes TDA different is that it actually exists. You won't find a website with classic HBO openings, older Nickelodeon promotional commercials, the evolution of TBS logos, or any other cable network in the United States. Why?

We, as a society, don't really care about how television is presented in this country. We just care about the shows that's on the network. Yup, we dig the forensic show that's based in Las Vegas, the casino show that's based in Las Vegas, the other casino show based in Las Vegas, the card tournments in Las Vegas, the reality show based in Las Vegas, the teen melodrama based outside of Las Vegas in Orange County, CA, the reality drama based in Orange County, CA, the chopper show in Orange County, NY, the New York-based cop show, the other New York-based cop show, the other New York-based cop show (the one with the forensic experts), the New York-based firefighter show, the New York-based lawyer show, the Boston-based lawyer show, the new Boston-based lawyer show, the glorified talent show, the other glorified talent show, the show with screaming teens in New York, the show with screaming adults in New York, and all the copycat shows on the air, but not the way the network presents itself.

Although there is one major exception in this country.

Remember the '80s? If you're in your teens, you probably don't, although you may have faint memories of April O'Neil being a news reporter in a yellow jumpsuit in New York on the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There's a site that celebrates the decade in visual and audio form . . . well, the live-action side of the decade, from game shows to primetime to sports, and a few live-action kids show. The '80s TV Theme SuperSite was one of the best sources for the way television presented itself in this country, something modern networks and companies should really take a glance at. You know, to remember what television was like before they decided to get lazy with on-screen watermarks, scrolling newscrawls, pop-up ads on television shows (NBC has truly irked me by putting huge screen ads during the middle show this season), and lack of self-promotion. I feel if you're not proud of your network, why should people care about the shows? The SuperSite reminded me that Out of This World was a really great show, the NBC '88 network campaign (Come Home To The Best . . . Only on NBC) was one of the greatest ever made, and that ABC used a lot of pop tunes in their promos. For the longest time, I felt this was the end-all and be-all for retro television promotion archives, and it's still very good.

However, the Brits outmatched the SuperSite with TV Ark.

TV Ark bills itself as "The Television Museum." And you know what? I almost believe it. They have covered all of UK television and a lot of foreign television, including Canada and the US. At TV Ark, I saw things I haven't seen in decades, like ABC's old Saturday morning bumpers (ah, an era when Saturday mornings weren't programmed by cable networks because broadcasters grew lazy), Fox's network launch (I actually remember a time when Fox, then embracing their Fox Broadcasting Company name in promotions, didn't exist), and the CBS Special Presentation ident (which was parodied very well on Animaniacs many moons ago). The Ark also showed me that the Britons really know how to market their networks. Looking at BBC's Globe balloon campaign, BBC 2's 2 campaign, Bravo's metamorphosis from a retro network to a harder-edged male-oriented network that makes SpikeTV look like a little girly-man (I could see how Cartoon Network tried to compete [and failed miserably] against Bravo with their CNX network that became Toonami), and Sky's very American-looking campaigns (that sly old fox Rupert), I can tell that the Brits put a lot of heart and soul into their networks.

TV Ark is a lot more comprehensive with the years, going back as far as the 50s to as current as a few months ago. I feel that the SuperSite and the Ark are good companion sites about a history of television branding. And I'm also glad that the Arsenal is one of the only places in the US that continues that journey.

Now, if only there were other sites as comprehensive as these three for American cable networks.


Anonymous said...

There is another site with an archive of old ads from the 80s and early 90s. It's called X-Entertainment (and yes, it's an American site). The commercials are available here:

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Chris Sobieniak said...

Though I'm a little too late to post anything new in this article, I just want to state I was the one responsible for some of the material seen on TV Ark! Just wanted to point that out in case anyone likes to know where they came from.