A year ago, I blogged about the decline of “Shark Week” on Discovery Channel. At that time, the normally documentary-filled week that was the channel’s biggest draw all year was beginning to show signs of “jumping the shark.” As I pointed out in previous posts, the deregulation of the airwaves in the late 1980s has led to a steady “network decay” of once reputable TV channels. When cable TV first expanded into hundreds of speciality channels, they were all dedicated to a core mission, whether it be golf or history or science. As TVTropes.com explains it, all of these deregulated cable networks had to please advertisers, and soon moved into reality shows and sensationalism to attract the core audience of 18-31 year old males that advertisers covet. Discovery Channel used to run almost non-stop documentary footage, and did fine like that for over a decade. As TVTropes.com puts it:
The Discovery Channel still shows plenty of actual documentary material, despite having been decaying for almost as long as MTV has. In the late 80s the lineup was mostly serious documentaries, the most famous of which was Wings (no relation to the sitcom except for a focus on aircraft) but which also included classy repackaged BBC imports like Making of a Continent — and once a year there was Shark Week, which was just what you’d expect. By the mid-1990s, they showed an obscene amount of home improvement shows and cooking shows aimed at stay-at-home moms (enough to spawn the spin-off Discovery Home & Leisure Channel, now Planet Green) and Wings had proven so popular it had been farmed out to its own spin-off, Discovery Wings Channel (now Military Channel). Now, they’re being swamped with “guys building and/or blowing things up” shows in the vein of MythBusters and Monster Garage. And about four different shows about ghost hunters. In 2005, Discovery debuted Cash Cab, a game show that takes place in the back of a cab, leaving one unsure whether it even has a theme beyond “non-fiction”. It gets weird when you realize that they’re knocking some of their own shows off, especially Mythbusters into Smash Lab (with a focus on safety measures) and How It’s Made into Some Assembly Required. The latter has almost only done products featured in the former (though How It’s Made has been on for just about ten years, so it’s hard to find something they haven’t done). The Discovery Channel also used to contain a lot of nature, which is where the now-classic Shark Week (which they still air regularly) originated from. But it seems that explosions have taken the place of tigers ripping stuff to pieces. Most of the nature shows have since been relegated to Animal Planet. Amusingly enough, despite the slippage over the years it remains the sole survivor of the educational channels on American cable television.