Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Time to rename the channels!

By Steve Crum

Having 150+ cable channels means there are networks specific in their programming. It is a beautiful thing to have a specific Golf Channel, and ESPN Channels with 24 hour sports of all types. Cable (and satellite) can be sports geek heaven. I am not a sports nut (occasionally I flip on golf, especially if it is my nap time), but I do have my favorite non-sports channels programmed into my clicker. Six of my favs are now ex-favs. They have joined the mass of my TV un-favs. 

It is all because of bait and switch. That is the old advertising fraud of advertising something that is really something else, like going to the store to buy an advertised brand name lawnmower, but you end up buying an off-brand for the same price since the store purposely failed to stock what was advertised. It is plain old deception, and a Federal Trade Commission no-no. Not so on TV.

Yes, money is the bottom line in TV, like practically everywhere else in life. The Weather Channel was fine just as it was conceived years ago, but NBC bought it, and now features Today Show weatherman Al Roker in his own joke and feature filled morning show. It is not a radical departure from weather stories and hurricane highlights, but it seems glitzier. The personable Roker as glitz is debatable, however.

As for my six past favorite channels previously mentioned, the boil down is simple: IT IS TIME TO RENAME THEM. In each case, the programming trend began in subtle ways. A show or two was added to the lineup as an obvious ratings grabber. Then another was added, and another until the concept of the channel had been altered beyond recognition. Some channels seem to be in the early stages of this reinvention (see The Smithsonian Channel).

The Biography Channel is another matter. The days of back to back, and brilliantly produced, biographies of celebrities from entertainment, literature, commerce, politics, religion, military, and sports are long vanished. Remember those great biographies hosted and narrated by Peter Graves and Jack Perkins since 1987? Most of them have not been shown for years, when they originated on A&E. When they are shown, in a two hour block once or twice a day, the focus is usually on rock stars and mobsters. Mobsters seems to be the trend on Biography and other channels. Is there really viewer interest in thugs and prisons? Apparently so, sad to say. It is sickening to say too.

Examples follow. Perusing broadcast schedules last week, this is what I found as morning and prime time offerings on a half dozen speciality networks. Beginning with the Biography Channel...

THE BIOGRAPHY CHANNEL: City Confidential (about murders in specific American cities)...Mobsters (Bugsy Siegel, Al Capone, Pretty Boy Floyd, etc.)....Breaking Vegas (gambling stories)...Meth’s Deadly High...bios of rock stars who overdosed (at least these are from the Biography vault)...Notorious (hoodlums, murderers)...Ripley’s Believe It or Not (a biography of Mr. Ripley himself would be nice)...Psychic Investigators...Haunted History...Ghostly Encounters. Even a Casper the Friendly Ghost biography would be welcome.

THE DISCOVERY CHANNEL: What used to be a channel devoted to explorations and high adventure is now driven, literally, by its #1 rated program, a fun game show that takes place in a New York City taxi, Cash Cab, shown in two hour blocks. What is being discovered? Is that explorer Chris Columbus in that hack? Does one discover the answer in a mobile shout out? The real Discovery: Money talks.

THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CHANNEL: Don’t expect 24/7 Jacques Cousteau and gorgeous National Geographic photography. Instead, lean back and enjoy Blow Down (a Vegas casino flick]...Ultimate Casino (more Vegas to explore)...Exploding Las Vegas (imploding old casinos)...Machines of War...Lost Missiles....Sinking Hitler’s Supership....The Real Bonnie and Clyde...Flying Carrier Aircraft. Sounds like rejects from The History Channel. Undoubtedly, younger viewers would be more attracted to Capone than Cousteau.

THE HALLMARK MOVIE CHANNEL: Hallmark has over 50 years of award winning Hallmark Hall of Fame dramas on their shelves. Granted, many from the early days are in black and white, and feature stars of old in equally dated stories. When I first heard that there would be a Hallmark Channel, I had hopes to enjoy the best television has offered since its inception. There should be enough in the library to fill months of viewing. However, the truth is Hallmark is snubbing its own history for the sake of ratings. It’s the money thing again. For the most part, younger families abhor anything not color, and prefer still living actors. With Disney, they make exceptions. That is why last week’s schedule featured evening after evening of Walt Disney family movies like Napoleon and Samantha,The Absent Minded Professor, and The Three Lives of Thomasina. A Hall of Fame kinescope of Helen Hayes as Queen Christina would be wonderful, but who in the target audience would watch it? I ask this grimly.

THE SMITHSONIAN CHANNEL: Surely there is at least one story for every collection stored in the many Smithsonian Institute buildings in Washington D.C. This relatively new speciality channel does feature many stories from their “vaults,” as one of their programs calls them. But off topic programs are popping up already. Consider Sky View: The Tudor Age, Lives That Changed the World (Nelson Mandela biography), Nature Tech, and Street Monkeys. Street Monkeys is a one hour nature series about a family of monkeys, sort of a simian reality show. Then there is Shark Therapy, Sci-Q , and Wanted: Anaconda. Is this the National Geographic or Nature Channel? To be fair, the National Zoo is part of the Smithsonian, so this accounts for the Wild Kingdom coverage.

THE HISTORY CHANNEL: History goes back...well, a long way. If you think that statement is profound, then consider this channel’s typical programming--focusing on the historic period of 1930-present: Gangland (mobsters since Chicago and bootlegging), Pawn (shop) Stars, Superhuman, Mail Call, and Lock N' Load with R. Lee Ermey. These last two shows feature the popular former drill sergeant turned actor as he demonstrates weapons of warfare.

Time now for honesty. The name of a specialty channel should reflect its programming, so here are my revisions. No bait and switch here.
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Biography becomes...ENCOUNTERS WITH GHOSTS & THUGS CHANNEL
Discovery becomes...DISCOVERING CASH CAB WEALTH CHANNEL
National Geographic becomes...WWII & GAMBLING CHANNEL
Hallmark becomes...THE NEW DISNEY CHANNEL
Smithsonian becomes...THE NEW DISCOVERY CHANNEL
History becomes...THE GUNS-MOBSTERS-WWII CHANNEL
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Yawn. Time for my nap. The Golf Channel had better not change its programming.
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