For the past few weeks, I have been examining the evolution of cable television channels. Some channels have amped up their game, while others have fallen into the depths of despair. But no channel that I've stumbled upon, thus far, has completely lost its original sense of identity while still holding onto its name on the same level as the History channel.
History channel, what the hell happened to you? You are a former shell of yourself. Naturally, networks must change and progress along with the times, for better or for worse. Certain channels completely rebrand and rename and whether we enjoy their new iteration, at least they are admitting they're something new. The History channel did some minor rebranding in 2008, but that was only to drop from their name "the" and "channel," making it just "History," which hasn't even stuck. This move is completely illogical. The History channel is still a television channel, it's just not about history anymore!
In the mid-1990s, The History Channel was launched and posed a bit of a threat to public television, which had previously cornered the market on stuffy historical documentaries about relatively boring events in time. The History Channel quickly became a major cable player.
Of their programming, one of History's mainstays was a show called Biography, which would eventually splinter off into its own network. During those salad days of the History channel, there appeared to be an overwhelming amount of programming dedicated to World War II, which eventually led the network to get saddled with the unfortunate title "the Hitler Channel."
It's been somewhat stuck with that name since, which perhaps it should have embraced. I don't want to point out the obvious, but WWII was kind of a big deal.
The past few years, it has been noted that the History channel has stopped airing programs about history altogether, which is not actually the case; they've been airing nonhistorical shows for years!
In 1995-96, the channel began airing Modern Marvels, which would prove to be one of its most popular shows of all time. Each episode takes an interesting aspect of science and/or technology and depicts how it affects our daily lives. That's not history, that's now stuff.
I think the issue people have had with the seemingly abrupt, yet not at all unexpected, programming shift in the History channel's lineup is that it went from pseudo-smart, interesting, semi-historical television to having absolutely no authentic or "factual" merit, reality show garbage, crap, nonsense, crappy crap. (I know this description of their current programming is completely subjective and not very descriptive either.) At present, History boasts such programming as American Pickers (reality junk shopping), Counting Cars (reality junk car shopping), American Restoration (reality junk restoring), Chasing Tail (reality hunting) and Ax Men (reality ax men), among others that follow suit. What is historical about any of these shows?
According to the channel's slogan, "History: Made Every Day," these programs fit the bill because they are indeed making history on any old day. But guess who else is making history every day: your mom.
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Why would you sully your brand so? The History channel is better off airing re-runs of I Love the 1880s.
Very recently, History has been jumping onto the other, more creative bandwagon and has aired several scripted programs such as Vikings and the mini-series The Bible. At least these shows are loosely based on something historical or something that comes from an old book. These shows have gotten quite a bit of press, for better or worse, and one would assume that scripted programming is the next direction for the network. I'm all for that and hope that such programs continue to make their way onto the schedule. There is so much potential for good, creative nonfiction television that other channels can't seem to get right (READ: The Kennedys).
What would be really awesome would be if the History channel did a documentary about the history of the History channel. Meta.