Jun 28, 2005

Remember When Network Programming Made Sense?

The 4400, the best science-fiction series since Firefly, is not on Sci-Fi. When USA Networks announced plans to create the original miniseries about these 4,400 individuals who were abducted for decades returning to a modern-day post-9/11 untrusting world (for those that have never seen this great show, shame on you! I won't tell you who really abducted The 4400, because it's not what you initially think), it seemed like a show that was destined to be on a network dedicated to science-fiction like, um, Sci-Fi. However, the original miniseries and regular series is a part of USA's highly-acclaimed lineup, giving that network its highest ratings ever and a growing fanbase.

Though it would have been nice if it was a part of Sci-Fi's weekly lineup. Instead, Saturday nights are cluttered with cheesy horror flicks, and the rest of the prime time lineup aside from Friday nights (which actually looks like it has some thought to its creation) isn't much better. Sci-Fi, for lack of a better word, is a mess. And the funny thing is they're not alone.

The original visions of the networks we have grown to love have changed over time. The Arts and Entertainment Network (A&E) was originally an outlet for cultural programming, as was Bravo. The Learning Channel (TLC) was primarily a scientific-oriented network in the tradition of the nature-oriented Discovery Channel. The Travel Channel was once dedicated to all things travel. Music Television (MTV) and Video Hits One (VH1) were devoted to 24-hour coverage of music videos and music programming. Entertainment Television (E!) was dedicated to entertainment news.

Nowadays, A&E only sporadically airs anything cultural, barely airing their marquee Biography series, and airing more reality crud like Dog the Bounty Hunter, Kinevel's Wild Ride, Family Plots, and Growing Up Gotti. Bravo, it seems, has come out of the closet, airing a whole lot of gay-related programming and a marquee home for glorified gambling. The Travel Channel spends a chunk of their time airing poker tournaments as well. TLC might as well call themselved The Life Channel since they've given up on educational programming and dedicated their entire programming lineup to reality/lifestyle shows. Discovery has also gone the reality route, making shows like American Chopper and Monster Garage marquee shows. E! does still show entertainment news, but most of the lineup is filled with biographies, tabloid programming, reality shows, and countdowns.

And then there's MTV and VH1.

Apparently after the original Live Aid concert, MTV felt a need to change the world. But first, they needed to get expand programming beyond videos. Game shows, animation anthologies, and stand-up shows were the beginning. Then came The Real World, which was anything but real, but it was responsible for the idea of what we know as reality television. It grew successful and had critical success. It was the beginning of the end of MTV. After the third season of The Real World, MTV fully embraced the idea that they wanted to change the world. The commericalization of music really grew in the 90s with introduction of newer music types and led to the elimination of the old weekly Top 20 Countdown in favor of a daily Top 10 countdown, as determined by the viewers rather than the network. Then MORE reality shows came on. World-changing pap like True Life, ridiculous frat humor shows like Jackass and Wildboyz, and self-gratifying junk like Cribs, in addition to yearly "competitions" between Road Rulss and Real World casts. Yes, the real reason behind Real World and Road Rules is to find younger casts for future challenge competitions. Even MTV2, the network they made JUST TO SHOW NOTHING BUT MUSIC, has become a literal MTV2, airing reruns and new versions of old MTV non-music shows and debuting new non-music properties.

VH1, the original MTV2 in theory, has all but abandoned music videos. Aside from early morning video blocks, VH1 is nothing but "celebreality" shows, music-oriented documentaries and specials, and cultural history shows. It's a strange mishmash of everything that isn't video hits.

Now, the thing about digital cable multicasting is that the original visions of the networks can be placed on an new network. MTV Hits is essentially what MTV would have been if it was launched today. The Science Channel is essentially what TLC once was. Discovery's diverse programming was split off into different channels, including Animal Planet, Discovery Home, Discovery Health, Discovery/Times, and The Military Channel. Strangely, NBC Universal, owners of USA and Sci-Fi, haven't fully embraced the concept of multicasting, although they are flirting with launching themed channels for horror and mysteries.

I'm just glad Cartoon Network hasn't forgotten its mission of providing the best cartoons from every era or become so stupid to get rid of classic animation putting them on an outlet that hardly anybody gets.

Oh, wait . . .

Jun 10, 2005

Something THEY Don't Want You To Know #1: Sports Fans Are BIG Nerds

This is hopefully the first of many articles I want to publish here at Thoughtnami. It's just sporadic thoughts about things people rarely know about. Or at least things people don't really want to admit. It's basically a fun discussion, at least for me. I'm not an old man, but I have realized many things in this thing called reality. So, at least for the next couple of minutes, delve into a little bit of madness I'm calling Things THEY Don't Want You To Know.

I'm not a sports fan. Maybe that's because I live in the nation's largest metropolitan area without a major league franchise. Maybe it's because the players on the minor league teams in the area really don't want to be here, and it is kind of hard to root for a group of players that would rather be in Chicago or New York. Or maybe it's because a lot of people fully embrace the fandom of a team memorizing every little insignificant thing about every player, every game, and every other team out there.

Or maybe it's because sports fans and the general public at large laugh at science fiction and animation fans. When they see a bunch of Star Wars fans in full costume wait outside for a movie ticket, those fans are generally mocked. When you have diehard fans compiling what they know about a certain item, like an alien language, and publish books based on them, the public will basically call them freaks. When otaku and comic fans dress up like their favorite characters, they're often called geeks. The general public sees diehard fans of movies, comics, and anime as nerds.

Sports fans are nerds too. The general public just doesn't want to admit it. Afterall, nerdom is generally seen as a weakness, a lack of stability, and overexcitement and a bit of insanity over a particular subject. But, in essence, this also describes the average sports fan.

Every other month, sports fans have their own version of Otakon, E3, or Comic Con. Whether it's opening day of a certain franchise, a sports tournament, a big race, the playoffs, or the championship. For the extremely diehard sports fan, it could be a game against a rival team. These fans complain when their favorite team loses, celebrate when they win, and often discuss strategies their favorite team could and should have made for days after the games, not unlike fans of certain genres who congregate on fanboards, blogs, and websites. Sometimes, sports fans gather together, either at their homes or at the stadiums, arenas, or raceways, to cheer for their team or favorite player. Often, they even wear jerseys or outfits with either the team logo or a player for a team embrazoned on them (it's funny that people don't see the difference between a sci-fi costume and a team uniform).

Sports fans are more mainstream than genre fans, unfortunately. Sports talk radio is all over the AM dial, though not as frequent as shout radio. ESPN and Fox Sports Net are the two dominant sports culture channels in the US, giving former jocks and sportswriters outlets to complain, strategize, and talk about sports. Genre fans mostly have the internet, though sports fans are there as well courtesy of Sportsline, ESPN, Fox Sports, and CNN/SI. If there actually was a genre-specific television outlet in this country like Sci-Fi Channel was before the hammer shattered it to bits eliminating shows like Sci-Fi Buzz and Anti Gravity Room, that would be cool (G4 doesn't count because G4 still doesn't know what it wants to be [this week, they want to be Spike TV with shows that are mostly catered to viewers with a Y chromosome]).

The mainstream sees sports as the ultimate escape. Sports leagues and outlets eat it up as well. That's why they charge billions for broadcast rights. Seriously, did you know you could finance six seasons of three genre-based hour-long shows and a blockbuster film for what the NFL charged for four seasons of its programming? But sports fans are nerds. They care about things like statistics, just like nerds. Seriously, who needs to know how many yards a running back ran throughout their career or how many home runs a slugger hit in a single month for the entire decade? It's just as crazy as somebody knowing how many levels there are for a Super Saiyan or the model number of the Gundam piloted by Amaro Ray (or those who curse me out for mispronouncing them), but the public doesn't acknowledge that.

Genre fans don't blame failures on silly things like curses of dead players, clumsy fans in the stand, or a goat that couldn't go in a bar. Just bad writing, directing, or actors. Sports fans have it easy, and it is kind of unfair if you think about it. You don't really see fake people committing crimes or using drugs (unless it's in the script). Reality bites.

And sports fans are nerds. Tell it to the world.

Jun 9, 2005

BOB: A Short Subject Renaissance

In my neck of the woods around the Norfolk, VA area, we have a radio station that plays nearly everything. WPYA-FM is known around these parts as BOB-FM, one of the first "BOB" stations in the country, named after Bob Sinclair, owner of a chain of radio stations around these parts. The BOB phenomenon has spread throughout the country with two different names. Some call their station BOB. Others call their station JACK. New Yorkers are pretty ticked that WCBS-FM has changed its format from an "oldies" format to a JACK format. There's another BOB I'm interested in, and it's this new network currently in the planning stages.

It's name is BOB.

BOB stands for Brief Original Broadcasts. Apparently taking a cue from Cartoon Network's Adult Swim franchise, BOB will populate its network with short-subject programming. BOB will air comedy, drama, action, animation, and everything inbetween. Nothing's longer than eight minutes, and the lineup isn't quite so linear. One minute, you'll see a comedy piece (probably within a minute's time). The next couple of minutes, you'll be seeing a action segment, ala a classic movie serial. There won't be an hour of comedy followed by an hour of drama with about 30 minutes of cartoons to go. In short, BOB may actually inspire a renaissance in short-subject programming not unlike the golden age of cinema. And you'll never know what you're going to get. So, they're just like the BOB radio format - - -they'll play anything.

Want to learn more about BOB? Head over to http://www.watchbob.com and learn more about this interesting network, and tell them that you want it to become a reality. And I swear I'm not an employee of BOB. Just a fan who knows a revolution when he sees one.

Jun 8, 2005

Reason #187 Why Time Warner Doesn't Like The Turner Networks

Starting at 6 AM EST on Saturday, TV Land is presenting a 50-hour marathon celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Warner Bros. Television. Shows from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and even today are going to air throughout this weekend's marathon. Some you might expect to see such as dramas like The Waltons, Dallas, Life Goes On, Eight Is Enough, and Jack and Bobby, crime-dramas like The FBI, 77 Sunset Strip, Surfside Six, and Spencer For Hire, westerns like Maverick, action and adventure shows like Wonder Woman and La Femme Nikita, and comedies like Alice, Welcome Back Kotter, Chico and the Man, Murphy Brown, The Hogan Family, and Full House. Aside from the fact that it was distributed in syndication by Warner Bros., I'm not sure why The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, a series produced by Quincy Jones Entertainment and NBC Studios, is on the marathon.

Now, in the official press release, Warner Bros. was pleased to present this marathon on TV Land. However, couldn't they have done the marathon on either TBS and TNT? That does make a bit of sense, considering that TBS, TNT, and Warner Bros. Television are all owned by Time Warner Entertainment, and certainly Paramount would air their anniversary event on one of their networks. Heck, TBS and TNT could have used their thematic lineups to have two individual marathons. TBS could have aired a comedy-specific 50th anniversary marathon, and TNT could have aired an all-drama marathon. Hell, Warner Bros. Television could have even aired a 50-hour marathon on Boomerang (or better yet, Cartoon Network where more people could actually see it) of Warner Bros.-produced animated television products, including airings of rare programming from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and today.

And I mean Warner Bros. Television. Not Castle Rock (no Seinfeld for you). Not HBO (ditto for Sex in the City). Not even Hanna-Barbera nor its heir apparent, Cartoon Network Studios. Just Warner Bros. Television shows.

But, once again, that would mean that Time Warner would actually have to show love for the Turner networks, something they only rarely do from time to time.