Why Are These Cable Channels Still Here?

These days, some of our old basic cable channels seem like they are just filling space -- clinging to life and biding their time until the basic business is finally overtaken by streaming and cord-cutting.

They fill hours and hours with old shows and old movies that they show over and over and over again. 

The movies are bleeped, chopped up, and stretched far in excess of their original lengths in order to be stuffed with commercial breaks whose bulk and frequency render the movies unwatchable anyway. “Shawshank Redemption,” anyone?

Off-network comedies fill the daytime hours. On one channel -- Warner Bros. Discovery’s TruTV -- most of the content consists, for all intents and purposes, of one show, “Impractical Jokers.” 



The subject of this TV Blog occurred to me after I wrote about Jon Stewart’s return to “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central last week -- albeit for one day a week, Mondays, until the elections in November.

I formed the hypothesis that Comedy Central brought him back because there is little else going on at the channel, and it needed to find someone or something that would get the network talked about again.

“The Daily Show” is as close to a signature, flagship show as Comedy Central has. In the former Jon Stewart years, it was talked about constantly, along with its late-night stablemate, “The Colbert Report.”

But Stewart’s replacement, Trevor Noah, left in December 2022 after seven years as host, during which the show lost an estimated 1 million viewers.

It is doubtful they won many, if any, of them back since then with guest hosts. So, why not try and give the show a boost, even just once a week, with the return of the prodigal Stewart?

To illustrate the impression that there is little going on at Comedy Central, today’s schedule (Monday, February 19) has 28 consecutive episodes of “Seinfeld” starting at 9 a.m. Eastern and ending at 11 p.m., leading in to Jon Stewart’s second daily show.

It should go without saying, but “Seinfeld” is available all over the place -- most notably on Netflix. So, what purpose does it serve on Comedy Central, other than to enrich Jerry Seinfeld (not that there’s anything wrong with that)?

Comedy Central is far from alone in this. At some point recently, Warner Bros. Discovery began to brand three of its basic channels under one name, the “TNets” -- TNT, TBS and TruTV.

In some ways the channels now seem interchangeable. Now, TNT NBA games are simulcast on Tru. When this happened recently, “Impractical Jokers” turned up on TBS. 

In addition, these channels also fill up their many hours with old shows and movies. 

Today’s TBS lineup, for example, has seven episodes of “Friends,” 10 episodes of “The Big Bang Theory” -- one showing each of “Bad Moms” and “The Wedding Singer” and an episode of the recently introduced Sarah Silverman show based on a David Letterman concept, “Stupid Pet Tricks.” I wonder if the pets get paid scale.

“Stupid Pet Tricks” notwithstanding, new shows on many of the long-running basic cable channels range from few to nonexistent today.

It wasn’t that long ago that TNT, for example, was ballyhooing its commitment to hard-edged dramas with the likes of “Animal Kingdom” and “Claws.” 

Lately, however, there hasn’t been anything on the channel but movies and the NBA.

Other channels where it seems like the new-content pipeline has dwindled to a trickle (if that), are TBS and Tru (never a hotbed of innovation anyway) at WBD; Syfy and USA at NBCU; and channels such as MTV and Paramount Network at Paramount Global, to name a few.

Here’s a theory that perhaps can be applied to the whole world of basic cable at this moment in its history: Cord-cutting is a reality that shows no sign of ebbing or plateauing. 

Thus, this theory continues, the majors are keeping some of these basic channels on a kind of life support until such time that they are not viable at all. 

Although it cannot be known just how many days or even years these basic cable networks have, their days, at least figuratively, feel like they’re numbered.

1 comment about "Why Are These Cable Channels Still Here?".
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  1. Jim Meskauskas from Media Darwin, Inc., February 19, 2024 at 6:40 p.m.

    Excellent rundown. And love the writing style. You are right, of course. But what's plaguing these secondary and tertiary cable nets is that the good stuff has been going to streaming. Blame it on cord-cutting, or blame it instead on the "traditional" media owners abdicating their commitment to compelling content and going after cheap faux-reality programming.

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