New networks provide reruns not shown on cable.
Back in the 1950s and ‘60s, television was a different game. With only three TV networks, programs were aimed at the largest, broadest possible audience – hence, the term “broadcasting.” Programs then were intended for, and could safely be watched by, everyone in the entire family, children, teens, adults, and grandparents alike.
With the rise of cable and dozens of networks, many channels began to diversify, and appeal to specific interests; but viewers of a certain age may recall that, when cable TV was just getting started in the 1980s and ’90s, many networks showed reruns of classic broadcast programs. The Andy Griffith Show was the top program on SuperStation TBS. Later, Viacom made classic TV a big business by packaging series from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s on Nickelodeon’s Nick at Nite, which later spawned TV Land.
But over time, cable became the home to increasingly “edgy” programming. Networks like FX began showing ever-more extreme and graphic content. Other channels, like AMC, abandoned their original remit, and joined in the edgy/trashing program parade. AMC originally stood for “American Movie Classics,” now shows ultra-graphic zombie program The Walking Dead, while TLC, formerly “The Learning Channel,” devotes itself to trashy reality shows. Increasingly, audiences looking for family-friendly fare had nowhere to turn.
Then, in 2009, the situation changed. That year, due to a federal mandate, over-the-air broadcast stations were required to switch from analogue to digital programming. Because digital signals take up much less space on the broadcast spectrum, room was freed up for more channels on broadcast TV…and soon, an new business model was born.
Today, digital “subchannels” are big business. Where once there was, say, just channel 5, today there is a channel 5.1, a 5.2, 5.3, and so forth. Those “subchannels” are now home to new networks, which thrive by showing reruns of classic programming…programming which still has appeal, because those classic reruns were intended for the entire family
“Way back when television was designed for the entire family with one TV, everybody in the business was focused on developing shows that had broad appeal to everyone, and that continues to have efficacies. You may laugh at Charlie’s Angels, Gilligan’s Island, The Odd Couple or Little House on the Prairie, but guess what? There is a huge audience that is willing to watch them,” says Ken Werner, President of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution.
Here’s a rundown of some of the subchannel networks now available.
Standing for Memorable Entertainment Television, MeTV has become the most successful of the subchannel networks. Available in 94% of the country, MeTV ranks seventh among cable networks between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays – fourth among adults age 35-64; in prime-time, MeTV ranks as the 20th most-watched network on TV.
MeTV airs many favorite programs from years past, from The Andy Griffith Show, Hogan’s Heroes, and Gilligan’s Island, to Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, The Odd Couple, M*A*S*H, and The Carol Burnett Show. Saturday afternoons, MeTV carries a Western block of programs, including The Big Valley, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Rifleman, and Wanted: Dead or Alive starring Steve McQueen. The channel also shows “Sci-Fi Saturday Nights,” including The Adventures of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, Star Trek and the Chicago-based, humorous horror-show host Svengoolie.
Probably the second-most successful subchannel, Antenna TV is available in 75% of America, including all of the top 20 markets. It offers a mix of programming from the 1950s through the 1990s, from Burns & Allen, Jack Benny, Father Knows Best, Leave It To Beaver,Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, McHale’s Navy, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Green Acres, to newer programs like Barney Miller, One Day at a Time, Mork and Mindy, Family Ties, Newhart, Wings, Doogie Howser MD, Dear John, and Evening Shade.
In the evenings, Antenna has a programming block of Sanford and Son, Good Times, The Jeffersons, All in the Family, and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. On weekends, the channel shows The Monkees, The Partridge Family, The Flying Nun, and The Addams Family, as well as two of the most infamous series in TV history: It’s About Time and My Mother the Car.
Started as a way for NBCUniversal to make use of the programming catalogue it owns, Cozi TV is available as a subchannel on most NBC affiliate stations, as well as on TeleXitos, the broadcast arm of NBCU’s Spanish-language Telemundo stations.
Cozi airs programming including The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Munsters, Make Room for Daddy, Little House on the Prairie, Adam-12, Charlie’s Angels, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, Quincy, Hart to Hart, Miami Vice, Quantum Leap, The A-Team, Knight Rider, Frasier, Murder She Wrote, and, in the wee hours, Maverick and The Avengers.
Like NBCUniversal, CBS also has a digital subchannel on most of its affiliates. Decades takes a unique approach to programming: each day, the channel airs a six-hour program block which repeats four times throughout the day. Hosted by veteran TV newsman Bill Kurtis, Through the Decades is an original documentary program which airs each day addressing that date in history. This is followed by various entertainment programs with themes tied to that date in history, and a rerun of the long-running talk program The Dick Cavett Show.
Each weekend, the network features the “Decades Binge,” 48 hours straight of a different program . Shows “binged” have included Dark Shadows, Get Smart, Police Woman, Ironside, The Millionaire, F Troop, Car 54 Where Are You?, Burke’s Law, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The first of the all-rerun digital subchannels, Retro TV (or RTV, as it was known then) fell into difficulties some years ago, and went into bankruptcy. Now Retro TV is back on its feet with some unique programming, including the long-running British science-fiction series Doctor Who, the cult sci-fi/horror/comedy Mystery Science Theater 3000, and rarely-rerun classic series like Route 66, Naked City, Police Surgeon, The Joey Bishop Show, and the eerie suspense series One Step Beyond.
Alone among the digital subchannels, on Saturday mornings Retro shows a block of ‘70s cartoons, including The Barkleys and The Houndcats. The channel also offers its comedy horror host program Harvey’s Festival of Fear, and Acorn TV Presents, a round-up of classic British series including I, Claudius, Poldark, and the World War I nurse series ANZAC Girls.
Heroes & Icons
While it does carry some Western and crime programming, such as Wagon Train, Have Gun Will Travel, The Rebel, Kung Fu, Hill Street Blues, The Commish, NYPD Blue, 21 Jump Street, and Hunter, recently Heroes & Icons has taken a sharp turn toward genre programming, focusing on reruns of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess, Batman, The Adventures of Superman, The Green Hornet, and The Greatest American Hero. Star Trek fans are likely to be particularly enthralled with H&I’s programming, as beginning July 24th the subchannel has been rerunning all five Trek franchises nightly: Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enteprise. Recently, Star Trek: The Animated Series joined the lineup, as well.
Targeted at genre viewers, Comet features The Outer Limits (both 1960s and 1990s series), Poltergeist: The Legacy, and Stargate: SG1, and sci-fi and horror movies, from 1950s cheapies like Invisible Invaders and Killers From Space, through Hammer horror like Hands of the Ripper and Countess Dracula and the 1960s and ‘70s Godzilla franchise, to more recent shock features like Pumpkinhead and Teen Wolf Too.
Aimed at the urban audience, Bounce TV airs reruns of The Parent ‘Hood, Roc, A Different World, The Bernie Mac Show, and Half and Half, as well as a variety of movies and the original program Mann & Wife, starring David and Tamela Mann, famous for their work in Tyler Perry’s movies.
Seeking to appeal to the male demographic, Grit features Western and action-crime series, from Laramie and Zane Grey Theater to a nightly block of Chuck Norris’ Walker, Texas Ranger. Many 1980s crime movies are also in Grit’s mix.
Probably the most eclectic of the digital subchannels, Get TV’s programming varies wildly, with the network showing everything from forgotten 1950s Westerns like The Tall Man and The Restless Gun, to little-seen dramas like The Lieutenant and James Garner’s pre-Rockford Files series Nichols, to 1960s fantasy sitcoms Nanny and the Professor and The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, to 1980s action series Airwolf, Riptide, Hardcastle and McCormick, and The Equalizer. Adding to Get’s bizarre program selection are musical-variety shows of bygone eras, including The Judy Garland Show and The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, and documentary specials spotlighting horror icons like Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Vincent Price. Topping it off are interviews with presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan on The Merv Griffin Show.
There are also a multiplicity of other digital subnetworks, among them The Works, which alternates ancient movies (the channel seems to have an odd love of dubbed 1960s gladiator films) with contemporary political programming like Huffington Post Live; Buzzr, focused on game shows from the 1950s To Tell the Truth and What’s My Line, through Monty Hall’s Let’s Make a Deal, to the 1970s-era Match Game and Family Feud with Richard Dawson; Laff, devoted to comedy reruns including Night Court, Empty Nest, Ellen, Spin City, and The Drew Carey Show; This TV, primarily a movie channel, though it has shown the 1950s-era Highway Patrol and Sea Hunt, as well as Cagney and Lacey and In the Heat of the Night; and Movies!, which is pretty much nothing but.
These network are available for free for anyone with an antenna. And they are a tremendous success; it’s estimated that all the digital subchannels together take in over $250 million a year in advertising revenue.
Clearly, viewers still have an emotional bond with the TV they watched as a child. And just as clearly, many viewers are desperate for programming they can watch with their entire family. What a pity the broadcast networks today don’t get the message – and program for as wide an audience as they once did.