Monday, November 12, 2012

The Name's The Same But...

I got a great question the other day during a talk to a bright group of Grade Sixers.
One very smart preteen asked me simply "Why is there a TV network called Arts And Entertainment when it shows Pawn Stars and Storage Wars?
Didn't she forget Dog The Bounty Hunter which started the whole "Unreality" thing on A%E? Actually that venerable classic has been cancelled.
Hey, I just happened to already be at the Toronto Star when the original A&E network was launched in 1984.
And what an ambitious schedule it first had: there was a night for ballet and opera, a nightly biography of a famous person, prestigious documentaries and high blown British dramas.  At one point British classics like Lovejoy and Inspector Morse accounted for 40 per cent of the weblet's content.
And then along came BBC America and A&E's British imports faded fast.
Tuesday nights as I recall Tammy Grimes hosted telecasts of notable plays and concerts. And there was another wonderful series called Breakfast With The Arts.
Conceived as a sort of PBS with commercials A&E slowly morphed into  a rerun network with such faves as The Equalizer and Law & Order in reruns. Then the reality craze took over proving once again that high class programming does not sell to the vast American viewing public.
And I have to admit that late at night I couldn't stop watching the Dog and his marvelously disfunctional family.
In Canada we witnessed the same phenomenon when C Channel came on the air --and it quickly folded because viewers were loathe to pay a little more for a quality TV cable service.
When the Canadian Bravo debuted all sorts of promises were made about providing a night of British drama plus devoting big bucks to televising opera and ballet.
And today? Well Canadian Bravo still does offer the occasional great moment like its recent reconstruction of the life of Tom Thompson but it also reruns such U.S. exports as Suits and White Collar and reruns of such CTV fare as The Mentalist and Criminal Minds. All popular shows, yes, but uplifting?
Let's move on to Outdoor Life, a Canadian cable weblet I've always thought suffered from a split personality.
There are some dandy outdoors shows like Mantracker but there also are Pawn Stars and Storage Wars. What is "outdoorsy" about a storage locker I ask you?
Let's move on to AMC --American Movie Classics.
It actually was the first old movie channel on the block with runs of pre-1948 Paramount, Universal, RKO and Fox titles.
Copycat Turner Classic Movies came to town providing stiff entertainment and AMC dumped most of its old flicks for more recent action flicks.
And today? The weblet now has two of the greatest TV series: Breaking Bad and Mad Men.
So why still call it AMC?
Sometimes stations go whole hog in renaming their product. Hamilton's Channel 11 started off as CHCH. Then it was just CH. Then it was ON TV for a nano second. Then it was E!. Now it is back to where it all started --CHCH.
Of course I could say that a whole lot of programming on Canada's History channel is only slimly related to history like its current repeats of M*A*S*H.
So what,s in a name? As far as most TV networks are concerned not much at all.

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