Jan 8, 2006

Great Moments In Network Destruction #1

Back in October 2005, DirecTV dropped G4's sibling network OLN from their lineup, and Dish Network and many other cable operators (with the exception of Comcast who owns the networks) are thinking of doing the same thing? They're doing this because OLN went off script and decided they wanted to be less of an outdoor life network and more of an Entertainment and Sports Programming Network like that big sports channel, whazzitsname. You know, like the one that airs Pardon The Interruption and SportsCenter, catchy sound signature. TSN, I believe.

While OLN has devolved into an ESPN clone, I am reminded of other moments when networks have self-destructed. Some abandoned their original missions while others completely strayed away from what works for them. You could almost pinpoint when the network completely went off the deep end (for example, in MTV's case, it was the premiere of the second season of The Real World, which meant that they had a cheap, unscripted show they could exploit for decades, and in AMC's case, when they abandoned older classics for heavily edited, more recent fare with commercial interruptions). There are rare cases when networks that went off their original mission returned to greatness (is it me, or is Sci-Fi actually airing more, well, science-fiction on their network nowadays, especially with the recent announcement of Doctor Who coming in March?)

Here's the first installment of Great Moments In Network Destruction, a multipart installment at Thoughtnami. I'm going straight for the jugular and aim the first installment at the granddaddy of all deviations, MTV.

In 1981, MTV was launched nationwide evolving from Sight on Sound, one of the first interactive channels on the QUBE, a truly innovative system that is, in a way a precursor to what we know as Video On Demand (remind me to talk about the QUBE on another day). Adapting a music video format created by a former musician on a fake, great band, Music Television was born. Music on television. A novel idea that had roots since the medium began. Music videos was just finding their footing. A new niche was born with the words "Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll." Of course in the early years, the folks behind MTV were afraid to air videos with Black performers out of fear of scaring middle America, but that's neither here nor there.

The first moment of network destruction began with the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards, a grandiose, self-gratifying award show that celebrates, in no small words, itself. Nobody knows how the award nominees are determined nor how the voting process is presented (with the exception of the two viewer's choice awards [the MTV2 and the self-named award]). It's a party that has even outshined the Grammys and the American Music Awards in popularity. But it was only the beginning of the downfall.

Then, they launched non-music programming. Game shows like Remote Control and avant-garde adult animation showcases like Liquid Television were fun to watch, but they weren't music videos. Neither were the stand-up comedy shows and pseudo-sitcoms like Just Say Julie.

But the one show that pointed to the destruction of MTV was the introduction of The Real World, a glass bowl series that has explores what would happen if seven strangers from different demographics (but expected stereotypes such as the angry Black man and the naive, virginal Southerner) lived together. It was a terrible idea that just got more annoying as the years went on. The abysmal second season is best left forgotten. The third season was actually watchable. Everything else had its moments, but still, the point that this show was on the air meant less airtime for music-oriented programming, and for a network that is named Music Television, that's not a good thing.

When Road Rules came along, it was simply The Real World on a van and playing a game. Then, sometime in the late 90s, the advertising geniuses decided to merged the two concepts in a psuedo-Battle of the Network Stars with the Real World/Road Rules Challenge (ironically [well, maybe not since the entertainment industry has run out of new ideas], some of the same participants in the RW/RRC also participated in Bravo's Battle of the Network Reality Stars). Now, "reality" shows are the dominant programming choice on Music Television, and the channel's been going down ever since.

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