Welcome to another pulse-pounding week of America's Got Cable: The Search for the Nation's Finest Basic Cable Channel!
OLD BUSINESS: The readers of TV.com have spoken and the winner of last week's bout between TBS and TNT is...
Dang, I did NOT see this coming. I mean, I definitely saw TNT's strong points, but you voters really love your hour-long dramas! Makes sense, I guess it's better to have drama on TV instead of IN OUR LIVES, am I right? Okay, congratulations, TNT. You might have an explosive name, but this week it's TBS that goes BOOM!
NEW BUSINESS: This week's battle has teeth!
Background: Animal Planet was born in 1996 when it crawled out of the Discovery Channel's womb and scurried up into its pouch. Created in a partnership between Discovery Communications and the BBC, Animal Planet was originally intended to showcase the kind of classic, Richard Attenborough-narrated nature documentaries that sister-station Discovery Channel had begun to leave behind. For a while its reputation was wildly wholesome, its most-watched programming being home video pet bloopers or Puppy Bowl halftime shows. But in 2008, Animal Planet gave itself a makeover by unveiling a new lineup of edgy, admittedly trashy—but simply amazing— reality programming that focuses on freakish animals and the weirdo humans who love them.
Original Programming: To glance at the current Animal Planet lineup is to face your worst nightmares: Hauntings, maulings, monsters, bears, pit bulls, Mike Tyson, the list goes on. But at least these nightmares are very entertaining! Current favorites I Shouldn't Be Alive, Fatal Attractions and Confessions: Animal Hoarding provide constant reminders that maybe humans aren't MEANT to cohabit peacefully with animals. Meanwhile, Taking on Tyson, Must Love Cats, Blonde vs. Bear, Pit Boss, and Pit Bulls & Parolees suggest the exact opposite: Sometimes we really CAN all get along.
Reruns: Animal Planet is one of the few cable channels that eschews traditional syndicated reruns, instead favoring ad nauseam repeats of documentaries like Planet Earth and its own weird one-off specials like Pig Bomb.
Why It's The Best: Because Pig Bomb! Also, Cats 101. Also anything this channel airs? Confessions: Animal Hoarders seriously has to be seen to be believed.
Why It's The Worst: Many of these specials and original series are roughly 95 percent B-roll and stock footage set to over-the-top dramatic music. Have you ever tried to get through an episode of River Monsters? It's just 44 minutes of an excitable foreigner shouting at water. Basically, what I'm saying is, sometimes these shows are maddeningly sensationalized.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CHANNEL
Background: Although the National Geographic Channel (NatGeo for short) is a relative newcomer on the scene, its pedigree is one of the oldest and most respected nature publications in the world. NatGeo first launched in America in early 2001 as a co-production between Fox Cable Networks and the National Geographic Society, the latter of which had been producing respected nature specials for television since the 1960s. Additionally, the actual print publication has featured award-winning journalism and photography since 1888! That is so many naked ladies! But anyway, yeah, to make a cable channel out of this thing was a no-brainer.
Original Programming:Unfortunately, part of being a new channel means that very few of your programs get much exposure. That's not to say NatGeo isn't trying it's darndest to play with the big kids. Its lineup is already chock full of sensationalistic reality programming, including Shark Men, Beast Hunter, Prison Women, Taboo, and Locked Up Abroad. NatGeo's best-known hit is probably the Cesar Millan-fronted Dog Whisperer.
Reruns: Like Animal Planet, NatGeo also avoids traditional reruns and instead gives plenty of play to its enormous library of documentary specials.
Why It's The Best: NatGeo has a much wider scope than simply animal attacks and maniac pet owners. Its journalist background means that any subject is fair game as long as it has some kind of informational value, and unlike the sensationalized overproduction of much of Animal Planet's programming, NatGeo tends to favor entertainment that's—dare I say it?—educational.
Why It's The Worst: NatGeo really isn't the worst, but it IS slightly depressing in its attempts to outright copy Animal Planet. Like, I'm sorry, but airing things called Monster Fish or I Came Away Alive is kind of embarrassing. You're better than this, NatGeo!
Official TV.com Verdict:
This is not a fair fight, obviously. But the world isn't fair. That's just nature! So for sheer entertainment value, it's ANIMAL PLANET with a triumphant pterodactyl screech.
But now it's your turn! COMMENT BELOW and tell us your verdict: Animal Planet or National Geographic Channel? And make your case! What do you love or hate about each channel?
Click below to see the full-size tournament bracket: