Tube Talk: News, weather and what?

By Paula Hendrickson

Contributing Writer

Why do so many specialty cable channels feel the need to expand their programming? MTV and VH1 used to air music videos around the clock, now it’s next to impossible to find videos amid the plethora of “reality” shows on those channels. TVLand and Nick-at-Night used to show old TV classics, but these days they’re more likely to show series we’ve already grown tired of after seeing them several times over in syndication. And last week, The Weather Channel began airing primetime movies.

You read that right.

Granted, it was The Perfect Storm, and they ran it Oct. 30, which was the 18th anniversary of the actual events depicted in the George Clooney film. But when I turn on The Weather Channel, I want to see real-life weather, not make-believe. The Perfect Storm was the first film in The Weather Channel Presents…, now a regular Friday night programming block. Sure, local weather information and any severe weather alerts or warnings will be shown at the bottom of the screen, but I want my local radar—full-screen, if you please.

Cable news channels are also adding special reports and programs to their lineups. Given how padded 24-hour news broadcasts can be, it’s probably wise to make time for things like CNN’s Black in America and Latino in America documentary investigations, or specials on H1N1 or the war in Afghanistan.

But we all have days where we’re out of touch with mass media—maybe we’re traveling, working, or lost in a good book and suddenly realize we have no idea what’s been going on in the world. That’s when I turn to CNN, HLN or MSNBC for a news fix.

When I did that a few weeks ago, CNN was repeating a special report (I think it was that Michael Jackson one, for the ump-hundredth time, or maybe it was the Ted Kennedy documentary for the umpteenth time). So, I tried HLN, which had one of their talking-head shows—Nancy Grace, Jane Velez-Mitchell or maybe Joy Behar (whose new show is really smart and funny, by the way). What about MSNBC? Nope. They were repeating an old NBC investigation that wasn’t exactly news anymore. Desperate, I even checked Fox News (which, as far as I’m concerned, should really be called Fox Commentary, since they air far more commentary than news—MSNBC is guilty of the same thing, but at least it doesn’t call itself MSNBC News), but one of Fox’s right-wing pundits was pontificating. I couldn’t find any news on TV, so I turned on the radio.

In the end, I took comfort in knowing that had there been any important breaking news, all of those channels would have cut into their non-news programming to inform their viewers.

It seems all the lines are blurring. AMC, which originally stood for American Movie Classics, has reinvented itself as the home of groundbreaking series like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. The Travel Channel already has some food shows, and the Food Network has some travel programs (which is probably why Food’s parent company, Scripps Networks, is reportedly bidding for Travel Channel).

What’s next? The Cartoon Network’s first live-action original series? (Hey, if it’s about a cartoonist, they might have a point.)

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Send in your suggestions to

From the November 4-10, 2009 issue

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