Demise of History Well Ahead of Schedule

Network Continues Putting Ratings Ahead of Substance

by J. M. Pressley
First published: March 22, 2010

Nancy Dubuc continues to transform History (formerly the History Channel) into yet another reality network.

A mere 18 months ago, I predicted that the History Channel under the leadership of Nancy Dubuc would soon be unrecognizable to its traditional audience. I cited Ms. Dubuc's track record at A&E (Growing Up Gotti, Gene Simmons Family Jewels, Dog the Bounty Hunter) as the chief example of why that audience would be at first ignored and then alienated. "History will be another A&E within the next few years at this rate," was what I wrote in September of 2008.

It didn't even take that long.

Ms. Dubuc began with greenlighting series such as Ice Road Truckers and Ax Men. Defenders of the current regime point to two straight years of record viewership and bringing the median viewing age down from 52 to 48—precisely the strategy she used with A&E when she took over programming at that network.

What makes it all the more hypocritical are the statements Ms. Dubuc made upon taking the reins at History. Specifically, she stated that the History Channel brand wasn't broken and that she had a responsibility to preserve the integrity—and traditional audience—while expanding the network's reach.

In contrast, Ms. Dubuc's tenure has produced ever-increasing reliance upon reality, vocational, and paranormal series. The net result has been to knuckle under to imitative trends and a rapidly lowering common denominator. One need look no further than the evening programming for this week to see that the bleak future is now at History (all times Eastern PM).

Sunday, 3/14/2010 Monday, 3/15/2010
7:00
8:00
9:00
10:00
11:00
Ax Men
American Pickers
Ax Men
Ax Men
Madhouse
7:00
8:00
8:30
9:00
10:00
10:30
11:00
American Pickers
Pawn Stars
Pawn Stars
American Pickers
Pawn Stars
Pawn Stars
American Pickers
 
Tuesday, 3/16/2010 Wednesday, 3/17/2010
7:00
8:00
10:00
11:00
Modern Marvels
Samurai
Life After People
Mega Disasters
7:00
8:00
9:00
10:00
11:00
MonsterQuest
MonsterQuest
MonsterQuest
Ax Men
Modern Marvels
 
Thursday, 3/18/2010 Friday, 3/19/2010
7:00
8:00
9:00
10:00
11:00
Modern Marvels
Modern Marvels
All You Can Eat
American Pickers
Shockwave
7:00
8:00
9:00
10:00
11:00
Gangland
Gangland
Gangland
Gangland
Madhouse
 
Saturday, 3/20/2010
7:00
8:00
10:00
Modern Marvels
Jesse James' Hidden Treasure
Crime Wave: 18 Months of Mayhem

According to History's own schedule, there is a grand total of six hours' worth of traditional history programming aired this week out of a possible 35 hours of evening television. That's 17% of the schedule. Reality series (American Pickers, Ax Men, Madhouse, Pawn Stars, and Shockwave), on the other hand, constitute 14 hours (40%) of the schedule. Gangland and MonsterQuest account for another seven hours (20%) of dubious historical value.

The programming speaks volumes about the current priorities at History. Ms. Dubuc has pandered for cheap ratings and ad revenue. The rationalization for this is given in network corporate-speak: "You have to recognize what audiences are consuming. At its heart, we're still telling historical stories...we're just telling them in a more innovative way...[these series are] the next iteration of documentary storytelling." (LA Times)

It would seem that History as a network is at the tipping point. The current leadership is eager to remake History in the same vein as A&E, Bravo, and The Learning Channel—all of which devolved radically from their original mission statements. For the network executives, there is no longer a place for educational programming in a commercial environment. For the audience being left behind, there is only the chance to voice your dissent.

Feel free to tell Ms. Dubuc what you think of her brand of storytelling.

Nancy Dubuc
Executive VP/General Manager, History
A&E Television Networks
235 East 45th Street
New York, NY 10017

Telephone: 212-210-1340 (Viewer Relations)
E-mail: nancy.dubuc@aetn.com

Sources

History.com, Wikipedia, Los Angeles Times, Remaking History, History Channel Abandons History in Favor of Ratings