Cable-channel ID creep and pandering to the masses

MTV doesn’t show videos. (Not often, anyway.) Neither does VH1. A&E doesn’t show a lot of arts and entertainment. Even The Weather Channel has a lot of shows that aren’t really about the weather.

So maybe it’s a little heartening to read this Washington Post story about Discovery getting back to its roots.

Now, as cord-cutters and online video plunge the cable business into chaos, Discovery is fighting aggressively to return to its roots, spending millions on glossy documentaries, science shows and ­“environmental advocacy campaigns” in a bet that smarter, more-distinctive programming will help it survive the new age of TV.

Two ways to look at this in the cold light of finances:

  1. Netflix and others have shown there’s an audience for intelligent programming.
  2. That audience might be hard to get back from Netflix and the web.

The sad part: Cable television is going to go to its grave pandering to the lowest common denominator. Sure, Mencken said no one went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people (or something to that effect), and Barnum may or may not have said there’s a sucker born every minute. But with a couple of generations taking a college education as a given, it’s disheartening to read this defense of reality-TV crap on the network formerly known as The Learning Channel:

“TLC is a very powerful and heartfelt Middle America brand. When we look at TLC, we basically say, ‘F— New York and L.A.,’ ” Zaslav said. “Most of the media is not speaking to Middle America. So what are the shows we can put on [for a] 42-year-old mom who gives her husband and two kids dinner, and then puts the TV set on? What is she going to watch that she can relate to, that’s going to be entertaining and fun for her?”

I can’t wait for Middle America to say “F— you” right back and prove that they want to watch quality programming, too. Preferably before climate change makes everyone move to Middle America.


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