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Golden oldies getting new life on niche networks such as MeTV

Posted 12:00am on Saturday, Jul. 05, 2014

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. In fact, fans have such voracious appetites for their favorite first-run shows that binge-watching has become the new national passion.

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 broadcast/cable networks have popped up in recent years to satisfy those with a bad case of deja-view, 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 extremely popular, too, 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. In fact, there are so many choices that 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 the baby-boomer crowd — although the audience is surprisingly diverse.

It makes great business sense to air old TV series, because reruns are a form of economical programming. 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

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

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 hourlong 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

INSP describes its programming as “lunge-free TV; if there are any children and grandchildren in the room, you don’t 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 the 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.”

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