I remember those early cable TV days.

Came across this meme on Facebook today and it made me a little ranty. It’s one of the big reasons I ended up cutting the cord years ago and switching to streaming only. It’s largely accurate except for Bravo.

Image may contain: text that says 'TV CHANNELS: THEN & NOW WHAT IT SHOWED THEN MTV Music videos WHAT IT SHOWS NOW TLC Trash reality shows that feature young, attractive people Medical shows and documentaries ANIMAL PLANET Trash reality shows that feature oddballs and grossouts Wildlife documentaries A&E Trash reality shows that feature doggies and kitties Historical biographies HISTORY Trash reality shows that feature murders and ghosts History documentaries BRAVO Trash reality shows that feature pawn shops Makeovers and weddings DISCOVERY Trash reality shows that feature gold diggers Nature programming WEATHER Weather Trash reality shows that feature gold-diggers Weather @MATTSURELEE'

I was a teenager in the 1980s when Cable TV started showing up everywhere. I can recall clearly hearing the news that it was coming to my hometown of Pontiac, MI and how excited everyone was for it. I can also remember the launch of several of these channels.

MTV was a channel I spent a lot of time on and is the major reason I can recognize musical groups from that era when I see pictures of them. Hours were spent watching videos and when we moved out to Orion Township in 1984, which didn’t have cable TV yet, my mother felt so bad that she bought a couple of MTV compilation VHS tapes to make up for it. I think I still have them around here someplace.

Some folks know that TLC stood for The Learning Channel and started off with a lot of educational programming and documentaries, but what a lot of them don’t know is that it’s one of the oldest cable channels. Founded in 1972 by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and NASA as the Appalachian Community Service Network its focus was on education through TV and was distributed for free by NASA satellite. It was privatized in 1980 and became The Learning Channel and its main competitor was The Discovery Channel, which aired similar content. TLC was considered the better channel for shows about nature, science, history, current events, medicine, technology, cooking, and home improvement. So, of course, the folks behind The Discovery Channel ended up eventually buying them out and then slowly moved the content to the trash that it is today for the sake of ratings. Then in 2006 to 2008 they tried to shift their focus back to actual educational programming even using “The Learning Channel” in some promotions. That didn’t last long at all.

Of all the channels above, TLC is the one I’m most upset about because it in the early days I really enjoyed it. The HISTORY Channel falls into the same category. I struggled with history in school, but I enjoyed the hell out of the programming on The HISTORY Channel back when it actually had shows about history on it. Arts & Entertainment (A&E, natch) was also really good in the early days even if I didn’t watch it all that much because I have no artistic sensibility. BRAVO I didn’t watch much of because I recall it had a lot of operas and “serious theater” on it which didn’t have enough explosions to keep my ADHD addled attention. Not sure why the meme lists BRAVO as makeovers and weddings as that’s the crap it turned into before it went full reality TV programming.

The Discovery Channel was another early favorite because I was big into science stuff and so were they. My favorite program was out of Australia called “BEYOND 2000” which was all about the cool shit we’d be using in the future. I first heard about Dental Implants on that show and now they’re actually a thing here in the future. At the end of my time as a cable TV subscriber the only shows I could stand to watch on the channel was The MythBusters and occasionally How It’s Made.

The joke of the meme is the WEATHER channel, which covered the weather back then and still largely does so today, but it hasn’t escaped from the reality TV trend entirely. With shows like Fat Guys in the Woods and So You Think You Would Survive, they’ve got their toes in the water. Hell, not even the major cable news networks have managed to avoid the trend.

The promise of cable TV back in the day was that it had enough room for networks devoted to knowledge to exist alongside the standard TV fare and for a while it lived up to that promise. Alas, ratings mean money and when the first reality TV show showed you could get massive ratings for extraordinarily little expenditure the fate of these channels was sealed. Why show an informative documentary on how paper clips are made when you can air a show about the hardships of a family of little people and make four times the cash from it?

The same sort of thing happened to parts of the Internet. I first ventured onto the net before the World Wide Web was a thing, so it was a text-based experience. USENET News Groups were the main draw back then functioning much like web-based message forums of today or the Bulletin Board Systems we ran before the Internet was widely available. There were groups devoted to all sorts of topics and they put you in contact with knowledgeable people around the world. Alt.Sex was an amazing forum for getting information from experts about that topic right up until around 1996 when the boom in Internet Service Providers (ISPs) happened and suddenly the Internet became a lot more crowded. Groups like Alt.Sex went from being a place with useful info to nothing but porn ads almost overnight.

It’s almost like any form of educational thing gets ruined the minute you give it to the masses. Early cable TV was highly informative as was the early Internet. Once it reached the mass public both kinda soured. There are still areas of both that hold worthwhile content, but content aimed at the lowest common denominator reigns king and you must step around a lot of dog shit to get to it. It’s a shame. I miss those early days, but that’s probably me being a grumpy old man looking at the past through rose tinted glasses.

Hey you kids! Get the fuck offa my lawn!

5 thoughts on “I remember those early cable TV days.

  1. Ah, Eternal September – yeah, I can get behind that sentiment, Rpar. The odd thing is that my friends and I hit college that exact same year (and by virtue of our experience, skills, and interests would have stuck around regardless of the internet opening up to everybody), so it never occurred to us until much later that it was a “thing” that happened. In hindsight, it’s a little embarrassing what the non-newbies must have thought we were a part of!

    But meanwhile, Les: I wish I could say “Yeah, you’re just being a Grumpy Old Man™ (as am I),” but this feels like a substantially different phenomenon altogether. (Automatic crowd response: “This feels like a substantially different phenomenon.”)

    The cable TV problem, the mass internet problem – these things don’t seem like Young Whippersnappers Doin’ Their New-Fangled Thing That Leaves Us Behind. They seem far more like capitalist, corporate interests seeing a new environment, invading it, reducing it to the highest profit-loss ratio they can easily engineer, and screwing both creators and consumers out of yet another venue that once held promise.

    The “Kids” on my lawn? I’ve got no problem with them. I’ve got a problem with the corporations that paved over the lawn and put a megastore there. The Kids and I would probably find plenty of common ground without cheap linoleum tiles and gaudy endcap displays covering it up.

    That is, if reality TV and endless social media blather weren’t the only very, very easily accessible things, plenty of Kids would probably be into exactly the same stuff I was/am into, and the ones who wouldn’t be would never be into it anyway (which is fine, and they’d have their own interests).

    There’s good stuff out there – I know because we can find it (with a bit of effort). But every time any platform comes along that innovates and gives us something good, the corporations and celebrities move in, take over…and cover it up with linoleum.

    As one example, YouTube grew out of the talented pro-am filmmaking and animation communities that had been posting awesome video projects for nearly a decade before the site even existed; they’re still there, but the platform itself has made it harder for their successors to achieve the same goals, turning everything into a profit-oriented mess of celebrity and corporate interests. (Never mind that YouTube itself should never have been a method of making a living – it should have been a springboard to doing so.)

    As another: the crowdfunding model was a potentially interesting way for creators without a lot of resources to get a chance to achieve their goals…and then it turned into a crazy cash grab for big shots who already had access to venture capitalists and didn’t need this. Again, the Kids are still there, but you can barely hear them above the roar of Coca-Cola and the Kardashians (metaphorically speaking) asking for people to help crowdfund a Super Bowl Halftime Spectacular (uh…metaphorically speaking) – and worse, people actually giving their money to that instead of someone creating their dream graphic novel or video game consoles for the disabled or something that big time investors would never give a chance (which was the entire point of the platforms to begin with).

    Hell, Netflix alone is an example that compounded into an even worse example. Once upon a time, I could easily queue up “that movie I was just in the mood for” online (or within two days, when I still did the DVD mailing thing) and spend an evening watching it (and introducing it to my wife, who usually hadn’t seen it before!). A massive fortune was diverted from the rights to play those movies and instead sunk into a movie sausage factory that turns out an actual sausage about 1 in every 10000 attempts, and only half of those actual sausages taste any good. And now, every sausage delivery company is trying to make their own sausages, with about the same level of success. I think a lot of us have done the “hop” back and forth between Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and the rest – every time one starts going downhill, we hear good things about a show or two on another…and discover (all over again) that that “show or two” were the only good ones they had to offer, but now we’re stuck with another subscription. (Anyone remember when movie studios were forcibly divorced from movie theatres in order to avoid that obvious conflict of interest? Why are we allowing the same mistake to happen all over again?)

    I don’t know what the answer is, honestly. (Or rather, the answers I have probably need a lot of critique before they might be viable.) But one thought: allowing corporations to have social media accounts was a pretty obvious mistake. The only problem being, if they were somehow disallowed, they would have found ways around it anyway (pretending to be an unbiased individual who just happens to post a lot about McDonald’s, no reason at all, why do you ask, have you tried the new McPizza, it’s delicious, only $6.95 a slice!). And after all, corporations are people, as we’ve come to learn from incredibly stupid judicial arguments.

    Long story, as ever, short (after making it long – sorry as usual, Les!): I don’t think we’re being Grumpy Old Men about this, because it’s not really the Kids we’re complaining about. It’s the PNC Bank and United Airlines Playground they’re playing on, which was market-tested to “prove” that all the Kids want to do is sit on an immobilized see-saw and argue over how many bars should be on a proper set of monkey bars…while, of course, there are no monkey bars in the playground. And if it weren’t for the banks and airlines trying to get into playground design (or, more accurately, ownership), the Kids would be having a blast, and we Old Kids would think it was one of the coolest playgrounds ever.

    I mean, come on: do they really want us to buy that the latest crop of Kids wouldn’t have loved going to Toys ‘R’ Us? That now missing piece of our childhood isn’t gone because “the Kids weren’t interested” – it’s gone because capitalist vultures tore it apart and sold off the corpse for profit, exactly according to plan.

    Oof. I should avoid writing responses this early in the day. My tendency to go long is even worse.

  2. Jeff, I think you nailed a lot of what I was feeling and failing to articulate. And no worries about going long because it was all worth reading. Surprised you didn’t turn it into your own blog post. 🙂

  3. Oh, hey, that’s a great –

    Wait a second! That almost worked. Get thee behind me, tempting trickster. 😛

    (“Just when I thought I was out…”)

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