Network Confusion

You want to spend an evening watching lovely destinations on the Travel Channel. When you turn it on, however, you find World Poker Tour — eight hours of poker! Or, you would love a night of watching a classic television series on TV Land, but they’re showing a movie instead. And, not just any movie, but one that has been shown on every “super station” on cable at least two dozen times. You read a “breaking news” story online and turn on MSNBC to find more details, but they’re showing a five-year-old Lockup episode.

What is going on with cable/satellite channels these days? The genre-specific channels are branching out from their stated purpose into other programs. Sadly, most of the time this is done at the expense of shows within their niche that they could be showing.

Here are some of the offending channels:

The History Channel: Apparently they are losing out to the American Idol / Survivor “reality show” crowd, because they have their own reality series now, Ice Road Truckers. This belongs on one of History’s sister networks (it is part of the A E; family), but it has nothing to do with history! Ditto Ax Men. Has the History Channel really covered all of human history so that they no longer have any historical programs to show us? One could argue that their airing of “historical drama” movies and television series (such as Band of Brothers) was going too far given how Hollywood tends to take “dramatic license” with the truth in movies; however, to their credit, the History Channel did air History Vs. Hollywood to offset this. Even so, historical movies is a stretch for a channel that strives to present history — not Hollywood’s interpretation — to its viewers.

The Biography Channel: The name should be changed to A E2;, with shows such as Airline, City Confidential, Murder, She Wrote, and movies more frequently airing than actual biographies.

American Movie Classics: Scratch “movies” with the introduction of Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and the introduction next year of the remake of Patrick McGoohan’s classic ITC series The Prisoner. Apparently we are not to remember what the “M” in “AMC stands for.

ESPN/ESPN2: Poker is not “sports” unless the person with the winning hand has to kick a field goal to collect the pot. ESPN also delved into the miniseries/movie department with films such as 3 (about Dale Earnhardt), Hustle (about Pete Rose’s fall from grace), and The Junction Boys (about Bear Bryant), reality series Knight School (with Bob Knight) and Streetball, and miniseries Tilt (again attempting to present poker as something other than a card game) and Playmakers (about a football team). While they’re airing these, the National Hockey League is languishing on Versus and the Major League Lacrosse airs on their college station, ESPNU.

The Travel Channel: Poker, anyone? The notion of World Poker Tour on the TRAVEL network is almost begging for a “dumb blonde joke” to be made. Also, with chefs Anthony Bourdain (No Reservations) and Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods) and shows about various “food paradise” locales, one might also argue that the Travel Channel is trying to become Food Network Jr. However, to be fair, both Bourdain and Zimmern travel, not cook, on their respective programs.

MTV/VH-1: The stations that started the “our programming fails to match our name” trend. Gone are the days when people agreed with Sting when he sang, “I want my MTV” at the beginning of Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing.” Of the four networks (MTV, MTV2, VH-1, and VH-1 Classic), only VH-1 Classic shows music. The other three networks air reality shows, more movies that people can see on a dozen other channels, and next to no music.

MSNBC: News apparently is not a 24-hour job to this news network. Their evening programming consists of repeats — old repeats at that — of Lockup, a series about various penitentiaries. On at least two occasions — the death of former Chief Justice William Rehnquist and the passing of former president Gerald Ford — MSNBC was too preoccupied with these old documentaries that mirror the VH-1 Behind the Music series (much like the identical life story of a different rocker, Lockup is merely the same story, different prison) to present news that two major figures in the United States had died. (However, they were able to keep us posted on developments on Anna Nicole Smith’s death.) The weekend is Headliners and Legends and more Lockup, but precious little news programming. (To a lesser degree, CNN and Fox News both spend more time running reruns overnight than concentrating on news — but at least they do air news.)

In addition, various stations, instead of trying to bring variety to the airwaves, all vie for the same shows. For years, M*A*S*H was only on the Hallmark Channel; now it airs on TV Land as well (with the same episode occasionally airing on both channels on the same day). Series such as Friends, Seinfeld, Scrubs, and Everybody Loves Raymond are syndication staples of local channels. Why, then, must they ALSO air on Nick at Nite, WGN, TV Land, Comedy Central, and TBS? Consider how many series are out there for syndication, be they relatively recent series or long-vanished classics like Hill Street Blues, Happy Days, The Fugitive, or The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Why, then, must we be relegated to the same ten shows on fifteen different channels?

Satellite and cable presented the promise of endless variety of programming. Unfortunately, the networks are stuck in a stagnant hole of repetitious airings and programming that bears no relationship whatsoever to the name of the network. How odd that, over 20 years ago, Bruce Springsteen would see this day coming when he lamented:

I hopped into town for a satellite dish….

I came home and I pointed it out into the stars

A message came back from the great beyond:

Fifty seven channels, and nothin’ on.