Slow Death of the History Channel

I’m sitting here watching episode No. 2 in a row of Human Weapon, the History Channel’s show where two guys go around the globe and do martial-arts training native to various locations. I’d say they do maybe five minutes of actual history in these shows — all of which seems to center around the Pacific Theater of World War II, though I suppose the Japanese really did cause a lot of martial upheaval in East Asia. Meanwhile we’ve just been to a commercial break, where the three promos were for another episode of Human Weapon (although set in France – what are they going to do without all that Eastern-mysticism filler material used by all martial-arts media in America?), an episode of The Universe detailing gaseous nebulas, and an episode of Ice Truckers, which is a show where guys drive trucks across ice. Great history lessons, all.

What happened here? The History Channel is going through the same thing that happened to the Discovery Channel, where they get really popular by exploiting a niche, find that they’ve filled the niche, spin off new networks into even smaller niches (think The Military History Channel or Discovery Times), cast a wider net with the flagship channel to keep growing the audience, then sit back and notice that the parent channel has become nothing like its original self.

It’s a process towards the same middle, in which the channel’s programming becomes a matter of throwing lots of stuff on the air and hoping some of it sticks, topical niche be damned. That’s probably good from a business standpoint, because it means your channel can compete with lots of other channels (including the old-school networks) for the same larger audience. But for someone like me who just wants to tune in now and then for some black and white D-Day footage with fact-laden narration—the name is “The History Channel”, after all—well hey, not as cool.

P.S. – They do lots of computer animations on this show of particular fighting moves, and each time they overlay the move with lots of chalk-drawn equations. What’s the percentage of the audience that actually knows whether those equations are accurate? If you transported a TV audience from the 1950s, would they still fall for the “Wow math, this is smart stuff!” trick? It could be appropriate physics, or the show could be writing out a simple derivative; I know I can’t tell.

The lesson is this: if you want to be an intellectual authority on TV, either a. have your info narrated by an upper-class British guy or b. show lots of formulas. Easy!

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2 Responses to “Slow Death of the History Channel”

  1. 1) try history international for some straight history stuff. Like Homer once said “look, the luftwaffe! they’re the washington generals of the history channel.

    2) the trend described should be called MTVing. do they even have videos anymore?

    Posted by Rich | August 6th, 2007 at 3:46 pm
  2. Not only does MTV not play videos, but MTV2 doesn’t even play videos anymore. So yes, I agree with your term.

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