The end of niche channels



The AMC network is known for producing slow-moving — but tense – character shows,pieces that explore the nature of duty and masculinity. They can be ponderous,but they’re never short of critical acclaim. AMC gave us Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Rubicon.

Now, they give us Hell on Wheels, a sort of silly Western drama,which, for all its dopey fun, is not a slow-moving character piece. Itfeels more at place on Showtime, for example. It’s a far cry fromMad Men. But then again, so is Walking Dead, which strugglesto imbue any character with personality. Same with The Killing — purported to be a think-piece about a murder, but actually a CBS proceduralepisode stretched out over more than one season.

AMC’s brand — its reputation — has become increasingly diluted.

But so it is with all channels. Over time, on almost any channel,niche becomes broad. MTV moves away from music television. The Sci-Fi channeladds wrestling. HBO adds airhead comedy. The History channel adds a healthydollop of unhistory. Cinemax adds sort-of-respectable drama. Oncetargeted at a specific audience, television channels almost always move toresemble, well, each other.

The reason makes sense, of course. Niche channels have niche audiences. Toexpand beyond that, they need new audiences.

When a great channel adds an unlikely quality show — ABC Family withHuge or The Middleman, say — that can be an exciting thing.But what niche channels did was protect certain channels from chasing the fadsthat tend to consume television.

The monolithic focus of the channel, ironically, ensured diversity of thetelevision landscape.