Television is amid a golden age thanks to such series as “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “Homeland,” “True Detective,” “Fargo” and “Orange Is the New Black.”
But there are many viewers who prefer the golden oldies. And even the most savvy, sophisticated TV viewer can hunger for the small-screen equivalent of a giant hot fudge sundae and will take a break from the murder, mayhem and darkness of contemporary series to indulge in a childhood favorite.
Several networks have popped up in recent years to satisfy those viewers, including MeTV, Antenna TV, INSP and Cozi TV.
Of course, veteran nostalgia networks Nick at Nite, which began nearly 30 years ago, and spinoff TV Land are still popular, though in recent years they have ventured into original programming with such shows as TV Land’s hit sitcom “Hot in Cleveland.”
Other networks, including Hallmark, UP, TV One, WE tv, Logo, Encore Classic and Encore Black also are serving up vintage shows. With so many choices, fans barely have to watch anything made in recent decades. The proliferation of these networks is evidence of America’s deep well of nostalgia for older programs, particularly among baby boomers – although the audience is surprisingly diverse.
Loving a bargain
It makes great business sense to air old TV series, because reruns are economical. And since “I Love Lucy” aired the first repeat more than 60 years ago, “the rerun has been a driving force of the industry,” said Ron Simon, curator at the Paley Center for Media in New York. “There has always been an aesthetic and monetary importance to rerunning older shows.”
MeTV began in Chicago in 2005 and went national four years ago. The network has something for everyone – classic comedies including “M*A*S*H,” “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Honeymooners,” dramatic series such as “Columbo,” “The Naked City” and “The Fugitive,” favorite Westerns such as “Gunsmoke,” “Wanted: Dead or Alive” and “The Rifleman,” and popular sci-fi adventures such as “Star Trek.”
“We weren’t going to do the network at all unless we had a credible, deep library of shows and genres,” said Neal Sabin, vice chairman for Chicago-based Weigel Broadcasting, which owns MeTV. “We have a wide spectrum of different genres of shows. We have over 100 shows in our library and have over 60 of them on the air right now.”
Antenna TV launched three years ago. “We went out and personally picked television shows that hadn’t had a lot of exposure in 20 years,” said Sean Compton, Tribune Broadcasting’s president of strategic programming and acquisition.
Though Antenna does air a few hour-long dramas including “It Takes a Thief,” anthologies such as “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and feature films, Compton said the network has distinguished itself as the destination for half-hour comedies.
“You know if you want to see Christmas episodes on Christmas Day, we’re there, and on Halloween we run ‘Bewitched,’ and the day before Halloween we run ‘Alfred Hitchcock’ and call it ‘Hitchoween,’” Compton noted. “We have all kinds of stunt programming. We have a lot of comfort food shows like ‘Three’s Company,’ ‘Good Times’ and ‘Sanford and Son.’ ‘Bewitched’ is by far the most popular show on the network.”
INSP describes its programming as “lunge-free TV; if there are any children and grandchildren in the room, you don’ have to lunge for your remote,” said Doug Butts, senior vice president of programming for the network based in Indian Land, S.C.
Before the network rebranded in 2010, INSP was known as the Inspiration Network. “We were 24/7 Christian TV,” said Butts.
Though there’s still religious programming on the network, the lineup mainly consists of such series as “JAG,” “Christy,” “The Waltons” – INSP is the only network airing the drama series in high-definition – “Matlock,” “Little House on the Prairie,” “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” and a Saturday block of Westerns: “Bonanza,” “The High Chaparral,” “The Big Valley” and “The Virginian.”
“I wanted to focus on families and shows that centered around families,” said Butts. “We find our viewers not only watch us, but they repeatedly come back.”
And though these networks generally skew to an older demographic, Simon noted that a whole new generation of viewers is enjoying the golden oldies.
“There will be some who become obsessed and want to know everything about the series,” said Simon.
“We have someone working for us who just graduated from Fordham University who knows more about ‘I Love Lucy’ than anybody I know. He just grew up with it.”