Friday, July 3, 2009

Diversity is a dirty word......

A common, disturbing trend among cable networks these days is to run marathons of certain popular shows every day. Marathons are supposed to be special events, reserved for, say, 1) holidays, 2) memorials of recently deceased cast members, or 3) anniversaries of when the series premiered.

The Sci-Fi Channel (To be rechristened SyFy beginning July 7, a genius move if there ever was one. NOT!!) uses holiday periods for extensive marathons of one specfically iconic series---The Twilight Zone. On a regular programming day, however, the network will run a block of episodes of a different series per day. It could be Zone one day, X-Files the next, and Dark Shadows the next. It used to be they'd have a more diverse lineup, with, for example, 2 episodes of Shadows in mid-morning, and other favorites like X-Files and Stargate SG-1 dotting the schedule. Not so anymore.

WE (Women's Entertainment) & Hallmark share the rights to Golden Girls, and each runs at least 2-3 hours worth in a row. For the children, Nickelodeon is notorious for airing daily blocks of hits like Spongebob Squarepants and Fairly Oddparents 7 days a week. They will tell you it's all about ratings. What the purists, like myself, will argue is that they are burning out their precious commodities with overexposure, still convinced that their target audience will just sit there and watch the same episodes 5 times in 3 days, or something to that effect.

Turning to the opposite extreme, niche channels like Cartoon Network risk alienating their core viewership by daring to step outside the box. Cartoon Network, in particular, has gradually added live-action programming completely unrelated to animation to their roster of late, the latest being a series of pseudo-reality shows under the "CN Real" umbrella. They've also acquired the not-so-trendy Slamball, a basketball game played with trampolines, that has bounced around from Spike to Versus and elsewhere since its launch 6 years ago. There's a reason that Slamball, the brainchild of former Philadelphia 76ers executive Pat Croce, has moved around. It's not a huge ratings draw, contrary to the feeble thinking of CN's suits.

CN would be fine if they restricted their live-action programming to movies that had some link to the cartoons on their roster (i.e. any "Batman" movie). Ben 10 got so hot, they decided to do 2 live-action movies based on the series, but something gets lost in the transition from toon to live-action. Who's programming the channel these days, anyway? Beavis & Butt-Head?

What the bosses at most of these networks fail to comprehend is that while they're trying to attract today's generation, older viewers are looking to these channels to find old series they haven't seen in a while. They don't get what they're looking for, so they tune out. So what if "reality" shows are cheap to produce. It's become a crutch to the suits that stifles creativity. It's time to go back to basics. Lose the marathons. Reality shows have long since jumped the shark. It's time to recognize who's really watching.

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