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 . . .


Enoch Allen said...

This article really hits the nail on the head, so to speak. But, think of this--if Boomerang didn't exist, Scooby Doo and all its permutations would still be aired 20/8 a week. Probably without commercial interruptions :).

I love Thoughtnami. As long as you write for this site, thexbridge and anything else, I'll be reading.

Melon which rhymes with said...

I can only look at Cartoon Network with shame and horror now. Foster's was a complete disappointment, and the only thing that was good was the recent Clone Wars. Plus, it is scary to think that kids today will not know what Looney Tunes is except from merchandising and Loonatics...sigh.

Oddly, Nickelodeon is slowly crawling out of it's grave. Their new show Avatar: The Last Airbender has really impressed me. Plus, their secondary channel "Nicktoons" shows their old toons and even has a short film festival.

God only knows why there are like 5 ESPN channels and why MTV doesn't show music videos.

Thanks for the awesome articles and thoughts over the years Jeff. Your site is great and speaks for the rest of us.

donuts said...

Don't bash the VH1. Their coundowns are cool. And it's called E, not EN. E stands for Entertainment, and those countdowns are just that.