Tag Archives: Discovery Channel

Posted in Opinion, TV

Cash Cab and other Discovery Channel cash grabs

Back in January, I worried with my infinite wisdom about an application to the CRTC by Discovery Channel Canada to allow game shows as part of its programming categories. I worried that this might be an excuse to import a U.S. British trivia show called Cash Cab into Canada, stretch the limits of the channel’s mandate and suck up some easy cash.

Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. The CRTC approved the change in its license, and Discovery announced that it was carbon-copying importing the format for use here. I still held out hope that the format would be predominantly educational in nature, and/or that the subjects of the questions would deal with science, technology and nature.

After watching a couple of episodes (you can see complete episodes online here), it seems my original fears were more than justified.

For those who haven’t seen it (or don’t want to see it), Cash Cab’s format has a guy driving a van through the streets of Toronto, and then surprising people who come aboard by telling them they’re on a TV game show they’ve never heard of (a part that’s either hilarious or awkward depending on your tastes). He then asks them questions, gives money for each right answer, and when they get three wrong they’re booted out of the cab.

It’s nothing more than a cookie-cutter trivia show with a lame hook. Some of the questions are certainly scientific in nature, but others relate to sports, business, history and even popular culture. It’s hard to distinguish these questions from the ones on every other trivia-based game show out there.

Discovery’s reputation: Destroyed in Seconds

For how bad Cash Cab is, Destroyed in Seconds is worse. This embarrassment of programming is essentially a carbon copy of World’s Most Amazing Videos (which currently airs on Spike TV), in all the bad ways imaginable. Here’s how both shows work:

  1. Find a video that shows some catastrophic event: a plane crash, a bridge collapse, an explosion. Usually this will be amateur video of poor quality, but that’s ok. In fact, it adds to the realness of the show.
  2. Ensure that nobody dies in the event that took place. You wouldn’t want to be accused of profiting off someone’s death, after all. You want miraculous escapes and/or recoveries here. Exceptions can be made if the video is really good and you don’t actually see any bodies.
  3. Show the video as a man with an exaggerated voice explains the situation (usually something along the lines of “it looks like an ordinary day, but in a few seconds their lives will be in mortal danger”), until the surprising, terrifying event happens.
  4. Have the narrator explain, as briefly as possible, what caused the catastrophy, as well as the aftermath.
  5. Show the moment of catastrophe over and over and over again. Slow-motion, zoomed-in, any different way you can think of. Have the narrator point out how the people on the video were “inches from certain death” or “moments from disaster” or “lucky to escape with only minor injuries”
  6. Move on to the next clip.

There is no educational value to this show whatsoever. You learn nothing other than what an explosion looks like.

Compare that with a show like Mayday (my personal favourite) which re-enacts airplane accidents (with cool computer graphics) and then explains very seriously and clearly what caused them and what has been done to ensure they don’t happen again. Or Mythbusters, which tests sometimes silly hypotheses, but does them in (mostly) scientific ways. Both have the idea of teaching viewers as the main focus, and entertainment is a convenient medium to do so.

For Cash Cab and Destroyed in Seconds, the main focus is to entertain. That’s not a bad thing, and these shows have their homes (Cash Cab on the Game Show Network, Destroyed in Seconds on Spike TV), but neither belong on the Discovery Channel.

If we’re going to continue with the idea that specialty channels should have protected formats (and you’re well within your rights to question whether that’s necessary anymore), we should honour those formats, not try to find ways around them to pad the bottom line.

Posted in Opinion, TV

Trivia is learning too!

Remember back in January when the Discovery Channel wanted to add game shows to its allowable programming, and I (and others) suggested it was because they wanted to bring in this Cash Cab show that airs on the U.S. network?

Well, that’s exactly what’s happening. Digital Home reports Discovery Canada has added the show to its lineup.

It will be a Canadian version instead of the show instead of an import, so I can’t comment on the type of questions being asked, but if it’s regular trivia like the U.S. and U.K. shows, I don’t think it will fit in with Discovery’s mandate.

You can argue that learning about trivia is also learning, but that would make every trivia game show fair game for this channel. Jeopardy, 1 vs. 100, Beat the Geeks, Hollywood Squares and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire would all be OK.

Is that what we want the Discovery Channel to look like?

Posted in Opinion, TV

CRTC roundup: CTV wants everything in HD

Some interesting developments at the CRTC concerning TV specialty channels:

The CRTC held a hearing yesterday on applications for new specialty channels, though no questions were asked and the meeting lasted 10 minutes. The following are being considered:

  • CBC SportsPlus, an “amateur sports” network. This one has proved controversial since rumours first started about it in January, since amateur sports would comprise only 25% of programming. The rest would seem to be for overflow from Olympic and other sports coverage where CBC television and the Bold channel would be insufficient. CTV and Rogers have already complained about competition with their sports networks, while the Canadian Olympic Committee argues its 100% amateur sports channel proposal should be approved instead. (The Globe argues both channels should be approved) (UPDATE: The Tea Makers has some analysis of this proposed channel)
  • AfroGlobal Television, a general interest network about Africa and African culture
  • Diversion HD, an HD movie network for the post-PPV sloppy seconds
  • Diversion SD, the same thing in standard definition
  • Canada HD Network, a general interest HD channel which seems to want to compete with U.S. based HDNet (to the point where it actually refused to have 15% limitations on music, movies and other categories that would compete with existing services). Its suggested programming grid includes an unusually large amount of Fresh Prince of Bel Air and McMillan & Wife reruns, especially for an HD channel
  • EqualiTV, a disability issues network which sounds a lot like the Accessible Channel
  • YTV OneWorld, a youth network with emphasis on foreign programming (let’s hope “foreign” doesn’t mean “American”). The channel had already been approved in 2000, but never made it off the ground.
  • YTV POW!, a comic book/action youth network with foreign programming, which was also initially approved in 2000
  • Sportsnet 2, a soccer/cricket/rugby sports channel that has been approved in principle but had not met certain legal requirements for a license

Expect Diversion and Canada HD to get denied unless they become more specific about their programming, and EqualiTV to explain how it differs from the Accessible Chanel.

Meanwhile, CTV has applied to the CRTC for HD versions of the following cable channels:

  • RIS Info Sports (RDS’s sister station)
  • The Discovery Channel*
  • CTV Newsnet
  • Business News Network
  • MTV Canada
  • The Comedy Network
  • travel+escape
  • Outdoor Life Network

*The Discovery Channel already has an HD version, which was approved on a temporary basis before the CRTC had a proper framework for such channels. This application is to have an HD channel under the new framework, which would require 95% of all programming to be the same between the SD and HD versions of the same channel (and the remaining 5% to be all-HD on the HD network).

CTV also wants to expand the programming of two of its channels, ESPN Classic Canada and Book Television, to include “general entertainment and human interest”. They cite as examples profiles of Hall of Fame athletes and Giller Prize awards coverage, respectively. The paranoid part of me thinks the likelihood of anyone complaining of these types of shows is extremely small, and that adding this category may be more about other kinds of shows they’d like to air that have less to do with the channels’ core mission.

Posted in Opinion, TV

Discovery Channel wants game shows

CTVglobemedia, which owns Discovery Channel Canada, has applied to the CRTC for a change in its license to allow for game shows as part of its lineup, up to 15% (or 25 hours a week).

CTV argues that allowing for “a trivia-based show intended to enrich viewers’ base of knowledge” would make it “more attractive to its target audience” while still keeping with its mandate of programming that focuses on “the exploration of science and technology, nature and the environment and adventure.”

This is all code for the fact that Discovery wants to import Cash Cab, a highly successful game show launched in the U.S. last year that has unsuspecting cab riders being offered money if they correctly answer trivia questions. It has versions all around the world, including on the U.S. Discovery Channel.
But does the fact that it’s trivia automatically make it part of Discovery’s mandate? Mythbusters (which is currently aired ad nauseam) answers interesting pseudo-scientific questions. But Cash Cab asks people to name the seven dwarfs or the characters from Clue. How are these things either science, technology, nature, the environment or adventure?

In principle I think game shows should be allowed on Discovery (as they point out, other specialty channels like the History Channel already allow such programming), but Cash Cab sounds like it’s more about a cheap ratings grab than a desire to educate young viewers in an innovative way.

Deadline for comments is January 25.