Traitorous Television | TV That Lost Its Way
I want my MTV... BACK!
Remember the good ol' days when the Music Television network was a network for music on television? How about when The Learning Channel taught us something other than what it's like to be a little person in a big world, or the trials and tribulations of raising a gazillion kids? And since when did UFO myths and the hectic lives of Ice Road Truckers become historical milestones worthy of The History Channel? Suffice it to say, it's pretty clear that somewhere along the line TV lost it's way.
While there are still channels out there such as HBO and FX that are consistently churning out groundbreaking original television shows, and channels like TCM and Comedy Central that continue to hold their own, performing that same old magic we all know and love, many of our past favorites have really gone downhill -- way down.
Fueled by greed and an unquenchable thirst for ratings, the following list of channels are the fallen greats who exchanged their substance and integrity for the almighty buck. Either by dumbing down their programming to lure in broader audiences, drowning their shows with an onslaught of advertisements, or simply turning their backs on their original fans by going completely against all that they use to stand for, each of these traitorous channels have all gone off the rails in one way or another.
Nick at Nite - It was a TV viewers dream...
When I was a kid, it was Nick at Nite which first introduced me to some of the greatest classic sitcoms to ever hit TV. It was where I first saw every episode of I Love Lucy, Taxi, The Munsters, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, The Odd Couple, Dragnet, Bewitched, Happy Days, Lavern and Shirley, The Wonder Years, and so much more! Seeing that I was a child of the 90's, each of these shows, which would eventually shape my life and teach me about the history of television, were all shows that I would have never been exposed to if they hadn't aired on this channel. I'd watch them every night before going to bed, devouring all they had to offer, soaking in the "classic TV rewinds" and acquiring a love for a time in television which I wasn't around to experience firsthand.
But that was then.
When Nick at Nite dropped the TV oldies to appeal to a younger audience by incorporating more "modern classics" such as Friends, That 70's Show, George Lopez, and Wings, I felt not as bad for myself as much as I did for the kids of today who will be missing out on the classic TV shows that not only my generation grew up with, but my parents and grandparents generation did with as well. And while shows such as Roseanne or even Yes, Dear are good in their own right, they can never surpass those classics from televisions infancy that made TV what it is today.
And, really, how depressing is it that the next generation will never understand that quaint old magic of a Fonzie reference?
AMC - American Movie Classics - When did Space Cowboys become an American Classic again?
Originally AMC (American Movie Classics) was one of the few sources for classic films from the golden age of Hollywood. For its first 18 years, the channel aired all of its programs without either censorship or commercial interruption. But a change began to take place in the late 90's, when AMC began to gradually incorporate limited commercial interruption between films. By the 2000s, these commercials were everywhere, including being plastered on the bottom of the screen as the movies played. Soon programming began to be censored, shortened for time, and all of the classic films were replaced by films from the 80's to the 2000s, and then to the 2010s.
The saving grace for the channel is its recent inclusion of such critically acclaimed television shows as Breaking Bad and Mad Men, which are major contributors for the good direction television is taking today (as far as TV dramas are concerned, at least). But as for a movie channel, AMC remains to be a lost cause.
I mean, c'mon, there's only so many times a person can sit through Roadhouse. I don't care how cool Swayze is.
IFC - The Independent Film Channel
The Independent Film Channel use to be the movie channel for non-mainstream movies. It played by no rules, airing critically acclaimed films and television shows uncensored and without commercial interruption. But that all changed in 2010 when IFC took a cue from its sister channel, AMC (American Movie Classics), and began adding commercial interruptions to it's films, generating a large backlash from its previously loyal, film-loving fans in the process.
E! Entertainment - The true Hollywood story of how the Kardashians became bigger than Bogart
Since E!, for the most part, has always been nothing more than one long episode of Entertainment Tonight -- covering recent news in movies, celebrities, award shows, and so on, in a watered down, trendy manner -- it's admittedly always been a bit on the shallow side. But it did have a few amazing shows. Primarily E! True Hollywood Story and Mysteries and Scandals.
Both of these documentary programs gave enthralling accounts of the lives of celebrities such as Fatty Arbuckle, James Dean, Charlie Chaplin, Bela Lugosi, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, John Holmes, Andy Kaufman, Alfred Hitchcock, Rock Hudson, Natalie Wood, and literally HUNDREDS of others of almost any classic actor, musician, criminal, comedian, or other famous figure you can think of. As a kid of around 13 or so, I would watch these shows religiously, learning more from them about old Hollywood, film history, and cultural history in general than I've ever learned anywhere else. Today, though, the great Mysteries and Scandals, with its eery narration by A.J. Benza and exciting biographies, is long gone, not even available on DVD. E! True Hollywood Story, while still occasionally shown, only airs episodes about current living, popular celebrities, many of which, such as "Rapper Wives", aren't even celebrities at all!
It's infuriating to know that E! has an entire vault of classic documentaries ranging from the history of Studio 54 to the mysterious life and death of George Reeves, yet all they choose to do is pander to the easiest audiences by only airing True Hollywood Story's of current hot topics such as the "life story's" of current trending celebs, a la The Kardashians and Ice-T and Coco.
The sole saving grace of this channels remains to be the always hilarious Talk Soup. As for rest, that's Hollywood history.
TLC - The Learning Channel
When The Learning Channel was first founded in 1972, it was dedicated to airing informative/instructional shows whose prime focus was on providing the public with real education through the medium of TV. They held onto this proud tradition until around the 90's, when they began to intersperse their documentary-themed programing with slightly more dumbed down shows about home improvement and crafting. These shows, while still bad and primarily directed toward housewives and AARP members, were still technically of an educational value, though, so we'll go ahead and let them slide.
The real downfall of the L in TLC came in the 2000s with the roll out of such mind numbing programs as Trading Spaces, Junkyard Wars, A Wedding Story and A Baby Story. It was at this point when The Learning Channel had apparently decided to redefine its idea of what "educational" really means.
Today almost the entirety of The Learning Channels programming consists of series' like Jon & Kate Plus 8, Little People, Big World, anything involving decorating, and a whole plethora of other generic reality shows where the most "learning" involved is the newly acquired knowledge that even educational TV isn't above selling out.
TV Land - With the loss of Nick at Nite, TV Land was our only hope...
When TV Land was first launched in 1996, it was a fantastic idea. Capitalizing on the success of Nickelodeon's late night classic-TV lineup for grownups (and us kids who rebelled against our bedtimes), dubbed Nick at Nite, TV Land brought with it all of your favorite TV shows from the past, from The Honeymooners to The Flip Wilson Show, and aired them on one channel, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It was a place where the great lost shows from TV's past got to go and live on forever (including even the actual classic commercials that went with them) so the younger audiences could discover them and so the older audiences could re-experience their past. It was a celebration of classic television and a dream come true for TV buffs everywhere.
But as time went on, TV Land began to depart from its ways. Instead of focusing on the classics of the 50's, 60's, 70's, and 80's, the channel began giving us recent shows from the late 90's and 2000s which have only been off the air for a few years (sometimes less!), such as Everybody Love Raymond and King of Queens (good shows, no doubt, but a far cry from the retro-television you couldn't find anyplace else). The retromercials vanished completely, the variety shows such as Sonny and Cher and The Ed Sullivan Show were nowhere to be seen, anything black and white had become a scarcity, and movies and reality shows began to come in droves.
Occasionally you'll still find such classics as The Dick Van Dyke Show and M*A*S*H, but they're few and far between, and typically wedged between marathons of such 2012 shows such as Extreme Makeover or Hot In Cleveland.
The black and white oldies, unforgettable variety shows, and classic sitcoms of the 50's, 60's, 70's, and 80's are once again homeless and forgotten. Lost to the newer generation and forgotten by the old.
The History Channel
Growing up, I always loved The History Channel. It was one of the few places I could go when I felt the hankering for an unbiased account of real world history, told in a straightforward, no-nonsense way, complete with historical film footage, Ken Burns-style narrations, and interviews with actual historians. (Sure, they may have went a little heavy on the Hitler coverage at times, but, hey, history is history.) But then, some time in the 2000s, something began to go wrong... terribly, terribly wrong.
Shows having absolutely nothing to do with history began popping up left and right. Strange reality shows like Ice Road Truckers, Ax Men, and Pawn Stars, where the lives of unremarkable people are documented for no particular reason, began to dominate the channels daily lineup. And when those weren't weren't being shown, there were only ridiculous, sensationalized conspiracy theory shows such as Ancient Aliens, and even an entire series on famed charlatan, Nostradumbass, which were designed specifically to capitalize on the public's ignorance toward "history" and "theories" which in reality aren't actually taken seriously by actual scientists or historians at all.
The airing of those latter shows are probably the most despicable move made by this once respected network. Focusing on the sensationalism of topics such as conspiracy theories and depicting them as if they have more truth to them than they do is not only non-history but it's also deplorably misleading to an audience who expects this network to be a more trustworthy source for historic and scientific information. In trading truth and evidence based historical programming for whatever is exciting enough to draw in viewers, regardless of whether or not it's true, this once revered network has become just another of televisions many sellouts.
In 2008 The History Channel changed it's named to simply History. Appropriate, seeing that this is precisely what their reputation and respectability has become.
MTV - Music Television - The loss of the M in MTV
Well, here it is ladies and gentlemen, the creme de la creme of sellouts. Everyone knows this old story, so I'll try to keep it brief.
MTV, short for Music Television, was a channel originally designed for, well, music on television! It was an idea that was a success from the very get-go. Through the use of music videos and the video jockey's who introduced them, MTV gave the public a new way to experience music and gave artists a great, creative new promotional tool for sharing their work with the world.
It wasn't only music videos that made MTV the network it was, though. There were also music related shows like MTV Unplugged, Headbangers Ball, Yo! MTV Raps, Total Request Live, and even Say What? Karaoke, and countercultural programming such as Beavis and Butt-head and Celebrity Deathmatch which, while not about music, were at least grounded in the rebellious, creative style which the network was known for.
While the seeds of MTV's departure from music related television were planted in the early 90's with the premiere of it's first reality show, The Real World, it wasn't until the early 2000s when the channel decided to focus only on this type of programming. Probably influenced by the massive success of The Real World (which, without its need for expensive actors and writers was relatively cheap to make) and their later reality shows Jackass and The Osbournes (the former being rebellious and unique, the latter at least starring a musician), MTV began to find that they could gain a better profit by producing these popular, inexpensively made types of programming than they could with what they were already rolling out. From there, the trend only grew -- becoming more and more shallow and mindless with every step.
Today, the Music Television network has finally ceased showing any music related or countercultural television at all. Consisting entirely of teen oriented reality shows which glorify teen pregnancy, shallow behavior, debauchery, and ignorance of all kinds, the MTV which changed our world and acted as a safe heaven for a youth in revolt has since devolved into nothing more than a freakshow for the intellectually deprived.
Is this the end of TV as we know it?
It's been said time and time again ever since televisions very beginning that it's ultimate intellectual benefits were minimal to say the least. And with the incorporation of more and more commercials and the recent shower of new reality shows designed to pander to the lowest common denominator of TV audiences, the criticisms have grown worse than ever. But is this really the end of quality TV as we know it?
In some respects, maybe it is.
As far as commercials go; whadda ya gonna do? Those suckers have always been getting out of hand. In fact, did you know that if you watch a typical hour long network show and time it without commercial breaks, the show usually rounds out to only about 42 minutes long (give or take)? This means that hour long program your watching contains approximately 20 minutes of commercial time (yes, TWENTY MINUTES!). Compare this with older hour long shows, such as the 60's version of The Outer Limits, whose programs ran to about 51 minutes without commercials, you can see that just within a few decades a lot has changed.
Unfortunately it's not very likely that commercial interruptions are going to decrease anytime in this lifetime either -- they're simply too much of a significant source of income for the networks to ignore. But, hey, with the invention of DVR's we at least have a good way of combating these pesky interrupters. So that's something!
While these types of shows are a far cry from highbrow entertainment, there's no reason to suspect that their popularity will subside anytime soon. Other than being cheap programming for the networks to finance, the shows themselves have a massive appeal to a wide array of audiences. They're easy to watch, they have quick thrills, a freakshow allure, and all the sex and debauchery a voyeuristic viewer could ask for. This is an unstoppable combination that is undoubtedly going to be the cause of the continued airing of already popular series' and the continued outcrop of more reality shows from other networks looking to cash in on this successful trend.
Fortunately for us, though, even the lowest common denominator thirsts for variety in their programming. So non-reality TV will always have its place. And as long as smart, creative people are around, quality programming will continue to be dished out. Whether or not this quality programming will dominate, though, is questionable (with a slight slant toward doubtful). But there are a lot of networks out there (hundreds of them, in fact!) and it only takes a handful to keep even the biggest TV buffs busy.
So not only will good TV still be available, but there are signs that certain forms of television (serial dramas, in particular) are destined to not only to exist, but to multiply in both quantity and quality. This is probably due to the success of such groundbreaking shows as ABC's LOST and AMC's Breaking Bad, which gave networks a taste of just how much of an audience new, cinema-quality television with unique stories can rake in. Since the rise of these shows, among others, there's been a growing trend of more serial dramas coming along, from The Walking Dead to Game of Thrones, each of which looking more professional and unique than the last.
Is quality TV taking it's last dying breath?
Don't count on it.