Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Analysis: ABC Spark


If you ever needed proof that YTV should not have shunted out "older youth" programming to other cable networks, look no further than ABC Spark's schedule as of late. Having moved reruns of YTV sitcoms (and Open Heart) to Disney Channel Canada, Corus Entertainment has stuffed ABC Spark with the same recycled lifestyle crap that airs on the former Shaw Media lifestyle networks. That, and Rookie Blue reruns in the mornings.

Seriously, is this what CanCon has come to?

Freeform, true to its name, is a network with no distinctive identity. It's rebrand from ABC Family signified that the channel has grown up, no longer identified as a network for family-friendly shows, but as a network for mature girls and their families. At least, that's what their current slate of programming is telling me. It's a mismash of melodramatic programming, edgy comedies, and generic reality shows that women would like, but any other viewer (males, in particular) wouldn't give these shows the time of day.

On ABC Spark, the only Freeform programming you'll see on a regular basis are sitcoms like Baby Daddy. No Switched at Birth and no Fosters. The only time you'll see them or any other original show is when new episodes are premiering, unless it's Pretty Little Liars, which now premieres on Bravo (Seriously?) and airs reruns on Fashion Television Channel (OH, COME ON!), or Shadowhunters, which is a Netflix exclusive in Canada.

So they don't air Freeform shows, yet they have plenty of room for reruns of Just for Laughs: Gags and America's Funniest Home Videos? Apparently, Corus hasn't already overexposed those shows enough!

ABC Spark is the perfect analogy for what American-branded networks are to Canadians: a cheap knock-off of the genuine article that's lazily programmed with the most barebones lineup which exists as straight up filler for when new programming from the American network isn't airing.

Compare it to FX Canada. Rather than try to emulate the American channel, Rogers has used the FX brand to launch its own competitor to Showcase (and a crappy knockoff of FXX) and programmed a coherent and focused schedule that complements FX's original shows.

Its unfair to compare ABC Spark to Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, or Disney XD, because I assume all three networks keep their original shows in exclusivity, whereas Freeform's programming could end up in reruns on some other network years down the road. But at the end of the day, Nickelodeon airs Nickelodeon shows. Cartoon Network airs Cartoon Network shows, and Disney XD airs Disney XD shows, because that's what viewers subscribe to these channels for.

ABC Spark is indecent because they don't air enough programming from Freeform, nor do they have enough meaningful programming to warrant its target audience to tune into the channel outside of primetime. This wouldn't be such as problem if Corus didn't already own so many channels before acquiring those of Shaw Media. So many of Corus' channels overlap with those of Shaw's, to the point where they end up airing the same shows.

Corus should not have given ABC Family shows their own dedicated cable channel in 2012, they should have aired these shows on YTV as compensation for the closure of Bionix. Without any teen-targeting programming, YTV has become absolutely worthless after hours because, unlike Teletoon, they've completely alienated half of the audience for any successful kids network: the audience that's awake when the kids are asleep.

Nickelodeon has Nick at Nite, Cartoon Network has Adult Swim, and Disney Channel isn't worth a damn. Family Channel was quick to bring back older viewers alienated by Disney Channel's sitcoms with the teen-targeting F2N and Degrassi: Next Class.

Speaking of Degrassi, it's a lucky break that ABC Spark's direct competitor, Bell Media's MTV Canada, is actually doing worse. With genre protection being phased out, MTV is no longer obligated to air talk shows (Remember, this used to be talktv). However, MTV has decided to fill out their daytime schedule with nothing but Degrassi reruns, being that its the only show Bell owns that can support such a schedule. No variety whatsoever: just a lone teen drama, a drop of MTV programming, and reruns of Campus PD, plus whatever Canadian show Bell can use.

Between ABC Spark and MTV, I'd say the market for millennial-targeting networks in Canada is effectively dead. But while I don't how well Viceland is doing here, its at least looking better than these two. Viceland has a different voice, different programming, and a different attitude. It has all the irreverence MTV should have and targets a demographic that networks like ABC Spark have outright ignored. I'd say give this network a look.

With ABC Spark, life has gotten a lot darker.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Let's Talk About Viacom's "Flagship Six" : MTV

...it probably wouldn't be as good as their older material. Beavis and Butt-head, Daria, The Maxx, Liquid Television, Celebrity Deathmatch, Undergrads, and Clone High just to name a few.

Sorry, I was doing a brick joke.

It's almost a damn shame that MTV's biggest success stories have been in the realm of reality television and anything else that has jack to do with music. The key word being "almost", because MTV wouldn't become as popular as it is if it didn't ditch music programming long before the medium became obsolete in the face of MP3 players and the internet. Besides, reality television will serve as the waypoint for the network's reinvention as THE flagship brand for Viacom.

In recent years, MTV has diversified it's programming with scripted series and more experimental fare. Sadly, it hasn't really help them out in the ratings game, nor the endless game of remaining relevant to its ever-changing audience. As a result, outside of The Shannara Chronicles and the new season of Scream, MTV is pulling back on scripted programming. All that's left to do is hope that Sweet/Vicious gets a renewal, or at least picked up by another network.

Youth culture is MTV's essence, but clearly it is also their curse. Like YTV, MTV doesn't grow with its audience, and as a result, we've outgrown them for other networks. Instead, MTV stays behind to entertain the next generation of youths. What you see as a tarnished age, they will see as a golden age years later.

How does it feel to be an old fart, grandpa?

Going forward MTV will somewhat return to its iconic roots: music-related shows and reality television. When it comes to reality, MTV was unmatched. Jersey Shore is an immortal example of how even one of the worst shows on television can still keep a captive audience watching week-after-week. MTV hasn't had a hit since, at least one I can't stop hearing about somewhere else. One of the few shows on MTV that gets genuine buzz is the scripted Teen Wolf, and it's currently airing its final season.

Wonderland was MTV's last gasp at bringing more prominence to music television. All that needs to be said is, soon after Wonderland finished airing, MTV followed the example of VH1 and ditched their video blocks. Both networks still air music videos, but only as intermission programming, though MTV will also premiere new videos in primetime. I'd make comparisons to Fuse, but that's like comparing snacks you don't like; the lesser of two evils is still evil.

When I said the Paramount Network wasn't going to anything with the unscripted format that I haven't seen already, Spike came out of nowhere with "Adam Carolla and Friends Build Stuff Live", which is exactly what it says on the title. So if MTV still gives a crap about music as much as Spike/Paramount is serious about making unscripted programming that as good as any of Paramount's movies, I won't let my guard down and say "music television is dead" just yet.

Challenging worldviews and driving conversation was in MTV's DNA. They are not a music network anymore, they should stop pretending to be one, and they shouldn't go back to being one. What MTV really needs to do focus on the real issues and trends in the world, what's happening right now and what could happen tomorrow. It's no wonder Pivot bit the dust; MTV was already doing their job - minus the reruns.

If music is the muse for what MTV does, than the network shouldn't marginalize music programming and pander to the hipsters and manchildren who are too blinded by nostalgia, 80s rock, and indie music to see the big picture. MTV sucks at music television because there're already so many other outlets and thingamabobs that does what MTV used to do but better, and yet these people still expect MTV to be better than the rest of them when, clearly, the network can do better with its resources.

Besides, if the ratings are anything to go by, these people care even less about music television. There's a reason why fans of a better cartoon show are called the "Toonami Faithful", because they're willing to stay up until 3:30AM to keep good animation on the air. Being on a network that has taken MTV's place among millennials, Adult Swim, also helps. It also means MTV has A LOT of work cut out for them.

As part of the "flagship six" plan, the rest of Viacom's network's will have their resources drained to fuel programming for networks like MTV. MTV currently has four branded spinoffs in MTV2, MTV Live, MTVU, MTV Classic. The latter three are the most music-driven, MTV Classic abandoning its original format to become another all-video network.

MTV2 will be used as a sort of lab for future MTV programming, as demonstrated by Joking Off and Kingin with Tyga jumping ship to MTV. However, MTV2 targets young men, whereas MTV's current programming leans heavily towards women.

In other words, MTV is hoping young men like myself will watch a network that's nothing but syndicated shows, MTV repeats, and five hours of hip-hop/alternative rock videos to see only a handful of cheaply-produced original shows in the hopes that they get good enough ratings to move over to a network that airs shows about dating and teen pregnancy, shallow reality shows, and reruns of Friends (and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air).

Maybe if this was Canada, and every other cable network sucked ass!

Undeniably, MTV2 is on the chopping block. Disney XD is another a boy-slanted network, but one that has been given the resources to become even better than its flagship sibling. MTV2 is no Disney XD, and if its only reason to exist is to churn out new shows for MTV, they might as well pull the plug now and save us the trouble. Better yet, since Spike is branded as a general entertainment channel, and Esquire Network is getting the boot, MTV2 should be properly rebranded as a male entertainment channel, separate from MTV.  It's not like anyone is going to miss waking up at 8AM to see the last hour of music videos anyways!

Over the past couple of weeks, I've shared my opinions on Viacom's Flagship Six, where they are now, where I'd like them to go. But MTV is centerpiece of it all, the crown jewel in Viacom's media empire. If it isn't up to par with the other five networks, there could be trouble. So they better get started.

The next generation wants their MTV.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Let's Talk About Viacom's "Flagship Six" : Comedy Central

There's not much to say about Comedy Central other than its the only network getting cheddar. Ratings have been low, mostly due to the departure of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, but Comedy Central is still going strong in areas of critic and viewer reception and social media.

But let me tell you something, as far as adult animation goes, Comedy Central has become the bottom of the barrel, the gold standard for everything wrong with the medium. To them, it's still the 90s, when animation was perceived to be children's fare. South Park helped to change that with the juvenile, senseless "humor" of its earlier seasons. Even after the show became more topical and critical in nature, its earlier seasons are still considered the show's golden age.

Today, there is a demand for adult animation to have more variety, a demand that Netflix has been more than happy to answer with Bojack Horseman, F is for Family, Voltron: Legendary Defender (along with other DreamWorks Animation fare) and the upcoming Castlevania series, which is supposedly going to be as dark and edgy as the games. It's not just western animation either, Crunchyroll's one million subscriber milestone means the audience for Japanese animation is getting bigger, and has gotten bigger since the days of 4Kids Entertaiment and Bionix. Japanese companies are now looking to create anime that caters to the tastes of a more international audience, and collaborations with American companies are becoming a thing.

I can go on and on about shows like The Legend of Korra and Adventure Time and comedies like Harvey Beaks and the Loud House, but I've already talked about this in previous posts. My point is no one wants to watch "adult" animation anymore, they want "mature" animation. There's nothing wrong with being immature, as long as its done right, and Comedy Central's animated shows...don't.

Brickleberry was just an endless romp of offensive jokes and squick; The second season of TripTank takes everything that was wrong with the first season and amplifies it to the point where the show is just a disgusting, unfunny mess; Jeff and Some Aliens is just a spinoff of TripTank that should have never been greenlit; and Legends of Chamberlain Heights is basically an urban comedy version of South Park, right down to its kindergarten artsytle, which just about sums up the whole thing.

If it ain't like South Park. it ain't worth shit.

Now if Moonbeam City, Ugly Americans, or Drawn Together are anything to go by, it seems as if the best animation seen on Comedy Central are shows that were cancelled due to critical dissonance or because they weren't as "good" as South Park. But beyond that, the show with the most wasted potential was Futurama, possibly the only other animated show on Comedy Central besides South Park to be highly-acclaimed. It's final season wasn't even supposed to be its final season, Comedy Central simply decided not to renew the show for another round.

So what we got instead was more of the same garbage. No variety. No subtlety. Just a half-four per week of toliet humor and shots taken at topics and people that are, frankly, far more entertaining than anything the network has put out. If you wanna watch more South Park, then watch more South Park. Its a one of a kind show and there's nothing else like it. You shouldn't have to waste time on a bunch of half-assessed attempts to rehash only a fraction, a fraction, of what makes South Park enjoyable.

No wonder Viacom's been whining about low ratings, who the hell would watch this crap?

But that's only animation. As far as the rest of the network's programming goes, Comedy Central is comedy. TBS and, especially, TruTV have a lot of their work cut out for them.

Meanwhile, FXX has been going strong, thanks to the breakout success of Man Seeking Women and You're The Worst, but they're still hungry for more animation. Between Archer's move to FXX, and John Landgraf's comments, they REALLY want to fill the adult animation void, especially after the near-failure of Animation Domination (High-Def). It wouldn't be too hard for them to trample Comedy Central as the new prince of adult animation, Comedy Central is still airing reruns of one of their shows!

The endgame will be to steal the crown from Adult Swim, the king of adult animation and the number one millennial-targeting network. But outside of Toonami, Rick and Morty, Robot Chicken, and The Venture Bros., Adult Swim's animated series have become a lot more redundant than what they used to be in its heyday. The cancellation of World Peace and the controversy surrounding it verses the hype for season five of Samurai Jack could be taken as a sign that things could change in the future.

But am I talking about adult animation or Comedy Central? I think I'd prefer the two topics to be as far away from each other as possible. Now, if MTV were to announce a new animated series...

Let's Talk About Viacom's "Flagship Six" : BET

BET was the perfect example of how underfunded a cable network could be, with its amateur broadcast graphics taking up one-third of the screen. Since the cancellation of 106 & Park, BET's programming has been on a downhill slope. Beyond tent-pole events, original scripted fare, news specials, town-hall meetings, gospel music, and documentary programming that make better use of a low-budget than any cookie-cutter reality show, the bulk of the network's programming is still 2000s syndicated fare and DVD movies. That's fine if you live in the United States, but you can't even watch most of BET's acquired slate in Canada due to "programming rights".

I use quotes because no other network in Canada airs the acquired shows and movies seen on BET. No Wayans Bros (anymore). No Martin. No Tyler Perry movies or any other "blackbuster". How can BET not have clearance to air any of their programming, when no other Canadian broadcaster gives two shits about the needs of Black Canadians? Yes, we have FEVA and Afroglobal, but they're more focused on international and Caribbean programming than anything American.

I've concluded that either Canadian companies are so greedy that they are willing to keep the rights to a bunch a crap they will never air, just to make sure the imported American feeds can't air them, or Viacom seriously needs a reality check the next time they threaten to take BET out of Canada, when BET's Canadian feed is almost barebones and worthless. It figures that the year when Donald Trump took the oval office would be BET's worst yet.

But at the start of 2017, BET came running out of the gate and packing heat, with high-quality scripted programming in tow. The New Edition Story has been met with critical acclaim and was the highest-rated program for the three nights it aired. I, myself, really enjoyed the second and third parts! So far, the Quad has also been met with positive reviews and the ratings look healthy enough. It helps that BET managed to make a fourth season of the equally-praised Being Mary Jane happen despite some production trouble.

Up next, BET will debut Rebel, a gritty police drama with a very "anti-police" vibe; Benched, a six-episode legal dramedy; Comedy Get-down, a mockmentary comedy featuring George Lopez, DL Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, Eddie Griffin and Charlie Murphy that will hopefully be better than recent seasons of Real Husbands of Hollywood; and Tales, an ambitious new anthology series inspired by hip-hop songs.

You can count on BET announcing another go around of unscripted programming at this year's upfronts. Whether Music Moguls or The Gary Owen Show will return for another go around is up in the air. I rather those shows be given a second chance than Ink, Scissors, Paper or F in Fabulous; take that garbage back to the ghetto where it belongs. Black America could not be facing darker times and the last thing they need to see on the most prominent network targeting them are shows so trashy WorldStarHipHip fans wouldn't touch them with a pole.

Just stick to the Tyler Perry reruns, at least those shows are watchable.

It doesn't even matter, the scripted programming alone promises a year that will see BET return to higher-prominence. I've said it before and I'll say it again, BET is more of a brand, a voice, than a cable network. But so far this year, they've actually looked and felt like a cable network. BET's new broadcast package really helps in this regard; It's simple, clean, and far less obtrusive than their old look.

In an era where the United States is more divided than ever, Black America needs a voice. Let's hope that as one of Viacom's flagship six, BET can truly own that voice in the linear world.

Yes to Black. Yes to Us. Yes to a BETer cable network.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Let's Talk About Viacom's "Flagship Six": Nickelodeon

Between the preschool block and Nick@Nite, there isn't much wiggle room for Nickelodeon to air anything besides their new and current programming. It's a perfect analogy to how crappy cable networks have become: Not only is Nickelodeon is only concerned with shows that get high ratings, with anything that doesn't getting banished to Nicktoons, but it seems the flagship channel will only air fresh new programming in the mere six or seven hours it has to itself.

That means even if something like the Loud House doesn't trip in the ratings like Harvey Beaks before it, even if Nickelodeon continually renews the show until the end of time, they don't have to air new episodes on the main channel. Right off the bat, that's a MAJOR problem the internet has with Nick. Nick Jr. is now a flagship channel as well. Does this mean Nickelodeon will dump any "underperforming" show onto that network from now on? Better question: Will Nickelodeon let someone who actually knows what the hell they're doing handle this and stop letting stupid kids run their network?

It's even worse than Cartoon Network, because at least Cartoon Network gives fair exposure to the shows that they give a crap about (as opposed to the shows that people actually want to see) and they operate on a much smaller scale than Nickelodeon does. Nickelodeon has a lot more to lose than the other networks, while most of the problems with Cartoon Network as of late could be solved if Dixie Carter wasn't in charge.

No, I'm not apologizing for that reference.

As part of Viacom's five-point plan, non-flagship networks will have their resources drained to fuel programming and events for networks like Nickelodeon. Nick Jr targets a slightly different audience than the rest of Nick's networks and, as such, is also a flagship network.

Was this the end game all along? NickMom? Winx Club? Oggy and the Cockroaches? This is all programming that have no business on a preschool network; the only logical excuse was ratings. I'm probably giving them too much credit or, considering how Nick Jr's decay was stupid, unnecessary, and shouldn't have happened in the first place (Kinda like Nickelodeon's involvement with Winx Club), I'm not giving them enough of the crap that they deserve.

So that leaves us with Nicktoons (or as the unfunny pricks are accurately calling it, "Nick Too") and TeenNick. There's no denying that TeenNick's days are numbered. No matter how successful their retro block was, TeenNick is still the spinoff that gets the least love. I want to say cancelling Degrassi was a big mistake, but...

Relaunching Nicktoons as a defacto secondary channel for Nick programming would be a no-brainer. They barely give a focus on animation anyways and the network has more clearance than TeenNick does. It wouldn't take much to move The Splat to Nicktoons; Nickelodeon has already dumped damn near everything else onto Nicktoons anyways!

TeenNick is pretty much a pre-pubescent MTV, there's almost no need for it to exist. I know I'm probably missing something from a business standpoint, but from a branding standpoint, I don't see the appeal in this network outside of The Splat. Not that turning TeenNick "into" the Splat is a good idea, quite the opposite. MTV already tried their hand at a retro network with MTV Classic and, whether it was low ratings or poor management, it didn't work.

In conclusion, there is a lot of work than needs to be done at Nickelodeon, especially with the mothership channel. All I can say is: Thank goodness YTV isn't this bad.

Let's Talk About Viacom's "Flagship Six": Spike and Paramount

The end of Spike TV is, frankly, tragic. It only goes to show how far cable television has fallen when men can't even have their own TV channel anymore. Sure, they can play the sexism and misogyny card, but that doesn't change the fact that a majority of ratings-driven cable networks these days play favorites to women. Not to mention women's television can be just as trashy as men's can be juvenile, as evidenced by the Bad Girls Club franchise and other C-list reality shows.

Alas, even without the politics, Spike has been in a rut for some time now.

Their 2015 rebrand has failed to elevate the network beyond its previous "A&E-knockoff for men" format. Though the success of Lip Sync Battle begat an entourage of original game shows, Spike's main programming still consists shows like Cops, Police Videos, and other programs aimed at men. In other words, not much has changed since 2013.

When Spike talked about its return to scripted programming, I was hoping this would extend to acquired shows as well. I'm not talking about syndicated sitcoms, I was thinking more along the lines of Smallville or 24: big, action-y, explosive television shows that don't get any airtime anywhere these days, mostly because you can find them on Netflix. But as long as Viacom insists on running My Wife & Kids to death, I should think they would at least be more "inclusive" to something other than sitcoms to fill daytime hours.

This is what makes Paramount getting their own TV channel so attractive. For one thing, why doesn't Transformers or Mission: Impossible have their own spinoff cable drama like the Marvel Cinematic Universe does? Why not take all the spectacle and hype of the big-budgeted, summer blockbuster and squeeze it into a cable drama? Who said such programming was limited to premium networks like HBO; The Shanarra Chronicles on MTV lacks characters worth rooting for, but looks and feels on par with something like The Lord of the Rings. THIS is the kind of programming Spike should have done more of after they cancelled Blue Mountain State and ditched Impact Wrestling.

While The Paramount Network will also incorporate unscripted programming, you gotta believe the majority of Spike's current slate will get the axe. For one thing, Ink Master, Bar Rescue, Lip Sync Battle, and Bellator events are all guaranteed a spot on the new network, but shows like Cops might not be so lucky. Beyond that, I can't say I'm exited about what else Paramount will offer to the unscripted genre that hasn't already been done before.

More than that, it's still disheartening that men can't have their own cable network anymore. Yes, there's El Rey Network, MTV2 (to an extent), and various subchannel networks that offer all the things guys like. But between Spike TV, and the inevitable downfall of the Esquire Network, I just don't know anymore.