Insight. Antics.

What’s All The Hub(bub)?

In Television on December 12, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Oh my God, I love The Hub. It’s only two months old, but it’s already a fixture of my TV diet.

What is The Hub?  It’s a new cable channel that plays all these shows from back in the day.

If you’re like me, you probably didn’t even realize you were longing for Doogie Howser and Wonder Years reruns, but you were. Or Fraggle Rock! Man, that Muppet-derived funfest takes me back. Seriously, has Fraggle Rock even been on American TV since it aired on HBO in the 80s? And, in the premiere of Doogie, Neil Patrick Harris throws his driving test to speed to the scene of an accident, push a cop away, and fix some dude’s leg. You can’t make this stuff up, though I guess Steven Bochco and David E. Kelley did in 1989.

What else? Family Ties, which New York magazine also noticed. (Seriously, the writers of their Approval Matrix and I have algorithmically similar tastes in cultural consumption.) There are also a few shows from before my time like Laverne & Shirley, the original 60s “Pow! Kaboom!” Batman, and Happy Days. Then again, who doesn’t know the Fonz?

Sure, some of this stuff may be on Hulu or iTunes, but you are less likely to know it’s there and seek it out than stumble on it on TV.

Oh, and there are cartoons. Now, I am a multifaceted fella, who is just as game for discussing tax policy or the wines of Australia as he is for debating your favorite Voltron lion. So, with that in mind, Hub’s got G.I. Joe, which wasn’t really my forté, but it’s there for you. Or, if old-school Batman is not your thing, there’s Batman Beyond, an underrated futuristic reimagining from the late 90s.

But The Hub’s series de résistance is clearly the original Transformers. It was definitely the most formative cartoon of my childhood. And by formative I mean, it made me want to aspire to become a truck when I grew up.

Watching it decades after its first run has afforded me some fascinating revelations. For one, there was an absolutely devious brilliance to Transformers’ tandem cartoon-and-toy marketing strategy. We would see new characters on the show and want them. Watch-and-buy, watch-and-buy. (Or at least our parents would.) I realize between me, my brother, and our friends we literally had every action figure.

I also see that in ways both good and bad, the eyes of a child look over all the imperfections in animation or holes in story, and just loves. (Also, for some reason, Transformers co-opts a bunch of Star Wars sounds.)

Plus, seeing Transformers 25 years later gives me a new found respect for the Decepticons. When you think about it, they were really just misunderstood. Their relentless quest for Energon was actually an early embrace of alternative energy. It’s too bad we didn’t see it then! They were ahead of their time.

All of these shows, cartoon and live-action alike, show how far we have come, and haven’t. The diversity of characters on TV today is terrific. But some of the same ideas that seemed far-off then still feel elusive now. One episode of Transformers revolves around this advanced solar energy plant, for instance. We haven’t quite cracked the code on that one.

So, who is behind this new network?

The Hub was created to replace the Discovery Kids channel. It’s a joint venture between Discovery Communications and Hasbro, able to reach about 60 million U.S. households from day one. And it did well right out of the gate, measurably better than its predecessor, in fact. The day it launched it was the top co-viewed channel on TV. What is co-viewed? It means when an adult is watching with a child. As a spouseless stay-at-home dad sans toddler, I bucked the trend.

But I don’t care what Wikipedia says about how the programming is “primarily aimed at children ages 6–12.” I don’t fit into The Hub’s target demographic and yet I feel quite comfortable watching it.

Don’t get me wrong, I like plenty of current quality programming: i.e. Mad Men, 30 Rock, Rubicon, Modern Family. And Sherlock on PBS is probably the best thing I have seen this year. But I also have a voracious appetite for some nostalgic shows of yesteryear. Besides, let’s face it, if they really wanted 9-year-olds to watch, they wouldn’t put this stuff on at midnight.

In actuality, the programs I’ve mentioned really fit into a kind of refurbished Nick at Nite lineup for The Hub. The pre-teen demographic is served by the new content they air in the mornings and on weekends, or the original game shows they put on in the evening for kids to watch with their parents. In other words, the Nickelodeon stuff.

I guess I’ve at least matured past that.

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