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A&E: Depressing TV: TV Bites

by Neena Louise

I know I’m dating myself, but I remember back in 1984 when A&E first made its appearance on the airwaves. At that time, 1000+ channel choices, time-shifting, on-demand and DVRs did not exist and A&E was an intriguing novelty in the sparsely-populated world of specialty channels. I enjoyed it a great deal – in part because of its uniqueness, but mostly because of its programming. It was actually “arts and entertainment”: performing arts, miniseries, biographies, and true-crime docs. Nearly 30 years later, that sort of programming has all been parceled out to A&E offshoots Bio, History and Lifetime, leaving the original A&E with mostly depressing, subpar reality TV.


I have to admit I enjoyed the Wars series at first (StorageShippingParking), but they grew tired and more staged-looking as time went on. The most recent Storage Wars New York was the worst yet with everyone on it a caricature that seemed to be auditioning for a movie role. It didn’t last long. Billy the Exterminator was a favorite, but it has vanished from the schedule. Again. The rest of A&E’s programming is just plain maudlin. You have bratty punk kids (Beyond Scared Straight), drug addicts (Intervention), junk addicts (Hoarders), murderers (First 48), bail-jumping criminals (Dog the Bounty Hunter), unlikeable rednecks (Duck DynastyAmerican Hoggers) and crime shows in syndication (Criminal MindsCSI) – all of which repeat interminably. I guess they tried to make it even more entertaining and artistic with the short-lived Panic 911, which was neither. Unless, of course, you admire vomit-inducing carnival-ride camera work and equally-vomit-inducing – and bizarre – color-tinting. I was happy to see 48 Hours: Missing make its return, yet dismayed when the first two episodes were suicides. It, too, has vanished once again. Intrigued by the unending hype for Southie Rules, I watched the first episode, but found it so staged it was like watching a mockumentary, not a reality show. I won’t be watching it again. “Entertainment”? Yes, for some people, I’m sure. But, “arts”? I hardly think so. What, exactly, is artistic about murder, mayhem and a plethora of unlikeable people? Other networks do a much better job of this type of reality TV and, thus, people who like that type of show have neither need nor want of A&E.


In an act of what appears to be desperation, they’ve hyped the “original series” aspect of the upcoming Bates Motel. Have they realized their crappy reality TV just won’t cut it anymore? Or are they just throwing in an original series for something different? Given their lack of originality and creativity, I have my doubts that Bates Motel will be anything other than a retread of a retread; a subpar “reimagining” of an old movie in an attempt to keep everyone – old and young – happy. We’ll see.


The motivation behind A&E’s move away from original programming and towards reality TV (in fact, away from the very name “Arts and Entertainment”) was to lure a younger audience who they thought wouldn’t watch anything remotely “artsy”. Interesting notion, considering that when A&E first appeared, I was in their key demographic and liked it. Now that I’m older, I don’t. In part, that’s because A&E was a novelty back then, but that’s only a small part of it. I recently talked with a lot of young people supposedly in A&E’s key demographic and asked their opinion of it. Their universal response was mockery with comments like “stupid”, “boring”, “my parents watch that” and (my personal favorite) “it’s for old farts with nothing better to do than watch that shit all day.” So much for trying to skew younger. Young people are a great deal more savvy than A&E’s current witless, depressing programming offers. There is a lot of similar [better] programming available on other networks and the Internet, so there’s no reason to watch A&E – neither live nor online.


A&E needs to either change its name to something like “Depressing TV”, “The Seamy Underbelly”, “You Think Your Life Sucks?” or drift back to its original concept in order to not only retain previously-loyal viewers, but also to lure younger viewers who wouldn’t be caught dead watching A&E now.

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