No Right Explanation

MTV Makes Us Sad


Last week the guys debated which TV channel is the biggest disappointment, and this week they continue that debate in print for your reading enjoyment.


Chris: I’ve got to hand it to Dan and Kyle. It’s really fun being on the opposite end for a few weeks, getting a chance to see each new episode from the eyes of the audience, wondering what the debate’s going to be and if it has any relation to something I know and love whatsoever. Well, I’m extremely glad that the two took on their most disappointing TV channels this week, since “Current TV Channels” is a Jeopardy category that I’d handily fail. Why? Because I haven’t had cable TV in over two years now.

Yup, I switched to Netflix a while back since I realized I really didn’t watch a whole lot on cable and if there was a series I really felt inclined to watch, I could find it online through the official network’s website (usually). I’ve also made good use of the local library systems and kind friends. Does anyone still watch TV? Really?

As I’ve not now nor ever watched MTV or Sci-Fi (Sy-Fy), I can’t for the life of me say what either debater should have said this week, so I’ll just say that MTV was the clear victor and leave it at that. Worse still, I haven’t watched enough TV to really learn to get disappointed by a particular channel since I stayed mostly to the basic channels and the evergreen winners (Nick, Cartoon Network, Comedy Central, Discovery). My obvious choice would be something that others have already mentioned, but remember, I’m not supposed to talk about video games, even if the channel doesn’t even have content about video games.

No, I’d rather touch on the disappointment I felt not from a channel, but a block of programming on a specific channel: Why did Toonami fall so hard? A lot of viewers are going to be quick to disagree with me and they may actually be right to do so, but for me, the end of Toonami’s life seemed like a very sad shade of a once-great couple of hours devoted to anime.

I remember first getting hooked with our good friend Dragon Ball Z, watching every afternoon at 5 p.m. even if I’d already seen the episodes because it was just that great. Then I started to notice some of the other shows as well. Sailor Moon? Okay, weird but whatever. Gundam Wing? Yeah, that’s kind of cool. Outlaw Star? Yes, keep ’em coming. Big O? YES!

Every time Tom did some sort of event where he’d die and get a new body was some of the most hands down awesome moments of television for me, and these segments weren’t even an actual TV show. I was elated when Toonami spread wider and wider, and I’d even catch the Midnight Run on occasion, never forgetting the powerful effect the one animated music video night had on me (it’s why I listen to Daft Punk and Gorillaz now). Hell, even their two soundtracks, one official and one that you should download right now (The Blackhole Megamix) justify Toomani’s existence by themselves.

But then something sort of started to crumble. Toonami got shorter and more American cartoons started sneaking on, like Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack, and Batman: The Animated Series. These weren’t bad shows, but Toonami was supposed to be all about anime, you know? I point a lot of the blame on Dragon Ball Z finally ending its run, but that’s just speculation (that happens to be true). I know it’s back now, or something like that, but I have no clue to what extent. I heard that Cartoon Network as a whole is slumping fast, save for some excellent shows on Adult Swim (a valid replacement for the Midnight Run by the way), but Toonami is just too far gone for me at this point.

And all that rambling just to tell you that I don’t watch TV channels anymore.


Kyle: My chief gripe with MTV doesn’t come from the stupid crap they air on a daily basis. Fact is, every cable network from my youth has taken a headlong flight into reality TV and they should all be ashamed.

No, my big problem with MTV and why I stand by my victory on Thursday … this network used to mean something! The same way Harley Davidson used to stand for biker attitude (and now has much more to do with t-shirts and theme restaurants), MTV used to stand for the new generation, whichever one that may be.

When it first launched, people my dad’s age treated it with reverence, i.e. “Finally, my music has a place on television.” When he was growing up, the music played on TV was extremely limited. It was mostly Lawrence Welk and Guy Lombardo.

Then came my generation, the first (and really the only) to be raised on MTV. From early childhood, I was taught what music was hip, what style clothing was in, and what type of rude humor that Mike Judge could get away with. I was also taught that MTV was the place on television for the alternative young folk. Kurt Cobain and Flea were my babysitters.

For both generations, the descent into madness popped up around 1999 when Tom Green and Jackass turned the channel into Music (Sometimes) Television (Kinda). Suddenly there were more stunts and pranks and gross-out stuff invading the network. Some embraced it, most got pissed and started watching VH1.

It just got worse from there.

If I could put a nail in the coffin of this debate, it would be that MTV paved the way for crappy television over ten years ago. Sci-Fi/Syfy is merely catching up to it now. And doing a half-assed job of catching up.

SyFy isn’t a crappy channel for showing wrestling and dodgy monster movies. SyFy is crap because it abandoned its format in favor of cheaper programming to keep it afloat. Well, going by that, every television network has done the same. And at least SyFy tries to stick to science fiction for the most part.

But only MTV has raised the idea of abandoning their format to an art form. And they did it much quicker than any other channel.

Except G4. But that’s a whole other episode, because G4 abandoned their gamer/nerd format immediately because some poor stooge didn’t realize that nerds/gamers don’t watch crappy cable TV. They watch quality internet content on The Escapist. And occasionally No Right Answer.


Dan: As Chris so eloquently and attractively illustrated earlier in this article, television is no longer the only bag in town. This is good news for everyone other than the cable companies, due to a reemergence of a market that disappeared once television overtook radio as the go-to entertainment at home. If you want to watch your favorite shows, you no longer have to buy literally hundreds of channels of junk just to grab the few gems that make you smile. One would hope that the cable networks would take this as a challenge, justifying their skyrocketing costs by putting forth better shows. Our debate last week focused on the sad other side of the coin, the other choice that stations had. Fire everyone who is recognizable as talent, fire everyone who writes thoughtful entertaining scripts and film idiots being idiots. I guess these stations hope it takes one to know one.

And, as Chris’ hands are tied on the subject, we didn’t pick G4 because the debate was on quality that existed and then was extinguished. G4 had potential but never did anything good. Ever. Oh G4, maybe if you had something to break up your 6 hours of COPS, then I would treat you with respect.

First point got snatched up by Kyle, that red brawler, by the easiest argument in his arsenal: Music Television doesn’t have music on television anymore. Not only that, but the reality shows that they transitioned to aren’t even there anymore. That’s twice removed from what they insist we keep calling them, music television. Generation X, or the generation that ruined the economy for us generation Y’ers, were defined by the music videos that aired on MTV and MTV defined what good music videos were. Bringing back Beavis and Butthead is not quite what we were asking for guys.

I pulled out of the gate with the sad fact that the SyFy channel (It still hurts me to type that) used to have quality programming as a rule. You could sit down, watch Stargate SG1, flow into Farscape, followed by The Invisible Man, The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne … it was just wonderful on a stick. Many people defended the station’s current offerings with Eureka and Warehouse 13 as examples of good shows still being produced, but Eureka was just cancelled, and how long do you really think Warehouse 13 is going to last, when it would be so much cheaper to just rerun WWE Raw? Or find some other hobo who’s willing to pretend he saw a ghost at 2 in the morning. I wish they didn’t cancel Stargate Universe.

People emulate the idiots on MTV. This is sad, but it’s also the reason why Kyle got the next point. There are shirts, internet memes, shows that are spin-offs of other shows … it just doesn’t stop. The worst part is that Syfy bad programming is thought of as nerd garbage, where as MTV bad programming gets you spots on celebrity roasts, clips shown on Talk Soup, and people who don’t even watch TV knowing who’s dating whom. MTV has some long, blank tentacles in everyone’s soup.

As a quick aside, many people have commented on my KFC theory on why Syfy changed their name. Notice I didn’t get a point for that argument.

Kyle pulled into the lead with the wild card that is the MTV library of crap. MTV has a slew of sibling stations that were supposed to serve as a compartmentalization of their programming. This, much like my goal of not gaining weight as a stay-at-home dad, went horribly awry. Since the point of MTV is no longer music, all the other stations forgot what the “M” stood for and just played the reality shows on a time-delay. If Syfy channel had supplemental stations, they would probably have a station that played nothing but ghost hunting shows. They don’t though, so Kyle got the point.

I got one more point with the secret excrement weapon in my corner, which was Syfy channel original movies. As a film maker myself, I get personally insulted watching those war crime movies and knowing someone got a budget to make them. The acting is sub-par, the CGI is perplexingly bad and the plots are just plain random. The fact that this is the same station that put out the new Battlestar Galactica, and turned a small Kurt Russell movie into a multi-series, multi-million dollar franchise makes me sad.

Kyle got a drinking point with the argument that MTV used to be the judge of cool. That’s the only reason people know who “The Situation” is now. MTV is known as the cool station, the one you want to advertise on if you want to reach the kids. Even though the programming has suffered, they are still coasting on their fame from when they validly wore the cool jacket. Syfy hasn’t really affected culture this way, and judging by current programming, they never will.

Even though I couldn’t catch up at this point, I went out swinging. Here is the summation of my final argument. If the Syfy Channel still held fast to the same ideals it started out with, they would have saved Firefly from Fox and it would still be on the air today. Deal with that truth.

About the author

Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.