THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 2020
They've got your Pawn Stars right here: In these difficult times, it might be a good idea to draw some solace from the lessons of history.
If so, it might be best to stay away from "History"—that is, from the former History Channel. The leading authority on this cable channel describes the way it began:
History (formerly The History Channel from 1995 to 2008 and stylized as HISTORY) is a pay television network and flagship channel that is owned by A&E Networks, a joint venture between Hearst Communications and the Disney Media Networks division of the Walt Disney Company.
The network was originally focused on history-based documentaries and historical fiction series...
The company indicated that plans for a history channel were in the works in 1993...The History Channel was launched on January 1, 1995 with its UK counterpart following on November 1 in partnership with British Sky Broadcasting. Its original format focused entirely on historical series and specials.
During the 1990s, History was jokingly referred to as "The Hitler Channel" for its extensive coverage of World War II.
"The network was originally focused on history-based documentaries," the leading authority says. Indeed, the channel stressed World War II to such an extent that it was once admiringly known as The Hitler Channel.
There's a lot the modern viewer can learn from a review of the Hitler era. Presumably for that reason, PBS is currently airing a somewhat heavy-handed new docudrama series, Rise of the Nazis.
As such, modern subscribers to basic cable might consider turning to History—it's no longer called The History Channel—for a bit of perspective, or even for solace. If they do, they might be surprised by the clownlike "historical" programming they will reliably find there.
Suppose the subscriber had started her search this Monday morning. She would have encountered a daylong blizzard of Pawn Stars broadcasts. The leading authority describes the program as shown:
Pawn Stars is an American reality television series, shown on History, and produced by Leftfield Pictures. The series is filmed in Las Vegas, Nevada, where it chronicles the daily activities at the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, a 24-hour family business opened in 1989 and originally operated by patriarch Richard "Old Man" Harrison, his son Rick Harrison, Rick's son Corey "Big Hoss" Harrison, and Corey's childhood friend, Austin "Chumlee" Russell. The series, which became the network's highest rated show and the No. 2 reality show behind [MTV's] Jersey Shore, debuted on July 26, 2009.
The series depicts the staff's interactions with customers, who bring in a variety of artifacts to sell or pawn, and who are shown haggling over the price and discussing its historical background, with narration provided by either the Harrisons or Chumlee.
The series also follows the interpersonal conflicts among the cast...
It's hard to get a whole lot dumber, unless you turn to the program American Pickers, which ran all day and all night on Tuesday and will do so again today:
The show follows antique and collectible pickers Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, who travel around the United States to buy or "pick" various items for resale, for clients, or for their personal collections. Danielle Colby runs the office of Wolfe's business, Antique Archaeology, from their home base in Le Claire, Iowa, and more recently at a second location in Nashville, Tennessee. They originally traveled in a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van and now in a Ford Transit. Fritz sells his acquisitions at his own shop, and previously on his now-defunct website, Frank Fritz Finds, upriver in Savanna, Illinois. The men go on the road, not only following up leads that Colby has generated but also "freestyling"–stopping at places that look like they might hold items worth buying. They also pick some places more than once.
Mike and Frank explore people's homes, barns, sheds, outbuildings, and other places where they have stored antiques and collectibles. They call upon amateur and serious collectors, hoarders, and also people who have inherited overwhelming collections of items that they don't know what to do with. Wolfe, who has been picking since age four, has a particular interest in antique motorcycles, air-cooled Volkswagens (pronounced “votes-wagon” by Wolfe), old bicycles and penny-farthings, while Fritz has a fondness for antique toys, oil cans, and old Hondas, with a special love for peanut-related items.
There will be little World War II here. Herodotus and Thucydides aren't likely to appear.
Tomorrow, the History subscriber will be treated to a full day of Ancient Aliens. The naysayers, nerds and know-it-alls have tended to find fault with this program:
Ancient Aliens is an American television series that premiered on April 20, 2010, on the History channel. Produced by Prometheus Entertainment in a documentary style, the program presents hypotheses of ancient astronauts and proposes that historical texts, archaeology, and legends contain evidence of past human-extraterrestrial contact. The show has been widely criticized by historians, cosmologists, archaeologists and other scientific circles for presenting and promoting pseudoscience, pseudohistory and pseudoarchaeology.
On Sunday, the daylong binge will feature reruns of Ultimate Rides, a program about really cool cars. The channel will only turn to serious history on Saturday, when it will let subscribers binge watch programs about two major historical events—the sinking of the Titanic, and the search for D.B. Cooper, the guy who jumped out of the plane.
In Tuesday's report, we recalled a sad but instructive bit of basic cable history. In 1991, Stephen Brill, a major mainstream figure, seemed to have a semi-serious venture in mind when he launched Court TV, a basic cable channel which would focus on legal issues.
Within a matter of years, the channel was known as TruTV, and it was airing programs literally called World's Dumbest. But so it has gone across the cable dial in the era during which Trumpism came to define the state of our failing nation's failing national intellect.
Rather plainly, Trumpism was not invented by Donald J. Trump. In part, it was invented by the corporate clowns responsible for The History Channel.
It was invented by the Reverend Falwell and his stupid Clinton Chronicles tape. It was invented by the mainstream journalists who literally hid in the bushes outside Gary Hart's home.
It was also invented by Maureen Dowd and Chris Matthews, and by all the upper-end liberal/progressive corporate-paid figures who participated in or enabled their long, stupid reign.
Except for the terrible consequences, this would be a comical tale, nothing more. Sadly, the consequences have been vast. Tomorrow, we'll quickly look in the comical transformation of Bravo, along with the transformation of the original Arts and Entertainment channel. Concerning the latter, we're willing to post this spoiler, so rich is its comical content:
The network was originally founded in 1984 as the Arts & Entertainment Network, initially focusing on fine arts, documentaries (including its then-flagship series Biography), and dramas (including imported series from the United Kingdom). In 1995, the network rebranded as A&E, in an effort to downplay the negative perceptions of arts programming and generally market the network as a "thought-provoking" alternative to other television channels. In 2002, at the expense of its arts programming, A&E began to gradually focus more on reality series to attract younger viewers. By 2017, the network had also phased out scripted programs, making reality shows its primary focus.
Why did the network removed the word "arts" from its original high-minded name? It did so "in an effort to downplay the negative perceptions of arts programming!" The gods on Olympus laugh hard at this fact, or so we're reliably told.
Do the comical transformations of basic cable tell us something about ourselves, about our failing nation's failed intellect? Do these comical transformations suggest that a possible brain cell deficit may be laying us low?
Those aren't easy questions to answer, but they're obvious questions to ask.
The transformation of basic cable is a wonderfully comical story. Elsewhere, the devolution of our basic intellect seems to lie at the heart of a grim historical tale.
Tomorrow: Also, Stephen Brill's subsequent magazinejournal