Remember the early 90s, when it seemed like there was a shiny new cable channel for every possible interest? A golfing channel, a travel channel, a channel all about animals, whatever you were into, there was a channel for you. But now, 20 years later, the vast majority of those channels have given up on their stated topic and turned into a mishmash of reality shows that occasionally are themely, but mostly have absolutely nothing to do with the name of the channel. This is a list of six of the most dramatic shifts in programming theme. We’re excluding channels that had the decency to completely rename themselves in the process – most of you probably don’t even remember when Spike was The Nashville Network, do you?
Bravo: This one is really kind of a lateral move. Bravo was started as a channel to cover the performing arts; theater, dance, that kind of thing. That wasn’t fabulous enough, so it got even gayer. Now it’s just a 24/7 barrage of bride shows, makeovers, fashion, and flamboyance. It’s not actually targeted at gay dudes, it’s targeted at the fat chicks at your office who hang out with gay dudes because they really get her and there’s no pressure when she’s around them and they’re just so much fun, y’all. If you can totally relate to Kathy Griffin, Bravo is your network.
Syfy (formerly Sci-Fi): Bitching about the goofy name aside, Syfy ain’t what it used to be. Gone are the all-day Star Trek marathons and Mystery Science Theater 3000 on the weekends, and in its place we’ve got professional wrestling (which is admittedly pretty surreal) and ten billion low-budget horror films. For those of you who watch the Sci-Fi Original Movies because they’re “just so hilariously bad, dude!” STOP. You’re just encouraging them to make more.
TLC (aka The Learning Channel): Did you know TLC used to show educational programs? Seriously. One of their early successes was a show about boat maintenance. But, as we all know, this is America, and learning is for pussies. TLC now seems to spend most of its time on pimping out the weirdest families they can find. Religious nuts, families with a dozen kids, families full of midgets, families that run small businesses, families with a dozen midgets that run extremely small businesses; essentially the only thing you’re going to learn from today’s TLC is the value of family therapy.
AMC (aka American Movie Classics): When AMC started, you could catch all-day Marx Brothers marathons, silent horror films, film noir, that kind of thing. Now it’s mostly movies from the last 30 years. While I’ll definitely agree that Death Wish III is a “classic,” it’s no Duck Soup. Pretty much the only thing keeping the name alive are original shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad, which are destined to become classics, despite not actually being, you know, movies.
A&E: Used to stand for “Arts & Entertainment.” Now stands for “Addicts & Evil,” as 95% of their programming is either gawking at mentally unstable people (Intervention, Obsessed, Hoarders) or true-crime garbage (American Justice, The First 48). The other 5% is Dog The Bounty Hunter, which is a reality show about a crazy racist with terrible hair who hunts people for money. The arts, ladies and gentlemen!
MTV: As always, MTV is on the cutting edge of stupid trends, and it definitely led the way in this case. It was the first network to drop its primary content in favor of reality shows like The Real World and The Osbournes, both of which started entire sub-genres of reality TV. It was ahead of the curve in pushing the Internet – want to actually watch music videos on Music Television? Go to their website. You can still actually catch some videos on MTV, if you’re watching at 4 AM, but even sister station MTV2 has cut back on the videos in favor of reruns of older MTV programming.