History Channel Abandons History in Favor of Ratings

Viewership Up, Standards Down

by J. M. Pressley
First published: September 9, 2008

Under the leadership of Nancy Dubuc, the programming at History (formerly known as The History Channel) is trading its reputation for a new audience.

The History Channel (or "History," since it hipped up its name this spring) has been in a none-too-subtle transition since 2007 when Nancy Dubuc assumed the leadership role of the network. For those to whom the name is unfamiliar, Ms. Dubuc rose from History's programming director to vice president of development for A&E networks before moving back to History in her current position.

In the time that Ms. Dubuc has been impacting programming on either History or A&E, she has overseen many changes in both networks. Most of those changes pertain to one goal—shifting the viewership to a much younger audience. For an example of Ms. Dubuc's handiwork, one need only look back to A&E before her arrival (when it was still "Arts & Entertainment") in contrast with the programming since.

Under her watch, A&E went from featuring a mix of fine arts, documentaries, and original literary screen adaptations to a pastiche of reality series shamelessly pandering to the lowest common denominator. Ms. Dubuc was the driving force behind this effort. It was her leadership that gave the greenlight to Airline, Family Plots, Growing Up Gotti, Gene Simmons Family Jewels, and Dog the Bounty Hunter, among others. A&E by the end of Ms. Dubuc's tenure had utterly devolved into a jaded reality freak show on parade.

Having been a fan of History Channel since its inception in 1995, I was leery when the first press releases announced her move back to the network. While A&E was busy doing the programming equivalent of a pole dance, History was at least nominally sticking to its original mission. It had at least outlived its erstwhile reputation as "The Hitler Channel" as it morphed into "The Engineering and Technical History Channel" for a time instead. The news of Ms. Dubuc's promotion made me—and many longtime History Channel viewers—more than a little concerned given her penchant for reality-based shows.

In Ms. Dubuc's defense, she has championed several projects that are worthy of praise for both their content and production values. The Universe is one such series, Jurassic Fight Club is an interesting new twist on an old concept, and Cities of the Underworld is usually fascinating. Recent vintage specials such as The Little Ice Age: Big Chill, China's First Emperor, and Life after People have been deservedly critical and popular successes.

However, most former fans of the channel have been justified in their fears. In her short tenure, Ms. Dubuc has also been quick to introduce reality series including Ice Road Truckers, Ax Men, Tougher in Alaska, Shockwave, UFO Hunters, and the latest vocational show posing as history, Sandhogs. The transformation is already underway. Bolstered by cheaply bought ratings, the current regime will continue to justify trading lower standards for viewership.

Ms. Dubuc claimed that she would preserve the brand's integrity when she came on board. The evidence says otherwise. History will be another A&E within the next few years at this rate.

If by any chance there are those of you who also find yourselves disappointed with the direction in which History's programming is headed, please take a moment to contact Ms. Dubuc and A&E Television Networks—let your displeasure be heard. Silence will be taken for acquiescence; you will only get the kind of programming you demand by demanding it.

Contact Info
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)
Web Contact: http://www.history.com/global/feedback/index.jsp?NetwCode=THC