The Discovery Channel’s duplicate shows a disappointment

Posted on October 02, 2012 in Henry's Head, Perspectives
By Andrew Henry

Andrew Henry | The Free Press

Every once in a while, I really enjoy turning off my brain and slipping into couch-potato mode. I usually sit on my couch, turn on the TV and head to the guide to find out what’s on so I can unwind, but more and more often, I find that activity is stress-inducing rather than smile-inducing. To my horror, my vice has grown duller and more unoriginal. My passionate relationship with television has aged not like wine, but like dollar-store bread.

Out of all of the television channels, the Discovery Channel is probably my favorite, an opinion also held by thousands of college-age students. In 2008, the channel was ranked first in a list of high-quality networks, with viewers between the ages of 18-34 choosing Discovery as their overall favorite. Discovery’s meat is fact-based programming or occupation profiles like the popular show Dirty Jobs, managing to entertain and inform at the same time. But as of late, it has adopted a popular TV trend: shows that have near-copies of themselves on the same network. Their lack of wholly original and truly exciting programming has disappointed me a little.

I went to Discovery’s website to find out just how many similarly-themed shows they had. It turns out that the majority of shows on Discovery come in pairs or triplets. They have three shows with “gold” as the theme (Bering Sea Gold, Bering Sea Gold: Under the Ice, Gold Rush), two survival shows (Survivorman, Dual Survival), two “car” shows (Fast N’ Loud, One Car Too Far), and two gun shows (American Guns, Sons of Guns). These make up the majority of their daily programming. Discovery used to be home to the most original reality programming on TV, and while I still willfully get sucked into shows like Sons of Guns and Dual Survival, the network has lost a little bit of the magic that their totally original shows used to offer.

Granted, many of their most popular shows work well in this format, seamlessly weaving factual information with entertainment value. But why the duplicates? One show dedicated to gold is plenty. I’m not trying to be reductive in my opinion of Discovery – it’s still my favorite channel – but I know they’re capable of so much more. Discovery has become king of the re-runs, because they have reliable daily programming, but there aren’t many shows you’d tune into on Wednesdays at 9 p.m., for example. This is also known as the ABC Family strategy.

At least Discovery is informative about their television, even if it is redundant. My least favorite channel is TLC which, as it happens, is owned by Discovery. The acronym stands for “The Learning Channel,” a motto rarely supported by their daily line-up. There are better ones, like What Not to Wear which offers legitimate fashion advice, but the majority are not very informative. Entertaining, oh yes, but I didn’t learn anything that I didn’t know before. They have, and I’m not joking, eight wedding shows. Four Weddings, I Found the Gown, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (U.S. & U.K), Randy to the Rescue, and THREE versions of Say Yes to the Dress. I understand that wedding stuff is really popular, but it hardly seems necessary to fill nearly all of a channel’s air time with wedding shows. Why not just call it the Wedding Channel?
There is one truly informative program, though, and it’s the smash hit Toddlers & Tiaras. I know that many of you think that this is trash TV, showcasing angry, stuck-up children and their parents. But hear me out – it’s not as awful as you’d think. Watching the show is actually a 30-minute lesson on what not to do as a parent. Often times, what not to do is just as helpful as what to do.

This trend continues outside of TV, though. In popular books, this can be (painfully) illustrated with the Shades of Grey series. The books are an account of one woman’s sexual escapades and have been labeled by many as “mom porn.” I can understand this subject being explored to its fullest in one book, but it seems ridiculous that anyone would need more than one book to elaborate upon this subject.
While the entertainment value is high in this sort of media, it’s not exactly necessary. As Sherlock Holmes says about his brain in the self-titled BBC TV show, “This is my hard drive and it only makes sense to put things in there that are useful. Really useful. Ordinary people fill their heads with all kinds of rubbish. And that makes it hard to get at the stuff that matters.”