Changing The Channel

Analyzing the complicated state of affairs, and the long goodbyes, that come when one TV network or cable channel replaces another. Here are 10 examples.

By Ernie Smith

Today in Tedium: Don’t let it ever be said that we forgot the demise of the analog television signal in the United States. It finally happened this week, with low-power networks largely dying off, more than 12 years after the primary signals went off the air. And admittedly it was a story nearly forgotten about by many. (But not FrankenFM station owners! More on them soon.) Of course it was! When was the last time you watched something on an analog set? It’s most assuredly been a while. I was trying to think about the best way to honor this unusual moment in history when it hit me—25 years ago this week, another network ended. We largely talk about what replaced it, because it was culturally a much bigger deal, but a quarter-century ago this week, America’s Talking went off the air and was replaced by MSNBC, a news channel that, after a couple of false starts, found itself a niche as the liberal foil to Fox News. It’s a big deal that a cable channel makes it as long as MSNBC has. Many don’t! With that in mind, today’s Tedium highlights numerous examples of network shutdowns or transitions over the years. — Ernie @ Tedium

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A subtle transition

The old network: Nick GaS, a TV network that featured Nickelodeon’s deep library of kid-focused games and sports-related shows. It started in 1999.

The new network: The N, an educational network that originally aired in a split with a second educational network, Noggin, before it was split off as its own thing in 2007. Technically, The N was a known entity at this point, so it didn’t need an introduction.

The transition: The end of the show airs, then the brand logo for Nick GaS appears. And just after that, the feed for The N kicks in. No intro, barely even any fuss. You’d think nobody would have even noticed.

A reflection on great advocacy work

The old network: Pivot TV, an offering of Participant Media, a well-known film production company started by early eBay president Jeffrey Skoll, who took an approach akin to First Look Media years before eBay founder Pierre Omidyar did. Participant’s mission is to create and fund content that reflects on social issues, a noble approach that has been fairly successful—Spotlight and Syriana are some of its best-known productions. Started in 2013, Pivot reflected the innovations of its owner, including an early embrace of streaming and a focus on encouraging social advocacy by its viewers.

The new network: None. The feed shut down in 2016.

The transition: At the end of a film, a message from Pivot to its viewers takes up the bottom half of the screen as credits air, with Pivot highlighting its work in advocacy—including its work to fight seal-clubbing and support mental illness initiatives. As the credits end, though, DirecTV cuts off the feed.

A countdown that pays off

The old network: The split-up Toon Disney network, which also had an evening programming block from the animated meeting of the minds Jetix, had aired for more than a decade, airing mostly cartoons for its target audience of people who prefer Disney more when it’s not focused on live-action programming—though with a stated focus on young kids.

The new network: Disney XD, a tween-focused network targeting a similar demographic to Jetix, which aimed for a slightly older kid than Toon Disney did.

The transition: A literal “one day left until Disney XD” countdown on the bottom of the screen, as well as promotion of the new network in ads before it went on the air with an episode of Phineas and Ferb. I guess Disney could do that since it was replacing one network with another. Side note: Disney XD still airs in the U.S., but many of its international variants have been taken off the air in favor of Disney+.

A few thoughtful words from a host

The old network: Speed, a Fox-owned network dedicated to auto racing. Launched in 1995 as Speedvision, the network stayed on the air for 18 years with a mixture of live sports coverage and reality programming.

The new network: While Speed had an international presence beyond its life in the U.S., the network was replaced by the more generalized Fox Sports 1. Much of Speed’s programming continued to be aired on FS1.

The transition: Mike Joy, a well-known play-by-play announcer for NASCAR events, was allowed to say a few words before the network shut down for good. Key highlight: “We love that you care as much about your cars as family, God, and country, and so do we. But now it’s time to switch off the ignition and turn in the keys. This is the end of Speed in America.” Following Joy was Fox NFL host Curt Menefee, who promised the network would “never put ourselves above the game or the athletes.”

A low-key bumper implying a big change

The old network: Included as part of the Cartoon Network in most markets where it airs, Adult Swim first came to the Canadian market in 2012 with a similar approach to its American counterpart. However, it was not alone in the market, as Canada’s Teletoon network also had a late-night programming block that at one point featured Adult Swim shows.

The new network: It was really more of a promotion more than anything. In 2019, Adult Swim was given a full channel of its own, the first time the network was given a 24-hour block to work with anywhere around the world. (The network it was replacing was Action, which aired—you guessed it—action movies.) The Canadian Cartoon Network was expanded to match the need, while Teletoon at Night was given the heave-ho at the same time. Part of the reason for this is that Corus Entertainment, the owner of Teletoon, had fully licensed Adult Swim and the Cartoon Network from Warner Bros. for the Canadian market.

The transition: In true Adult Swim style, the programming change was announced using very basic text cards at the end of February, 2019, while Action announced the change with promos during its films. Teletoon at Night, meanwhile, was taken off the air unceremoniously around the same time. The refreshed Adult Swim started on April 1, 2019.

I can’t wait to crawl, either

The old network: The WB, which evolved from its roots with Michigan J. Frog and Steve Harvey into a teen-programming powerhouse during the late ’90s thanks in no small part to the early success of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which led the network to go all-in on teen shows.

The new network: The CW, an unholy merger between The WB and UPN, a channel that was best known for Star Trek: Voyager, Moesha, and WWE wrestling. Both networks struggled, but The WB was probably the most successful of the two throughout its history, although UPN had higher ratings at the very end because wrestling springs eternal.

The transition: This instantly goes up there with the best transitions of all time because of its use of “Crawl,” a song by the underrated alt-pop band Thisway, to close things out. A personal favorite of mine, it’s a song with a notable affiliation with the channel, being used for promos over the years, and given its use in the end-of-WB programming, it felt like bringing things full circle for a network that meant a lot to a number of teens. The network celebrated itself on its final night before the transition to The CW.

Straddling the border

The old network: Speaking of The CW, the local station XETV, which was based in Tijuana but spent much of its history courting the nearby San Diego market, maintained its affiliation with The CW until 2017, reflecting a 64-history serving the English-language market, despite being a Mexican station. (It’s a fascinating story of how it happened—essentially a quirk that emerged because of challenges with license allocations between the U.S. and Mexico, and the border-straddling nature of the channel led to numerous issues, including the channel at one point losing its affiliation with ABC as a result of a conflict with an American channel, and in the ’90s requiring an exception so that the Fox network could air NFL games on the channel.)

The new network: This one’s complicated; in 2008, the network lost its Fox affiliation unexpectedly after Fox decided it could no longer be affiliated with Mexican-based affiliates during this period, leading XETV to transition to The CW that year. In 2016, however, the affiliate failed to come up with a renewal deal with The CW, leading it to transition to an affiliation with Mexico’s Canal 5 in the spring of 2017.

The transition: After an episode of The King of Queens, the network aired the Mexican flag during its signoff, then announced its call signs and affiliation with The CW, then briefly showed color bars, before transitioning to Canal 5. In the breakup, the cable channels largely went to the new CW affiliate, KFMB-DT2, which started its life as a new CW affiliate by airing the same episode of The King of Queens that had just aired on XETV.

Pong never gets old

The old network: G4, which began its life in 2002 as a competitor to TechTV before acquiring it (a move I still have strong opinions about), slowly faded off the air between 2013 and 2014, depending on where you lived. It’s expected to be revived as a digital channel later this year, though I’m personally not sure who would want that.

The new network: In the U.S., G4 found itself in an awkward position when news surfaced that it was supposed to be replaced with an Esquire-branded channel, but the magazine took over the former Style network instead. G4’s signal, instead, shut off entirely.

The transition: Because of the decision not to move the Esquire Network over to G4’s signal, many cable providers took the network off the air at different times, with Comcast (which owned G4) and Charter pulling it off the air months before its actual shutdown when it became clear it was a repeat wasteland. (DirecTV killed it as far back as 2010 because of low ratings.) Despite this state of affairs, G4 ended its initial run with a simple game of Pong that slowly faded out on the screen.

The last public broadcast

The old network: For almost exactly 40 years, the New Jersey Network (NJN), a public television and radio network serving the state of New Jersey, offered broadcasting options to viewers far and wide. However, as public broadcasting is often a target of conservative budget-cutting, NJN was faced with sharp budget cuts at the end of the 2000s, putting it in a poor position to thrive.

The new network: After Chris Christie took office in 2010, he spun off the services formerly offered by NJN to nonprofit organizations operated by individual public broadcasters; WNET took over NJN and spun it off as Public Media NJ, which became NJTV; the radio stations were split between public-broadcasting entities in nearby Pennsylvania and New York.

The transition: News anchors Jim Hooker and Michael Aron offered passionate takes on the end of the final NJN News program. “There goes that quaking voice,” Hooker said as he ended his final segment. At the very end of the broadcast, the acting executive director of the NJN organization, Janice Selinger, reflected on the work that the network had done over the years. “We at NJN behind the scenes and in front of the camera would like to thank the people of New Jersey—the viewers, the listeners, and the members of NJN—for the chance to tell these stories and to cover the events which shape this state. Your support has made a difference,” she said.

Qubo goes quiet into the night

The old network: Active for about 15 years in various forms—as a program block, a free-to-air digital subchannel, and a video-on-demand offering—the ION-owned Qubo ended its long run back in February, after ION Media was acquired by the E. W. Scripps Company.

The new network: I’ll let a Scripps official take this one. “Obviously in order for us to move our channels over to the ION’s digital sub channels, we moved our higher performing networks there and shut those down at the beginning of March,” said Lisa Knutson, Scripps’ president of national networks, during an investor call in March.

The transition: The weird thing about this one is that there appear to be a number of fan-made Qubo “shutdowns” on YouTube, highlighting the sheer amount of Qubo fandom out there. (If you are a member of the Qubo fandom, please reach out to me, because I’m curious!) But from what I can gather, the switchover came with no reflection on what was lost, one of the few over-the-air kids’ channels still left. The clip above shows the digital subchannel dramatically cutting off in the middle of an episode of Franklin, being replaced with the feed for the westerns channel Grit instead. Someone actually went to the trouble of grabbing the actual feed of the channel, and found that it shut down in the middle of an episode of Inspector Gadget.

So what got me thinking about all this? I guess the best way I can put it is that I have come to realize over time that television networks are often very malleable, just like websites are. Especially cable networks, which require big investments in programming to even get off the ground.

Many of the stories I’ve listed above reflect the results of brutal business decisions that aren’t properly discussed with viewers before they occur. They simply just happen. Viewers are forced to react.

The strange thing about this state of affairs is that occasionally, a network’s relevance only proves itself after the fact. All apologies to the folks at MSNBC, for example, but it turns out that America’s Talking was the template for modern news coverage, as is proven by the fact that the Fox News network, also created by Roger Ailes, is effectively 70 percent people expressing opinions on television, and MSNBC had to change its own model to reflect this fact. While America’s Talking featured other kinds of talking besides politics (and those things were often quite weird), it had an entire program devoted to government waste and gave folks who only grew more prominent over time in the TV news realm, like Steve Doocy, Chris Matthews, and Steve Kornacki, some of their first significant national airtime.

One could also argue that the revival of G4, as much as I’m not looking forward to it, also reflects this, as gaming and technology are significantly more dominant topics in the discourse than they were a decade ago. Clearly it came back because somebody missed it.

Sometimes channels change significantly without changing their name. MTV is a great example of this. Compare what it was in 1982 with what it is now.

Another great example of this from back in the day, which did later change its name more fully, is TNN—first known as The Nashville Network and dedicated to country music culture, then as The National Network and having no discernible identity. After a long period as Spike TV, it’s now known as the Paramount Network. What a ride.

A television network’s identity is also a moving target. And it’s fascinating to look at these moving targets in aggregate.

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*Correction: We used the wrong video for the NJN item. Sorry about that; it’s now fixed.*

Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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