From Soviets to Sharks: How Seven TV Channels Changed Their Identities

By: 05.18.11  •  52 Comments

The face of Spike TV, before reruns of CSI

Much like the claim that “Saturday Night Live” and “The Simpsons” aren’t as good as they used to be, complaining about MTV’s transition from round-the-clock music videos to “Jersey Shore” has gone from legitimate gripe to tired cliché. Yes, it kind of sucks, but networks have to evolve, and sometimes — often, actually — that can be a good thing (it can also be terrible, but usually, good!) Below are seven examples of major American channels that began as one idea before eventually changing into something completely different.

Don’t worry, it involves communists and boobs.

Discovery Channel, without Sharks—Discovery Channel, with Sharks

Now, I’m not saying the Discovery Channel is led by communists. What I am saying, however, is that it once was. Proof: when Discovery launched in 1985, they filled a good chunk of their schedule with Soviet programming, “most of it untranslated but with explanatory textual crawls,” according to Time. “Only the nightly news show ‘Vremya’ will be delayed, subtitled and shown during the U.S. evening hours.” Three years later, they began to show some honest, wholesome, God-fearing entertainment: “World Monitor,” produced by the Christian Science Monitor. Oh, and Shark Week.

Pinwheel—Nickelodeon

Before “iCarly,” before “CatDog,” before even “Salute Your Shorts,” Nick was, well, it wasn’t Nick. The network began as Pinwheel in 1979 (the name “Nickelodeon” would come in 1981) and quickly filled its lineup with “Pop Clips,” which showed music videos even before MTV did; sketch show “You Can’t Do That on Television” (the first use of green slime on Nick); and “Livewire,” a kids talk show that also featured performances from bands before they hit it big, like Murmur-era R.E.M. in 1983. In those early years, Nick did a little bit of everything, and wouldn’t settle into a specific vision until 1985—”Double Dare” would follow a year later.

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