Saturday, March 10, 2012

"Cable TV Channels and Their Shows"

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

Confession time... I've read every strip of PhD (Piled Higher and Deeper) Comics. I found many of their jokes to be amusing when I was in graduate school, and they continue to amuse me on a regular basis. Well, back in November, they published a strip called "'Science' Programming," which looked at some "cable TV channels and their shows." I found it to be pretty funny at the time, and I'm reminded of it as we move into Upfronts Season, so I thought I'd share. You can find the strip below, originally published here.

Many of Discovery Communications' channels have misleading names at this point (though at least they've stopped pretending that TLC is "The Learning Channel"), and PhD is not the first comic to poke fun at this fact. They generally ballpark their figures and broadly describe their categories, but some of the fact are still dead-on. I decided to investigate the panel's assertions a little, and below you'll see my findings.

Science does have Monster Bug Wars, Killer Robots, and Build it Bigger, but that's not really a quarter of their programming. I actually am surprised that they didn't include "aliens" or "bugs," as those seem to be hot Science topics. Whether their shows "about science," "not about science" or "about engineering" match up to the chart is a bit more difficult to judge, as the line between science and engineering is fine, plus they have no definitive explanation of what the network considers "science." The "projectiles" and "junk" though? Absolutely! Between their rocketry programming, Flying Anvils, JUNKies, and reruns of Junkyard Wars, they've got that area covered.

Looking at Discovery, I have to ask... besides MythBusters, what shows are they airing that "debunk myths"? Sure, the show has 200 episodes under its belt, and it seems as if it's always on, but that only indicates the network's allotment of airtime to that show, not their allotment of how many different shows. I guess Discovery has specials from time to time that explain some things (like Secrets of the FBI), but that's not regular programming. Moving on, I disagree that shows about "guns," "Alaska," and programs with "wild" or "dirty" in the title have equal footing on the network. Besides American Guns and Sons of Guns, what else focuses on weapons? Plus, I can only think of two shows each for "wild" and "dirty" (Dirty Jobs, Dirty Money, Man vs. Wild, and Man, Woman, Wild). Alaska, however, it a mogul for the network. I don't know how that trend got started, but at least five shows center on our largest state: Bering Sea Gold, Deadliest Catch, Flying Wild Alaska, Gold Rush, and Alaska, the Last Frontier. The biggest surprise for me was examining the "cars, motorcycles, and tornadoes" section. Including tornadoes really only adds Storm Chasers, but there really are quite a few programs about the vehicles that I didn't think about: American Chopper, American Hot Rod, Carfellas, Biker Build-Off, Monster Garage, and even Cash Cab if you want to stretch it a bit.

I don't really understand how PhD decided to depict National Geographic's programming. When's the last time you saw a show about dinosaurs? A few "state troopers and/or guns" shows are out there on reality television, but the only ones I could find that run on NatGeo are Alaska State Troopers and Perfect Weapon... certainly not 42% of their broadcasts. The rest of their rundown fits a little better, with Islands, Wild Russia, and Word Travels for geography, and Dangerous Encounters, Don't Tell my Mother, The Indestructibles, and World's Toughest Fixes for "shows about grown men doing stupid things." I definitely would have given "debunking myths" a larger proportion, though. If you look at this theme in the broadest sense, NatGeo is always running hour-long specials that explain one thing or another, like the birth of Christ, the likelihood of Armageddon, and how the drug-running industry works. They also have I Didn't Know That, Taboo, and Is It Real? as a few shows which serve primarily to explain things to audiences. Personally, I would've made "shows about animals" a category and allotted it a quarter of the pie... the same with "shows about weather or storm phenomena." And maybe even a "shows about prisons" section, for things like Lockdown, Locked Up Abroad, Inside Death Row, and Breakout. Kinda crazy how many programs they have about jail, huh?

Last, we have History, the biggest joke in the panel. If they had left off "that takes place on a boat/truck," I might have considered "shows about a deadly profession" more seriously. But, they limited Ax Men and Full Metal Jousting, leaving us with Ice Road Truckers and Ice Road Truckers: Deadliest Roads, the short-lived Harvest, and Swamp People. Are Mudcats or Madhouse all that dangerous? Either way, that slice should really be a little more equal to the size of "junk," which includes American Pickers, Cajun Pawn Stars, Pawn Stars, and maybe Real Deal. Oh, and that whole "shows about hairy bikers" section? Just a cheap shot at Hairy Bikers, a twelve-episode series that aired last fall, following two motorcyclists as they rode across America, enjoying regional food along the way.

It's amusing to think about how little bits of commentary here and there sometimes cause us to research the validity of various arguments. It certainly pushes one's curiosity, though! My final thoughts on the matter? When you look at the number of reality television shows on all networks (setting aside the true biographies and non-fiction specials for a moment), there really are more programs about Alaska, junk, and dangerous stunts (professional or otherwise) than we need. Probably weddings and desserts, too. Agree?
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