I Guess The Discovery Channel is The Hillbilly Network Now

So what’s up with the Discovery Channel and this weird phase they seem to be going through? I thought of multiple titles for this article. Like “The Weird Lifestyles of Obscure White People.” Then I thought about “Rednecks You Don’t Know Much About.” But ultimately it’s not really about the color of the people as much as it’s about subcultures within American mainstream culture.

 

The Discovery Channel at this point is nearly 30 years old. I actually remember when it came out. Here in Chicago we had some early cable companies (that don’t exist anymore) and my  girlfriend had cable. Actual cable TV in those days was rare, and they really didn’t have a lot of stuff to put on. I think Wikipedia gives a description of the early Discovery mandate to be something like a goal of bringing to light remote and lesser known parts of the world. Like a commercial version of PBS.And certainly the current crop of shoes is doing that, but these shows just seem SO specific about certain kinds of white people in certain kinds of situations. It’s weird as hell! For one thing I think there are like FOUR different shows about Alaska. What the hell is that about? So the common theme of these shows seems to be consistent; white people who have chosen to “go it alone” and again, I KNOW I’m pointing out the color issue but I didn’t MAKE the shows, Discovery did. And they’re making SO many of them. While at the same time they seemed to have totally divorced themselves from the educational and “worldly” thing altogether. You just can’t miss this oddly specific slant. Let’s do a quick review of these newer shows.

Flying Wild Alaska

Bering Sea Gold

Gold Rush

Sons of Guns

Ragin’ Cajuns

Moonshiners

 

Having said that, older shows like Deadliest Catch and  American Chopper, basically fit this model too. But even a newer show, Man-Woman-Wild, follows the “white people going it alone” pattern as does the Dual Survival. And to be fair they DID make a show with some black people. It’s called First Week In, and yes, it’s about prison. Hahahaaa, man, come on! Hashahhaha. They show some scary black people, but guess what happened in the first episode? A black guy helped a scared white guy and loaned him his phone account.

They;re kicking ass with the t-shirts though!
Discovery Channel Shirts

Now in case you can’t tell, I AM watching the shows. Look, I’m a guy with a degree in anthropology so the insights into mainstream culture and subculture are both very interesting to me. And these shows are doing big numbers and being renewed so it stands to reason it’s interesting to a lot of other people. Because, again, it’s not regular white people it’s like outer edge type people. So I’m sure city and suburban people are just as in the dark about all these odd ways of living as I am.

 

Of course I watch Dirty Jobs (even though the last few season have featured fewer and fewer people of color) and I’ve watched every episode of Gold Rush. I also watch all of Moonshiners-yeah Popcorn and Tickle can’t be beat. And I even tried Ragin’ Cajuns this week with “Blimp” and his people. But according to Forrest Gump shouldn’t there be a black guy looking for “skrimps” somewhere on the show? Instead it’s class warfare-the rich guy vs the poor guy. Oh my God! I just remembered; there’s ANOTHER show about Alaska. It’s the one where these (or course) white people decide to live off the land up there. I watched about 2 episodes of that one. Man!

 

I’ve also had a lifelong fascination with “moving to Alaska.” I have no idea what’s that’s all about. Today it’s 10 degrees outside here in Chicago and I’ve known cold winters almost my whole life. I’ve had to endure maybe half a dozen winters without HEAT in my life. And I’ve seen snow as high as a 2 story building. We once had a fire and the Red Cross put us in motels and me and the other kids would jump off the 2nd floor balcony directly into snow the same height. But despite these harsh conditions or maybe because of them I’ve always thought I could take Alaska. I particular want to go on an icebreaker ship and wear a giant red coat.

About 20 years ago I even bought a book on how to get work on a king crab boat, then I met a guy from Sweden who had done it. But you needed like a thousand dollars just to get up there and get the cold water suit etc., so I never did it. And right around that time the show Northern Exposure came out and man, that was it. I HAD to go. And it’s been on my mind all these years. Then Sarah Palin came on the scene and just ruined my image of the place and that Senator Ted Stevens (?) didn’t help. But they were good for me. They brought me down to Earth and I learned about the rape, shootings, drunkenness up there and it was good to know. When I finally do go I’m not going with stars in my eyes or WITHOUT a gun.

Discovery Channel Still Trying to Duplicate MythBusters with One Way Out

Have you noticed? I mean the Discovery channel a few years back was about nature; like mountain climbing, Sharks and Space. All the kind of jazz. Basically they were trying to do a paid version of PBS. But a few years ago they came out with my beloved MythBusters show. I like the show. I’ve been watching since the beginning. Since before Grant, Carey and Tory (I’m not even going to bother looking up the correct spelling of their names)

noway

And that was fine. I mean the show has sort of evolved, but pretty much kept to the original spirit and format they started with. It didn’t have the gritty LOOOOOW budget feel of American Chopper. The chopper show had the look and feel of a long format documentary (like the white version of Hoop Dreams). In an effort to prop up their sister network TLC, Discovery moved the chopper show over there. It’s been about a year or 2 now and I believe the show didn’t survive the move. The probably retained some viewers but…well ask Scrubs how much they enjoyed a station move.

A sort of semi-recent Discovery hit was Dirty Jobs. Now, some of you may have recognized Mike Rowe’s voice from those Alaska specials. I seem to recall that before they actually made a series they just did a couple of Alaska fishing specials. And again that was closer to a documentary/nature film than an action show. But Dirty Jobs seems to have been born out of the idea of that show, so in that respect it stands out as an original program in my mind.

Another sort of semi-recent hit is Man vs. Wild. I think Discovery has also got Survivor Man program. Plus, a few years ago didn’t they have another British guy running around? His thing was going to live with the “natives.” As a guy with anthropology degree I actually liked cultural investigations that show. Man, I think there’s another show out now were two guys go and live with some natives.

So as I look at these shows it seems Discovery has taken the idea of making stuff and destroying stuff as their model for all new shows. And all of these shows look like MythBuster copies to me. As if they decided to isolate some aspect of MB and build a show around. For instance they had a with this ex-Daily show guy Unger where they showed how stuff was made, and then they came out with a show called “How it’s Made.” On the other end of the spectrum they had show with a bunch of “young people” coming up with ideas for constructing stuff, but because most of the stuff was unstable there would be crashes and explosions. Then had had a show that was all engineers and it was all about creating weird stuff (that was still on the air. But then they put “Gone in Seconds” on the channel, and that one is JUST the explosions. So it seems like a mid-90’s Mike Darnell shows on FOX. (Mike Darnell by the way is the guy who created all those shows like When Animals Attack type shows). And now they’ve got a show just about detonating buildings.

So Jonathan Goodwin in One Way Out. Well, what is it? Ok, they’ve got all the construction of MythBusters BUT they’ve added magic. I mean they’re calling him an escape artist but that phrase has historically been attached to magic. In fact they seem to be down playing that element and pushing that “what will happen” aspect and for me that makes it another MythBusters! Plus they start the show with the trademark MB small scale test. So is all this a bad thing? No. Listen when you have some success you want to duplicate it and grow it. That’s how business works. BUT, you have realize when your success is in the public eye people are gonna notice. This is why copy-cat movies, copy-cat musicians, and yes copy-cat tv shows don’t make it.