Which, often as not, stands for “Horrible Detail.” Did you ever notice that A&E, for instance, has very little E and nothing resembling A? This is how it happens:
Maybe there’s some kind of evolutionary arms-race thing in there: a channel starts out with high intentions, it’s going to show smart programming. But then, to get ad-revenue dollars, they find they have to get eyeballs. And by and large in our culture, the way to get eyeballs is either to have really good programming (which is hard to do and expensive, and often really good programming doesn’t capture audience) or to have something sensationalistic — either the aforementioned freak show, or a show with lots of people shouting at each other and barely-bleeped four-letter-words. And so, the channel goes, “Okay. We’ll put on a show following this particular subculture and see how it does. Maybe we can even claim it’s ‘educational,’ seeing as people mostly don’t know about this subculture…” and so on. And then they decide they need a show about tattoo artists. And one about the Amish. And one involving either a pawn shop or antiques pickers. And a weird medical show. And a cooking competition show. And a show about the supernatural. And slowly, this channel that once planned on being different becomes oh, so much the same as the others.
I thought we got cable to have diversity of programming?
As in most areas of the culture, “diversity” is primarily a numbers racket: if you have 106 channels, hey, it’s got to be diverse, right? In the cable context, “diversity” means that on each “topic” you have four largely indistinguishable channels, usually one owned by NBC Universal, one by Disney, one by Viacom, and one by Fox. Smaller players occasionally bob to the surface, but are quickly slapped back down. And since the bigger players control the largest number of eyeballs, they can enforce their will: if you want Obscure Disney Toons, you have to take at least three flavors of ESPN.
Fortunately, this is the sort of thing that can’t go on forever, and, as Herb Stein assures us, it won’t.