L The List
TLC - The Learning Channel
What They Show
Mostly reality shows. Stuff like "Trading Spaces" and "Junkyard Wars" justify their existence on The Learning Channel by being slightly more documentary in nature than most reality shows. These shows focus more on the stuff that they find in junkyards and... whatever-the-hell-it-is-Trading-Spaces-is-about, instead of answering more standard reality show questions, like, "Who can eat the most worms?" and "Who can be the most hilarious stereotype?"
Some of the younger folk out there in Internet Land may not realize this, but The Learning Channel was once about learning – like, in the academic sense. Blocks such as "Ready Set Learn" and "Cable in the Classroom" were early staples that pioneered the medium of television's potential as a teaching aid.
Obviously, this didn't catch on, because television has always been about being dumb. After the non-profit organization that owned TLC went bankrupt in 1991, the Discovery Channel snatched them up and started slowly pushing them towards less informative, more sensationalist content.
In 2006, they finally dropped their revisionist "Life Unscripted" tagline and (to make reality TV sound cool) replaced it with "Live and Learn," still desperately implying that a) the "L" in TLC stands for "Life" and b) that the channel has anything at all to teach you.
And then get Luvs?
AMC - American Movie Classics
What They Show
Pretty much anything they want. We wouldn't complain if they were just stretching their boundaries ("classic," in the context of AMC, apparently describes Little Nicky and Jurassic Park 3), but at this point, the majority of their most popular programming isn't even movies. You turn on the channel expecting some classic film-stuff, and instead you get TV Shows like "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men," which are… well, also fantastic. So maybe we're still not complaining.
This man has revolutionized the use of the word "bitch."
Back in 1987, AMC's M.O. was to show classic movies, mainly from the Golden Age of Hollywood (1950s and back) without any commercials, content edits, or any form or artistic adulteration. It was an attempt to preserve the magic of a bygone era, or give our grandparents something to do while we smoked pot in their basement, or something.
Little did we know they were stoned as balls the whole time too.
It's unclear what exactly accounted for the shift, but in the late '90s, AMC started showing much more recent "classics" such Unforgiven and Thelma & Louise and Speed and Unforgiven again, because holy crap do they like that movies.
The increasing competition from TCM (Turner Classic Movies) may explain the shift in programming, but no matter what the reason, we're pretty happy because [note to self: write a funny joke here after you're done catching up with "Breaking Bad." Don't forget.]
MTV - Music Television
What They Show
What am I supposed to do here, make fun of MTV for sucking? That's like making fun of Limp Bizkit fans for being douchebags, or Chick-Fil-A customers for being socially regressive homophobes. MTV doesn't just have the market cornered on stupidity – they've patented it, packaged it, slapped in on a plastic lunch box and now bam! – it's chasing Sam Neill and a couple of little kids through the forest and now the kitchen and close the freezer door little girl close it close it!
Subtext: MTV is trying to eat your children
Basically, they used to show music videos, and now they don't, and that's terrible.
Though this is the prototypical example of a TV channel that doesn't do the thing it's supposed to do, who are we really supposed to blame here? They're not showing music videos because no one wants to watch music videos all day, and nowadays, any music video itch you have can be scratched with your computer or smart-phone. It's little wonder they dropped the word "music" from their logo in 2010 -- Music Television was a good idea while it lasted, but that niche just doesn't exist anymore.
But this does.
The History Channel
What They Show:
"Ax Men," "Ice Road Truckers," "Deadliest Catch," "Top Gear," "Pawn Stars," and "Ancient Aliens" – a show most famous for this guy:
Look how seriously I'm being taken!
Seeing how these shows are at all related to "history" requires some mental gymnastics, but in a way, it's simple: they, the shows (and, by extension, the events on them), happen, and thusly, they depict things. Therefore, after time passes, the shows will themselves become history, so "history" is actually a pretty accurate in a non-linear, wibbley-wobbly "Doctor Who" sense of the word.
"You're just watching it because you think it makes you look a bit clever."
At some point known as the "Hitler Channel" because of its obsession with World War II, THC (haha, I just noticed that that's its acronym) became more focused on reality TV for the same reason every other channel did: It's super freaking cheap. Reality TV is currently the height of Executive Producer Generated Content, in that it requires the absolute bare minimum creative contribution. You don't need actors, or any kind of research to make a reality TV show; you just need to combine buzzwords into titles that are almost puns ("'RuPaul's Drag Race' -- make it happen!").
Sure, you still need writers, directors, editors, and various audio and lighting professionals on the set of every reality show, but you can bet your ass that as soon as studios figure out a way ("Let's See If You Can Dance With the Lights Off!"), they'll be cutting those guys off the payroll, too.
SyFy (Formerly The Sci-Fi Channel)
What They Show
Various reality shows, "Law & Order: SVU" reruns, and professional wrestling.
Before canceling nearly every science-fiction show in their lineup over a two-year period, Sci-Fi changed their name to "SyFy" because, in the words of executive Tim Brooks, "the name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basement… as opposed to the general public and female audience in particular."
SyFy executives, apparently.
The Sci-Fi Channel is every insecure high school jock's wet dream. Not content to merely condescend to nerds in the locker room, the Sci-Fi Channel took the controversial (cruel?) marketing approach of spending several years building up a faithful niche audience and then telling that audience in no uncertain terms to go f**ck themselves. That's like getting a puppy to like you just so you can poison it, which is exactly what one of the villains did in Stephen King's IT.
So, yeah. There you go: the SyFy channel is a Stephen King monster, sprung fully realized from the catacombs of macabre fiction and breathed into life by the tormented screams of people who just want to watch "Sliders" because that show was pretty good for a while there, remember? Like, in the beginning?
Back when Gimli was still in it.
There's no obvious way to transition back into this, so can we just make fun of SyFy's executive director Dave Howe? Check out what he said about the name change, in that same interview I already linked [emphasis mine]:
When we tested this new name, the thing that we got back from our 18-34 techno-savvy crowd, which is quite a lot of our audience, is actually this is how you'd text it. It made us feel much cooler, much more cutting edge, much more hip, which was kind of bang-on what we wanted to achieve communication-wise.Ya bro. You're real dialed-in (that's hip-talk for "I'm Never Going To Watch Your Stupid-Ass Channel").
What They Show
Whatever the hell they want, I guess? Cartoon Network, or "CN," has never been consistent with what they show. As someone at TVTropes wrote, the network "could spend as much as eighteen months showcasing live-action shows, only to go back to animation the next day as if nothing happened — and just when you get comfortable with that, it'll return to live-action." That whole page provides up-to-the-minute coverage on the Cartoon Network's status, which seems to change every week.
I just don't know. Maybe if I had been a little older when it was actually happening, I could've provided some insight, but sifting back through old promotional materials that involved Andrew WK promising to "show more than just cartoons" just leaves me confused and kinda wanting to take a nap.
It reminds me a lot of SyFy, both because it's similar and because I was literally just writing about it: There seem to be people involved – big, important people – who are embarrassed to work for a cartoon channel and want to fix that.
If you're offered a job as a network executive for a channel called "Cartoon Network" and one of your plans is to "get away from 'just cartoons,'" maybe you just shouldn't take the job.
Also, if your ideas involve Andrew WK, you should re-evaluate your... self.