Dating Naked is sadly typical of the programming produced by Viacom’s various cable networks…to the corporation’s detriment.
While Dating Naked has been the most notable recent example, many of the cable TV networks owned by Viacom have been thoroughly unfriendly to children and family viewers…and the programming choices made on these networks are now coming home to roost.
MTV was once the defining network for music and pop culture among teens and twentysomethings. Then it veered off into heinously tasteless and sexualized scripted drama like Skins, The Hard Times of R.J. Berger, The Inbetweeners, andI Just Want My Pants Back. When that caused viewers and advertisers to desert in droves, the network became the rightfully-ignored home of ultra-trashy reality shows like Jersey Shore, Snooki and Jwoww, and Girl Code.
At long last, all the years of failure have caught up to the channel. Now desperate to reclaim a youth audience, MTV recently announced that it is returning to music journalism, and will be producing its first live music program in 20 years. It is also launching MTV Classic – a channel devoted to reruns of programming from the ‘90s. (You know you’re in trouble when your “youth-oriented” network’s idea of cutting-edge programming is twenty-year-old reruns of Yo! MTV Raps.)
Comedy Central has also seen better days. After losing top hosts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (one to retirement, the other to a much more prestigious and high-profile late-night program on broadcast TV), the network is stuck with the execrable sexist and bigoted Tosh.0 and Brickleberry, and its semi-annual Roasts featuring sex and toilet jokes delivered by third-rate “comedians.”
Apart from Dating Naked, VH1 and Spike both seem to be oddly obsessed with shows about tattooartists, while TV Land – until recently, the home of family-friendly classic TV – has not fared well with its rebranding to programming “separating us from the TV Land of the past.”
Perhaps the biggest failure of the Viacom cable package has been NickMom. Launched in October 2012, NickMom essentially destroyed the Nick Jr. network, which until then had been wildly popular with parents. In the evenings Nick Jr., the network which proclaimed itself a “safe, educational place” for kids ages 2-6, introduced its NickMom programming block, featuring adult-themed comedies references to genitalia, sex, drinking, and other content totally inappropriate for kids. On shows like Parental Discretion, parents who had relied on Nick Jr. as safe viewing for their children suddenly found their preschoolers and toddlers deluged with explicit profanity, references to sex, genitalia, and breasts, and snide, cynical attacks on children and families.
Viewer outrage was immediate and virulent: the PTC was deluged with comments from parents horrified by the programming block’s sleazy content. Viacom paid the price for alienating parents; by March of 2013 (only 6 months after NickMom launched), The New York Times reported that Nick Jr.’s ratings plummeted more than 50 percent. Additional analysis found that NickMom was “the worst among the rated cable networks,” and was actually costing Viacom money to keep on the air. By October of 2013 – only a year after NickMom’s launch – Viacom had essentially disowned the network, downgrading it to an “ancillary service.”
Most tellingly, only two years after its launch, on September 30, 2015 NickMom abruptly vanished, with terse announcements on social media stating merely, “Today’s our last day.” Considering the fanfare which accompanied the programming block’s launch, this stealth disappearance demonstrates better than anything else the abject failure of the NickMom brand.
And of Viacom. Today, Viacom is a financial disaster area; and while some of this can fairly be attributed to poor management and struggles over ownership, it is undeniable that Viacom’s networks have spurned quality, family-friendly programming in favor of trashy reality shows and cheap, tawdry gimmicks – to the point that some cable companies have dropped Viacom’s networks, and subscribers haven’t even cared.
Sadly, shows like Dating Naked have become all too typical of Viacom’s output. If there’s a lesson to all these examples, it’s that gross-out humor, toilet jokes, and extreme sexual and adult content simply don’t sell.
It’s a lesson Viacom would do well to learn.