Cable television has been around since television itself. Originally, it was the only way for people in remote locations to receive local channels. The use of cable as a commercial venture gradually grew from that point. It was a luxury by the 70's, a necessity by the 90's, and now it's degenerated to a big waste of money yet people pay anyway.
Survival in the cable market is never guaranteed and every new attempted channel is a risk. Sometimes these risks pay off and sometimes they don't. For every success there's a failure, some more amusing than others:
One of the first spinoffs HBO tried was "Festival," from 1987. It was cheaper per month than HBO proper, and aimed at a family audience (R-rated films shown on Festival were edited down to PG).
Yet even with the giant HBO behind it, Festival failed to get much support from cable operators. The channel was rare and only appeared in a few cable systems before disappearing in about a year's time.
THE SEGA CHANNEL
One of the most genre-defying cable stations, if it can even be defined as one, appeared in the mid-90's during Sega's suicidal add-on craze. THIS channel plugged into your Sega Genesis via a special adapter and gave you fifty games a month, as well as free demos, game tips, and titles unreleased in America through any other means. These rare games vanished once the Sega Channel disconnected in 1998, and their English translations only survive through ROMs and a few European releases in cartridge form.
Sega Channel is one of only two cable stations ever attempted for a video game console. The other, believe it or not, was broadcast in 1981 for the Intellivision.
Here's a video of Sega Channel's ins and outs, courtesy of YouTube user "azuritereaction."
THE BURLY BEAR NETWORK
"The Burly Bear Network"?
It was for college boys, and only circulated on private university cable systems. The requisite amount of belch-loud immaturity was naturally present, but Burly Bear also broadcast student films. The channel ended when National Lampoon bought it and shut it down, moving all its content to their own university network.
LIFETIME MEDICAL TELEVISION
I've got a mishmash tape from November 1984 that has, among other things, a Regis Philbin program broadcasting on what looks like a health-based network. I've never heard of any health network before, and stranger still, it identified itself as LIFETIME.
Does this mean Lifetime started out with a different focus, and the name was meant to connote wellness, not "chick network"? According to Wikipedia, no. The Lifetime of 1984 was the result of a merger between a female-oriented channel called "Daytime" and a health-oriented channel called "Cable Health Network." The network was then focused on women six days a week, but aimed at health nuts on Sundays. And as we all know, Wikipedia is always right. Just like women.
|Or might they be wrong this time? What confuses me most of all is that the station identification breaks in between Regis show nothing to indicate this network had a separate focus besides health. And the logo Wikipedia says Lifetime was using in 1984 doesn't look like the logo the tape shows at all.|
THE PUPPY CHANNEL
The idea behind The Puppy Channel was to launch an entire network that only broadcasted footage of puppies, 24 hours a day.
The network was the brainchild of Dan FitzSimons, and it came to him after hours of watching the OJ trial on TV. If there was only something that monotonous, but happy!
There was to be no humans, no schedule, not even narration....it was to be all puppies and nothing but. To stir up investor support, Dan conducted focus-group testing that showed 41% of those surveyed said they would prefer The Puppy Channel to CNBC and 37% said they would prefer it to TBS.
In its heyday, The Puppy Channel was seen on a grand total of four cable systems. FitzSimons regrettably pulled the plug in 2001, saying the world was not yet ready for it.
And just so you don't think I'm making this up....
It was a network that broadcast music videos, 24 hours a day. Wow, this sounds great! Whatever happened to it, anyway?
Note: Not to be confused with NET. Or NET. Or NET.
There was a time when there was not a Fox News. How, then, could your average neo-con escape the media's liberal bias and tune into something with a conservative bias? For them, there was NET.
NET started broadcasting from Washington, DC on December 6, 1993. Its schedule consisted largely of right-wing talk shows, something like the current AM radio scene yet with moving pictures. One-third of its content was produced by outside interest groups such as the NRA. Newt Gingrich had his own program.
NET had more money invested into it than your average startup network, and the continuing revenue of advertising was vital--a fact that would lead to its demise when irate liberal forces started pressuring its sponsors to drop out. Most damaging to NET was the fact that Philip Morris had been supporting it as well, hoping to get "their side" of the smoking issue broadcast.
It would take the billion-dollar clout of an Australian media magnate to get something as...fair and balanced as this to stick on cable.
TWO STATIONS I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT
There's something called CBN on some old tapes of mine, and the Internet was unhelpful:
It can't refer to this?
I already know it's a "cable network," but no one seems to know any more details. For the sake of the video's size, I had to cut out a short time-filling piece about people in the sticks who trade goats for movie tickets. This doesn't tell me enough.
There are two more unknowns on the same tape: something called HTN and something called PLN. PLN looked especially low-budget. Be glad I didn't bring over the talk show this identification was attached to--it would have bored you into levels beyond your comprehension.
EDIT, 24 HOURS AFTER PUBLICATION: It didn't take long for several people to contact me and explain what CBN was. Jeff Harris' explanation put it best:
"CBN: Ah, yes, Pat Robertson's national "Christian" superstation. It's lineup was very similar to it's direct predecessor, WYAH-TV 27 just up the street from my house (of course WYAH is now WGNT, the Southern flagship of The CW [and still the highest-rated CW affiliate in the nation]). Older, classic television, a few secular cartoons, and religious programming. Of course, WYAH muted mild profanity during the CBN years.
Long story short (too late), Pat Robertson wanted to create a family channel by actually branding the network as The Family Channel (true story, the Robertsons actually went church to church to sell stocks for International Family Channel at the time. My folks could have been shareholders, but refused, denying us future ownership in News Corp and now Disney), thus, it became CBN Family Channel, then The Family Channel, then Fox Family, and now ABC Family.
Case closed on CBN, but the other two are still awaiting identification.
(cue Superman: The Movie theme) Super TV was launched in 1981 and was one of the many, many premium movie channels that sprung up around this time. The difference with this, however, was that one didn't need to have cable to have Super TV.
How'd it work? Subscribers got a dedicated antenna just for the channel and a foot-long converter box. The converter had one button on its top, and pushing it in tuned you away from regular, non-super TV. Families with not-so-super incomes got a heavily scrambled picture on one of their UHF stations instead. The main difference between this and a cable premium was that, being antenna-based, you could still get reception problems. Super TV met its doom in 1986.
Z Channel was also a non-cable premium station, but it lasted much longer than Super TV for one reason: it gave its audience something no other pay-TV station at the time was doing. It ran all its movies letterboxed.
Not only that, Z Channel's founder, Jerry Harvey, invented the term "director's cut." He contacted the original producers of Z Channel's first-run movies and made sure he was getting the version they wanted best, which was often the version the theaters didn't release. He would later kill his wife and then himself, cancelling Z Channel prematurely. The channel only ran on the west side of Los Angeles. Kind of a waste of a cool idea.
You have to give this one credits for being original. Genesis Storytime was a children's picture book channel. It showed one page of a digitally scanned picture book at a time, silently, 24 hours a day. Parents were expected to read the "books" aloud to their children, which is where the channel failed. What's this "involvement" business? If a kids' network isn't going to appease lazy moms and totally babysit the kids, it's worthless!
Those parents that DID want to read to their children preferred the body warmth of a book on a lap over a cold flickering screen. Genesis Storytime launched in 1983, but didn't last long.
CBS attempted to launch their own spinoff network in 1981. CBS Cable's programming schedule was "highbrow" and filled with operas, interpretive dance, and a special examining music trends between the years of 1895 and 1912. They apparently thought the way to success was to be even more boring than CBS Normal. It went dark in a year.
CABLE MUSIC CHANNEL
In 1984, self-made butthead Ted Turner saw an irresistible business opportunity when MTV started charging cable operators double their previous fee to carry their station. Turner rushed out CMC, the Cable Music Channel, and set it at MTV's old price. Turner was reported to have pushed the button that started the network himself, while cockily remarking "Take that, MTV!"
It was like a flea kicking an elephant. Despite the high prices MTV charged, most cable operators had no room for another music channel and refused to carry CMC. Turner's new network also had difficulty acquiring the most popular videos, as most of them had signed exclusivity deals with MTV. CMC had the shortest lifespan of any network on this page, lasting barely over one month.
The clip you see above is of an ad that ran on Turner networks during the 1984 Thanksgiving weekend. The channel had days to live, and as you can see it was a rather desperate plea. Alas, the star power and cool factor of Randy Newman and Menudo mattered little. Ted surrendered by the end of November (the channel started at the end of October) and sold CMC to MTV for one million dollars. The following day, CMC abrubtly cut off forever with "That's all from Atlanta. Karen, do you----" *black screen*
On January 1, 1985 MTV relaunched a new channel in CMC's old space....VH1.
A low-budget, all-talk-show network consisting of programs like "Am I Nuts?" and "Break A Leg With Bill McCuddy." It was spun off of CNBC, and if you can think of the last time you watched CNBC, then you realize the size of the audience this thing got. It barely lived two years.
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