Sad State Of Basic Cable Today: In A Word, Ridiculousness

You know that cable television is in trouble when at least two widely distributed basic cable channels are each relying basically on one show apiece.

It is a state of ridiculousness. That happens to be the title of one of the shows referenced above, the always-on, cheapo, video-clip series called “Ridiculousness” on MTV.

This show, hosted by the tireless Rob Dyrdek, is just about the only show now running on ViacomCBS-owned MTV, which was once, very long ago, one of the pioneering cable channels that made people want their cable TV.

Today, however, MTV has been reduced to this: A TV show filling untold hours every day (particularly at night) in which Dyrdek (seen in the photo above) introduces homemade video clips apparently culled from social media, and then chortles over them with a couple of in-studio regulars and an occasional guest.



The vast majority of the videos show people in the act of doing idiotic stunts and then seeming to seriously hurt themselves. The pain and suffering of these people is then treated as something to laugh at.

Needless to say, this show is tasteless. And because it is seen so frequently, it has come to define MTV today. This statement is not meant as a compliment to either the show or MTV.

Moreover, it is highly doubtful that “Ridiculousness” will ever drive cable subscriptions except maybe in the opposite direction -- namely, away from cable rather than toward it.

The other show on which a basic cable network seems to entirely depend these days is “Impractical Jokers” on the WarnerMedia-owned network known as TruTV.

Unlike “Ridiculousness,” “Impractical Jokers” is a very creative show and often provides some of the best and most inventive comedy seen anywhere on TV right now.

More power to the four gifted improvisational performers who make up the “Impractical Jokers” team -- Sal Vulcano, Brian Quinn, James Murray and Joe Gatto -- because they now find themselves in the unusual position of propping up an entire cable network, and presumably being well-paid for it too.

But the lion’s share of the “Impractical Jokers” shows seen more or less constantly on TruTV, particularly in prime-time but at all other times of day too, are repeats.

If you watch TruTV, it is not unusual to see a repeat airing of an “Impractical Jokers” show you saw seemingly just days earlier. While watching TruTV, it is possible to form the impression that nobody works there, and that the whole thing is basically automated and running on auto-pilot.

With programming “lineups” that at the present time consist basically of just one show each, TruTV and MTV are extreme examples of the malaise gripping basic cable today.

As one who grazes through my basic cable channels frequently, the thought often occurs to me that I am literally witnessing an industry in its death throes. 

Basic cable today -- and we are talking mostly about the entertainment-network sector of that business -- is made up of old movies that are reshown over and over (we all love Madea, but give her a rest already), off-network repeats of countless police procedurals, “The Big Bang Theory” and “Two and a Half Men” reruns, and commercial breaks that are so long they should be classified as torture.

The end result is certainly an abuse of the end-user that today’s low-rent cable TV channels presumably wish to reach -- i.e., cable subscribers at home who pay steep fees every month for dozens of name-brand cable channels that seem to have abandoned the idea of developing and producing original, attractive content worth paying for.

For advertisers, it is difficult to see how basic cable represents a beneficial environment for commercials, unless the time in those over-long commercial pods is simply too cheap to pass up.

No wonder people are cutting the cord with cable TV. Does that really surprise anyone?

4 comments about "Sad State Of Basic Cable Today: In A Word, Ridiculousness".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, November 24, 2020 at 9:18 a.m.

    Adam, just because a couple of cable shows aren't to your liking---and, I might agree with you on the ones you cited---it's a bit of a stretch to say that this demonstrates that cable is in its death throws. Are all cable show terrible? Are the cable channels operating deep in the red? If AT&T sells CNN to someone will this be a distressed merchandise sale which generates little income to help pay down AT&T's huge debt? Actually, cable is doing OK right now---if, by cable, you mean the cable systems and satellite distributors ---not great, but hardly bad enough to go into panic mode---- and as for the basic cable channels----most are also making solid profits. Just because a lot of people---mainly moderate to lighter viewers who want to save some bucks per month have "cut the cord" that doesn't mean that everybody will do the same. Forty years ago they were saying that the broadcast TV networks were doomed. Twenty years ago they said that the introduction of DVRs meant the end of commercial TV. Five years ago all that we were reading on MP and elsewhere was that "TV" was finished and all the "eyeballs" were moving to digital. Of course nothing as dire as the predicitions indicated actually happened. What we are witnessing is another natural readjustment as more and more program content players, program distribution mechanisms and new business plans replace old ones or cause incumbent players to modify their ways. "Cable" is simpy one of the bigger players and it, too, will adjust.

  2. Robert Rose from AIM Tell-A-Vision, November 24, 2020 at 10:12 a.m.

    On point. Great article and I couldn't agree more. I get You Tube TV for a handful of channels. Their DVR service is the main reason I get it and it is mainly to record TV shows FROM BROADCAST TV or to watch a premium channel like HBO Max. All these basic cable channels that come packaged with it are simply not worth watching. Most of the time when I graze through them, they are in perpetual commercial break. Travel Channel, excuse me, TRVL, no longer host travel, just paranormal garbage. MTV's decline is well-documented in the article and cable news "opinion" shows have helped ruin our political discourse to frightening levels. Because of basic cable's uselessness and feaux news/political opinion channels ripping the soul of our country apart, IMHO, the death of cable can't come soon enough. Broadcast TV with their FREE OTA, diginets should be working to take advantage of this scenario but if you watch them you'll see they too, are filled with repetetive retro channels and old, cheap movies. Few creative risk taking or even original thought going on with exception of NBC LX, Localish by ABC, and the PBS tiers of Create and World. It's as if TV began flying the white flag in the middle of the battle, a battle they were not so long ago easily winning and could still win, if they just had the courage, creativity and will.  

  3. Benny Radjasa from Armonix Digital, Inc. replied, November 24, 2020 at 5:54 p.m.

    I think this is what Adam Buckman said, or to this effect.  You don't need to have all subscribers cutting the cord, for the industry to fail.  The tipping point is closer than you think it is at the current interation.

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, November 24, 2020 at 6:49 p.m.

    Benny, at this point a lot of people who are paying close attention to what is happening---including my team at Media Dynamics Inc.----believe that "pay TV" will level off at about 50-60 million subscribers in about 4-5 years. We may be wrong---and, certainly, the over commercialization of so many basic cable channels is a factor that might cause us to lower our estimates. But it is also possible that the broadcast TV networks and stations as well as the cable channels will come to understand that there are limits to commercial clutter that may not be tolerated---even by poorly educated heavy viewers of all ages and old folks---also very heavy users--- who rely on Pay TV for companionship as well as entertainment and news. That said, if 50-60- million homes continue to subscribe---even if this is way down from the levels prevailing ten years ago as regards penetration, "pay TV" will be quite a profitable venue---providing certain adjustments are made. For example, the cable systems and satellite distriburors will have to develop more flexible bundles and to do this they will need to stop funding many of the more selective cable channels with carriage fees. This, in turn, will cause most of these channels to disappear--or fade into digital venues---which will have the effect of greatly reducing the remaining bundles, hence making those that are offered---which will include all of the biggies---ABC, CBS, NBC, ESPN, CNN, FNC, etc. more palatable. Meanwhile the real action will be in streaming as the TV Establishment tries to recapture its business momentum with various combinations of SVOD and AVOD serrvices.

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