Saturday, March 22, 2014

Something for Everyone

If you want to talk television shows, odds are you can find someone to talk with you about "Downton Abbey." Or "House of Cards." Or "The Good Wife" or "The Americans" or "Game of Thrones." Each of these has garnered praise from critics and audiences alike, and has reached wide audiences regardless of their origin, be it the traditional broadcast channels (PBS for "Downton Abbey," CBS for "The Good Wife"), cable channels both premium and basic (HBO for "Game of Thrones," FX for "The Americans") or subscription services (Netflix for "House of Cards").  

But we live in world where even the most downscale of cable packages has at least 50 channels. So even if you subtract the news outlets (MSNBC, CNN, Fox, Al Jazeera, etc.), the sports channels (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and on to infinity), the legacy generalists (USA and TBS) and the well-established specialists (MTV, Comedy Central The Weather Channel and Nickelodeon, to name a few) that still leaves a lot of stuff out there that you probably have never seen.  

Well, maybe. Depending on your particular interests, you might have keyed into one of a number of narrowcasters who have you in their sites. If you're a dog or cat lover, odds are you've stumbled upon Animal Planet. If you like to make stuff, there's DIY or Do It Yourself. And if you covet a new bathroom, you're probably have parked your clicker more than once on HGTV and its steady diet of real estate porn ("Oh baby, now that's a hot tub!").

Still, there's plenty you likely haven't watched. The latest growth area seems to be channels devoted to all things unsolvable. The Hallmark Movie channel, formerly purveyor of heart tugging films like "Ordinary Miracles" and "Freshman Father" is turning to the darker side and rebranding itself as Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. To that end it picked up "The Gourmet Detective" and "Garage Sale Mystery." Likewise, the Lifetime Movie Network, an offspring of Lifetime TV, a cheery channel geared towards women and home of such shows as "Dance Moms" and "Million Dollar Shoppers" is heading towards a possible name change as it increases its offerings like "Bond of Silence" and "Seventeen and Missing."  

The current leader in the unknowable is the former "Discovery Civilization Network: The World History and Geography Channel." In that life its success was, how shall we say, "muted." Seemed no one wanted to spend an hour watching "Akhenaten & Nefertiti: The Royal Gods of Egypt" or "Emperor of the Steppes." So it went about as far from civilization as you can get and still be on this planet, morphing over several iterations to the current ID Network, for "Investigation and Discovery."  

And what do you discover if you tune in? If it's dark and goes bump in the night AND it has bad intentions, they've got it covered. There's "Elder Skelter" which highlights "shocking stories of senior citizens who committed cold, calculated crimes." "Southern Fried Homicide" focuses on "salacious stories from south of the Mason-Dixon Line." "The Bad Old Days" highlights crimes of the 50's and 60's, while "Dates from Hell" talks about romance where emotional rejection was the least of the problems encountered. And "Wives with Knives" is about, well, you know.

And that's just for mystery fans. For shoppers who are tired of QVC and the Home Shopping Network, there's the Liquidation Channel and the Jewelry Television. For gamers there's the Game Show Network, G4 and GameTV. And because you (or somebody like you) asked for it, you can watch Veria Living focusing on a healthy lifestyle, Wealth TV (just renamed AWE) which has shows about all the things you want but can't afford, or the American Heroes channel, focusing on American Heroes (duh).

Beyond that, Netflix has demonstrated that you don't even need an antenna or cable to connect with the viewing public. In fact, odds are your children watch way less "boob tube" than you, and are shacked up with their laptops consuming programming via YouTube, Hulu and a hundred other online platforms. As of this writing, in fact, 53% of the traffic on the web is people streaming programming of some kind. All this means is that it's getting a lot harder to say there's nothing to watch. In fact, you can certainly still say it; it just takes a lot longer to be sure.


Marc Wollin of Bedford recently spent a week where he never watched any television. It was great. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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