Monday, April 25, 2011

Via Franklin Avenue: When cable channels were what they said they were

During the 80's, I can remember thinking that 80's era stuff just wasn't going to age well.  As awesome as it all seemed at the time, it was just a gut feeling I had and I think I've been proven right over the years.  Let's face it, those of us who lived it and wore crap like leggings, torn t-shirts and six inches of bangle bracelets on arms bared by shoved-up jacket sleeves have become laughable relics of a decade probably best remembered for unfortunate fashion choices.  Although I will say that after going through an awkward "guilty pleasure" stage, the music has held up a lot better than expected.

One thing we did have going for us during that decade was the advent of cable and its shiny new networks.  Unlike the big three broadcast nets (ABC, CBS and NBC) cable stations were much more specific in their programming and were dedicated to a particular audience, be it through genre or artisitic preservation and/or philosophy.  Let's see how those noble intentions held up over the years, shall we?

The always awesome Franklin Avenue brings us this collection of cable station promos from the 80's, when a cable channel's programming actually matched up with their name and stated mission.  Of course I have to weigh in with my own smart ass observations of the promos versus current programming.

TLC (The Learning Channel): Then: Inner space, outer space, international programming, college prep, arts & crafts and history.  Now: I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant, 19 and Counting, Kate Plus Eight, Sister Wives, Toddlers and Tiaras, My Strange Addiction, and Hoarding: Buried Alive.  What exactly are we supposed to be learning here?

A&E (Arts & Entertainment Network): Hoarders, Intervention, Relapse, Parking Wars, Storage Wars.  In their defense, A&E also airs The First 48 (arguably the best real-life crime show on television) and Criminal Minds reruns, so perhaps a better name for the net would be C&E (Crime & Entertainment or Crap & Entertainment, depending on when you happen to tune in).

VH1 (Video Hits 1): "Coming up this hour, videos..."  Hahaha, kidding!!!  The one-time home of Pop-Up Video now brings us Celebrity Rehab, Ru Paul's Drag Race, My Big Friggin' Wedding, Mob Wives, Basketball Wives and various showcases for a batch of has-beens and never-weres who fit the basic cabler's no doubt extremely limited budget.

AMC (American Movie Classics) "...the way they were meant to be seen, uncut and uninterrupted."  Psych!!!  AMC went to the dark side when they decided that classic films were not, in fact, meant to be seen uncut and uninterrupted (no doubt to the delight of Turner Classic Films and Fox Movie Channel).  To AMC's credit they have been extremely successful since moving into original programming a few years ago with Emmy winners Mad Men and Breaking Bad, but that's all the more reason for them to rebrand with a more accurate name.

Bravo: The hardest U-turn of any of these channels.  I mean, watch the promo.  Anouk Aimee?  Anita O'Day?  Teresa Wright?  Geraldine Chaplin?  Merchant Ivory?  French New Wave?  Godard?  Truffaut?  Fellini?  Who are these people?  Forget them, tune in to Bravo nowadays for the painfully awkward manufactured drama of shallow, obnoxious and unlikeable personal trainers, stylists, real estate agents and social-climbing housewives.  Sure, the artists mentioned in Bravo's 1987 promo may not have been relateable, but at least we could admire them and their work.  Another net that should rebrand.  May I suggest RSN (Reality Suckage Network).

The Family Channel (currently ABC Family): ABC Family is the anti-Bravo in that it has not strayed far from its original incarnation, despite several changes in ownership.  I can't really think of anything snarky to say about its lineup.  Interesting factoid: There was a stipulation in The Family Channel's sale from founder Pat Robertson's CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network) to secular ownership in 1997 that required the channel to continue to carry religious programming, which is does to this day.

HLN (Headline News): Back when the news business meant actually reporting the news rather than editing or slanting it to push an agenda (at least not as blatantly as they do today) and We Report, You Decide was every news outlet's unofficial slogan, Headline News was a go-to network for breaking news.  How does 1986 Headline News compare to today's HLN Initially airing tightly-formatted 30-minute newcasts around the clock, since 2005, the channel has increasingly aired long-form pop culture news and opinion programming.  Current programming includes shows hosted by Joy Behar, Dr. Drew and Nancy Grace.  Don't worry, nowadays in case of emergency there's always Twitter for breaking news.

BTW, if you enjoy old promos then Franklin Avenue needs to be a weekly destination, especially for Southern Californians.  Most of the retro promos Mike posts are old local ads and are guaranteed to send you into an Angeleno nostalgia fest.  Retro Fridays are just one of many reasons FA is one of the most popular and important L.A. blogs.

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