Sunday, March 22, 2009

Basic Cable Breakdown

I would review the two movies I saw over the weekend, but instead I feel like I need to write about something that's been bugging me for far too long. I'm not sure where to begin, so I'll just jump right into the quagmire.

Right now, AMC has two Emmy award winning shows: Mad Men and Breaking Bad. TV Land occasionally shows movies. MTV rarely ever shows actual music videos (or music anything) anymore. Cartoon Network has a number of live action shows in rotation. TNT (of "We Know Drama" fame) occasionally runs comedies. TBS (of "Very Funny" fame) occasionally shows action movies. Seeing a pattern here?

I can remember a time when cable networks actually stuck to their central concept. MTV and VH1 ran music videos, or at least shows about music. AMC ran nothing but American Movies (generally the Classics). TV Land played nothing but old TV shows. The Weather Channel only reported the weather.

When exactly did cable networks decide it was ok to program their schedules counter to their own demographic? It seems as though the trend began with the advent of reality television. I've done little research to confirm this, but near as I can guess, this entire trend started when MTV unveiled one of the most poorly named shows on television: The Real World. In theory, the idea is a sound one. Cherry-pick a diverse handful off MTV's most loyal viewers, force them to live together and capture the ensuing drama for all the world to see.

Then something started happening. The show took off, ratings grew, and the network started rolling out similar reality shows. More or less the same thing happened to a number of other networks. Even channels like The Discovery Channel aren't immune to this. As entertaining as shows like Survivorman, Deadliest Catch, and Cash Cab (technically a gameshow, but whatever) are, there's little getting around the fact that these are reality programs repurposed as documentary/infotainment.

Several networks have this problem, some moreso than others. FOX frequently shuffles around it's original programming to make room for sports programming and reality TV shows. It's meant the death knell for many a unique series. But that's an argument I surely don't need to dig back up.

The other culprit in diluting the programming pool is the easy out that is the motion picture. Got a gap in your schedule? Stick in xXx, Blazing Saddles, Groundhog Day, or one of hundreds of films doomed to wander the basic cable wasteland for all eternity. It doesn't seem to matter anymore if a given film has anything to do with the network it's airing on. AMC, a network whose initials once actually stood for American Movie Classics, now airs 21st century garbage like Catwoman, Reign of Fire, and Ocean's Twelve. And if it's not something recent, it's an older film that nobody in their right mind would ever consider a classic. Sure, a decent film slips in every once in a while, but more often than not it's Hellfighters followed by Terminator 3 followed by a marathon of Breaking Bad.

I guess what I'm basically trying to get at here is that in diluting a network's central selling point, many of these channels are starting to run together. Instead of having separate channels for sci-fi, education, or anything even vaguely manly, you might as well just watch Spike. There, you can get your fix of Star Wars, MANswers, pro wrestling, et al. Gone are days of a dedicated network. There's just no such thing anymore as a channel dedicated to airing nothing but old TV shows that actually shows old TV shows.

The closest you can get these days are TCM, VH1-Classic, ESPN-Cl....You know what? Pretty much anything with 'classic' in its name goes without saying. These networks basically work off the notion that you want to watch what you've been watching for years. And I do. Sure, it's fine if the programs themselves change, so long as the format stays the same. If you want consistency in a TV network, you're best bets are ESPN, QVC, The Weather Channel, pretty much any channel without actual original programming. At least then you can be sure that they'll never try to shoehorn in reality TV or tangentially related movies.

You should probably take everything I've just said with a pretty large grain of salt. I don't really watch all that much TV in the first place. Though it's mostly because of the very things I've been talking about here. So....yeah.

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