Network Decay: Notable Aversions
The channel has managed to avoid decay, either by working on a genre that is broad enough that it is unnecessary to decay, or that the executives feel that channel is good enough that they don’t need to. Of course obviously any channel that is not listed on this page would count as this, but we’ve listed a few (honorable) mentions.
- While there are plenty of networks that have managed to avoid Network Decay, there is one particularly notable aversion that should be mentioned. Perhaps as a response to the general decline in broadcasts of pre-1980 films since the Turn of the Millennium, Turner Classic Movies seems intent on avoiding a shift in their purpose.
Movies from 1980 onward remain rare, and usually shown to fit a theme block with the older movies (in particular the "31 Days of Oscar" promotion in February/early March, where any movie that had at least an Oscar nomination can qualify for an airing) or when there's a special guest programmer for the night, who discusses why they picked the movie before and after it airs. note But for the most part, they show films largely (if not completely) abandoned by other movie networks: not just the obvious titles like Citizen Kane and Casablanca, but lesser-known "programmers" and B-movies, silents, international classics, live-action Disney films from the 1950s-70s, cult titles for its TCM Underground block, vintage one-reel shorts and old promotional featurettes as interstitial programming, etc. Some titles they've shown fall under Keep Circulating the Tapes territory in North America otherwise (they aired Only Yesterday as part of a Studio Ghibli retrospective in 2006, for instance). The network has some original shows, but all of them are documentaries about classic films, from one about the history of early sci-fi films to a long interview with Woody Allen about all of his films.
TCM is much acclaimed when it comes to modifications of films without infuriating traditionalists. They’re good about letterboxing, pillarboxing, or windowboxing when necessary (to the point of producing and frequently airing an educational short explaining to non-cinephiles how aspect ratios work and why letterboxing is a good idea). They're also very good about presenting stuff in monochrome if it was originally produced that way...ironic, given that the man who founded the channel (Ted Turner) was the most notorious proponent of "colorizing" old B&W content in The Eighties.
TCM is also the last film network that has knowledgeable on-air personalities introduce a film before its airing. Film historian Robert Osborne, who has been with the channel since its beginning, is the most famous of the two — he does introductions and outros for the films that air prime time every day (and a new one each time a film is shown, too, as TCM's prime time schedule often features a loose theme). Film critic Ben Mankiewicz is the other, presenting a handful of films that air during the daytime and on the weekends (although his aren't new for every episode). The channel has also employed a variety of guest hosts through the years, most notably on its Saturday prime-time presentation "The Essentials".
And you know what’s even more impressive? In a World where every basic cable channel seems to be about "maximizing profit" and squeezing commercials into every nook and cranny (so that you won't change channels, don't you know), TCM steadfastly refuses outside advertising * and runs everything uncut (even if it's rated R or TV-MA). And the network has been this way from the very beginning. This near-insane dedication to task won them a 2008 Peabody Award. Indeed, the lack of commercial sponsorship is one of the reasons TCM can have the format it does. A channel that's beholden to sponsors (and thus to chasing the fabled 18-34 demographic those sponsors lust after) probably can't get away with showing hour after hour of forgotten, decades-old movies in black and white. It should also be noted that TCM's birth came about because of TNT's programming shift towards general entertainment. TNT was Turner's first classic movie channel. Perhaps there's a lesson here...
- The most recently-produced film that TCM currently airs is 2003's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which gets shown once a year during "31 Days of Oscar".
- The Latin American TCM also fits with "abandoned stuff" by showing old TV series (from The Twilight Zone and Bonanza to MacGyver and The X-Files). Unlike the original they're starting to air outside commercials, but luckily newer movies are only for special blocks (i.e. The Matrix and its sequels for a special on trilogies).
- TCM arriving in Argentina arguably caused the Argentinian channel Retro to decay. Because of TCM, Retro rarely showed old movies, making that eventually the only old movies they showed were the ones in color; however, Retro then dissapeared and some of the series that were on the channel and even movies started being aired in TCM. In the U.S., AMC's decay, listed under "Slipped", was due to pursuing a younger demographic.
Other Notable Aversions:
- Losing Cartoon Express aside, USA Network really seems to have gotten better as time went on. Unlike sister network Syfy, USA never really had one gimmick or target demographic to cater to. They can get away with showing almost anything and either get high ratings (WWE Raw; Psych), critical acclaim (The 4400; The Starter Wife), or both (Monk; Burn Notice). Their slogan "Characters Welcome" means they are able to put on whatever they want as long as it has a strong character driven plot, which encompasses almost all of fiction, without worrying about Network Decay.
In the early '90s, USA may have been most famous for "Up All Night," where it showed B movies on late night weekends hosted by either Rhonda Shear's boobs or Gilbert Gottfried's grating voice. So yes, it can be fair to say the quality of programming has gone up. They can pretty much show anything, and advertise The Bourne Supremacy and Along Came Polly equally without having anyone bat an eye, and even have shows that match such movies thematically.
If you think about it for a while, USA is really what its (older) sister network, NBC, wishes it could be. Thing is, the shows that are a success on USA would never be given time to find their audience on an over-the-air network. Often if you do count it without the usual broadcast/cable split, it's easily the #4 or #5 network in all of television depending on the night, and has beat NBC in the ratings on several occasions.
- Comedy Central still, by some miracle, shows this thing called "comedy". The Daily Show and The Colbert Report for example, are news shows... but still comedies! There was panic when Baywatch was temporarily added to the lineup as a tie-in to the the David Hasselhoff Roast, but unintentional comedy is still comedy.*
- Any shopping or infomercial channel. As long as they can stick a toll free number on the bottom of the screen and a price on the side, they can sell anything and everything and never be accused of decaying. (Although nowadays, they also have a website address, as well).
- You can always count on public access cable channels to have low-quality production values and to cover local events with a homespun angle you don't find on the network stations.
- Many stations now devote a significant part of their schedule to satellite-delivered left-leaning national public affairs from Free Speech TV (mostly Democracy Now!)
- Regional cable news channels like the News 12 networks in the New York suburbs and Time Warner's YNN / NY 1 system serving New York State and New York City proper, respectively, and CLTV of Chicago usually stick to just news confined to their regions. But on the most slow of news days they might wander a little out of their main coverage area, or cover national breaking news just to keep things moving along and not have to depend on inane feature reporting to fill time. In fact, NY 1 was commended for having about the most sane coverage of Hurricane Irene around, mainly because it was confined to the five boroughs.
- RFD TV (basically Rural TV) has pretty much stuck to shows for farmers and fans of rural living, along with nostalgic country programming to satisfy their needs. Although there was a threat of network decay when they aired Imus in the Morning for a couple years (but even then he owns a farm for ill children in New Mexico, so it still easily fit the network's mission), Imus has moved on to Fox Business Network and it's all farm programming (and of course, I Love Toy Trains!, a cult favorite of The Soup) there. The network is so dedicated to their mission that the network's CEO made a clear promise never to air either an infomercial or any erectile dysfunction drug ads on their air.
- C-SPAN is dependable as can be. The mainstay is still House and Senate sessions (or should we say, House sessions and Senate quorum calls). When the houses aren't in session, you'll get some light non-inflaming political talk, academic panel discussions, the Prime Minister's Question Time once a week, and whatever other political events they can find, along with the network's continued fight to get any shred of Supreme Court arguments on the air (even if it's just still pictures of justices with audio). Oh, and Book TV on C-SPAN2 during the weekends. There, you might get a little Kindle talk, but otherwise if it's bound with pages, that's all you'll get there. Of course, it helps that C-SPAN is contractually obliged not to decay.
- Hallmark Channel and its little sister Hallmark Movie Channel are pretty well guarded against decay. Even with their daytime block of Martha Stewart programming, repeats of '80's sitcoms, and their hyperfocus on Christmas television films in the last part of the year, unless the network suddenly signs a contract with a monster trucking circuit, the channel's mission is so broad anything works as long as it makes you feel warm and fuzzy.
- It's surprising that Network Decay in general hasn't been used as an argument against defunding PBS. The last time the conservative movement had enough power in Washington DC to bring that under serious discussion, the existence of networks such as the Discovery Channel, The History Channel and TLC were used to argue that we don't need PBS anymore. All those have undergone significant decay since then — Discovery and TLC are now dominated by Reality Shows, while History has been devoting an increasing (and, frankly, scary) amount of time to conspiracy theories and pseudoscience. All in all, PBS has done a very good job of avoiding Network Decay throughout its existence.
- PBS Kids Sprout may be partially owned by Comcast, but the "PBS" name in the network has guaranteed that the network is about education and fun first, selling toys second. The network's steady cast of humans (only one left so far because of an Old Shame college comedy film in 2005, and another moved to behind-the-scenes puppetry), Sesame Workshop backing, great continuity (Chicken puppet Chica is the personification of a Ridiculously Cute Critter) and a schedule usually not filled with much change has made it a safe haven while Nick and Disney market everything about their preschool characters. The network has even begun making a habit of acquiring properties once aired by those two and building programming blocks around them.
- In the beginning, Mark Cuban's HDNet was revolutionary, since it was one of the first cable networks with a 100% high definition lineup, and will always show all of their programming in the original aspect ratio without any kind of stretching or tweaking (which means, unfortunately, that if a local station wants to use a sports highlight from HD Net, it will usually be cut to pieces). However, as the idea of a 100% HD network was beginning to become less of a gimmick (given that a lot of major cable channels were launching their own HD feeds), HD Net had issues trying to make itself stand out, eventually turning into a male-oriented general entertainment network that also featured concerts, travel programs, sports (such as auto racing, MMA, and even some NHL games for a time), and even a newsmagazine hosted by former CBS News anchor Dan Rather. It even voluntarily gave airtime to Joe Francis for some Girls Gone Wild "Search for the Hottest Girl Who Wants to Lose Her Dignity in America" contest and a few more shows where women show off their...endowments, including the sexcom Svetlana. Eventually, Ryan Seacrest and Anschutz Entertainment Group purchased a stake in the network and re-formatted it to AXS TV, which is dedicated to pop culture, entertainment, and concert programming. (Dan Rather's show still airs.)
- If a network is owned by a sports league or is devoted to a specific sport, all you'll get is content from that sports league or sport. Well, most of the time; NBA TV shows international basketball, while the NFL Network will show a couple of college football bowl games and CFL games. NHL Network shows minor-league games as well as the hockey world championships, while Toronto's Leafs TV also shows events for their farm teams (such as the Toronto Marlies in the AHL). MLB Network during the offseason airs games from smaller leagues including the Arizona Fall League and many of the winter leagues in the Caribbean and Central and South America. But hey, at least it's still that sport! Most sports fans wouldn't mind that these programs, especially if the sports league is in its off-season in which fans of that sport may be craving for some more of that sport.
- Fox Soccer Channel is very stubborn about only showing other sports during their airing of hours of British sister channel Sky Sports News. Otherwise it's nothing but The Beautiful Game. It should be noted that one could cite this as an example of decay since the network started out as Fox Sports World which showed a variety of non-US based sports (rugby, cricket, Aussie rules football, etc) which gradually disappeared until only soccer (always the most frequently aired and highly rated sport on the network) was left prompting the rebranding. However, with the death of Setanta Sports due to the Irish debt crisis, FSC started up a Spin-Off network called Fox Soccer Plus, and added rugby, cricket, and eventually (after a stint on ESPN) Aussie football to that network's schedule. An odd but notable example of Network Regeneration. In 2012, Fox lost the English Premier League rights to NBC, and rumors are circulating that this loss has moved Fox to pull the plug on the entire format and replace it with an extension of FX.
- ESPN has stayed pretty true to its original pledge of bringing you sports in all of its flavors. Of course, much of that nowadays is brought to you by talking head shows rather than the actual sport. And their definition of sports is broad enough to include the Scripps National Spelling Bee and poker (and, at one time, Magic: The Gathering). But, it still does devote a bit of its time to the ideal of its now parent company's flagship sports show, ABC's Wide World of Sports, so you'll still be able to find the odd karate skill-breaking competition or cheerleading competition.
- The Film Zone originally showed both new and old movies before dedicating itself to movies too old for other channels, but not old enough for Retro and TCM.
- Fuel TV is known as one of the lowest-viewed channels on cable television because of their heavy reliance on Extreme Sports like surfing and skateboarding, which are usually best experienced outside. They've stuck to their mission even with the low ratings, and even their few original comedy shows are based around extreme sports. The network has become the official cable home of the UFC, though in this case as MMA is still considered in that "extreme" area of sports, it still works and the programs are designed to draw Fuel out of the Nielsen basement, so they can only help.
- Technically cable music channels (the ones that just air audio and display the track and artist information) like DMX, Music Choice and MTV's Urge package aren't really television channels, but beyond throwing out the occasional fad or Dead Horse Genre format (what's Toni Basil's "Mickey" doing in the rotation of Music Choice's Classic Alternative station? A throwback to when it was the New Wave channel), these channels are designed to purposefully not decay based on format division between each channel (you're never going to find Lady Gaga playing on the Oldies channel, for instance).
- Channels from international broadcasters, especially those funded by their individual governments, are almost always undecayable since said government is always going to present their country in the best way possible. Though as seen below...
- BBC America has begun to add American sci-fi programs to their lineup. It started with Star Trek: The Next Generation repeats for seemingly no reason other than that Patrick Stewart is British (...but he plays a Frenchman!...), and then later with The X-Filesnote and the revived Battlestar Galactica (recently, The X Files and TNG have both been dramatically scaled back in repeats). Other than these three shows and the American version of Kitchen Nightmares, BBC America nearly exclusively shows what it always has, British programming mostly (but not strictly) from The BBC. The channel just basically shows "British Programming", and the only reasons it has the BBC name is that its owned by the BBC (revenues from the channel end up supporting the Corporation's domestic output) and the name "BBC" has the same kind of name recognition in America for "British Programming" as "NPR" does for "public radio". According to this article, BBC America's new president "would like to add more made-in-America series to the U.K.-heavy lineup". Take that as you will.
- Recently, with new original non-fiction series based on the podcast The Nerdist and tech blog Gizmodo, BBC America seems to be making an attempt to carry the "geek television" banner that G4 abandonded once it careened into total decay. The channel still clings to its "British" identity to the point where its two original fiction series, Copper and Orphan Black, having a similar look and feel to the actual BBC's drama series more-so than American ones.
- The Canadian channel The Movie Network (TMN) (available in Eastern Canada only), originally known as First Choice, is similar to TCM in the fact that they don't show commercials during movies and the commercials they show between films are advertising the network itself or are actually independent Canadian short films. Pretty much all of their programming is movies or movie-related. They will also show HBO series/specials, but this is a good thing because Canadian audiences really wouldn't have anywhere else to see them; besides, HBO is short for Home Box Office.
- Generally the same with Movie Central (MC), originally known as Superchannel, which is available in Western Canada only. It should be noted, however, that both TMN and MC have partnered on HBO Canada, which is generally original shows sourced from HBO. Incidentially, First Choice and Superchannel (which was then owned by Allarcom, later WIC, before WIC was split up with its cable holdings generally sold to Corus Entertainment, a company related to Shaw) were jointly marketed from 1984 to 1989 as "First Choice Superchannel".
- ITV 4 has also fallen into this. Good range of programmes, slightly better than ITV 2, as in no wacky shows like The Only Way Is Essex (except maybe for Get Away, a car-theft gameshow with a Ms. Fanservice presenter. The show is so obscure there's nothing on Google about it.). However, it only shows a limited selection of Police, Camera, Action! episodes, not the full series, and Police Stop! misses out Police Stop! 11, a Very Special Episode. Fans are not amused. Other shows just about get the full rotation run though, namely Minder as one example.
- Me-TV still focuses on showing long-canceled TV shows from the 1950s through the 1980s. The closest it has to original programming is Svengoolie, a Chicago horror host who focuses on classic horror films (and the occasional airing of the Marx Brothers classic Duck Soup) and is a longtime fixture of Me-TV's founding station. Since horror hosts are, themselves, a part of classic TV and the show embraces a No Budget theme prevalent at the time among local programming, it's still well within its theme.