It looks like all of us here at Optimism Vaccine are masochistic savages who genuinely enjoy hate-watching things (except for that time we wrote a sweet piece about the greatest band of time, Tears for Fears. AMIRITE?). It's super fun. In this vein, I've decided to do my civic, American duty and watch a cable television channel and yell my opinions about it over the internet. For this series, I'll watch a TV network for a week and analyze its shows, commercials (who watches this horseshit and is marketed to), syndicated movies and tv licenses (IF ANY).
This week, it's the WE network.
Let's all go back to the year 1997. I'm sure we all remember Hong Kong returning to Chinese rule or Mike Tyson biting Evander Holyfield's ear off. But what most of us don't remember is that the gods themselves decided to punish women. As we all know, this sort of thing happens in threes. So let me show you the totally circumstantial, unrelated, unconstitutionally speculative evidence. First, Princess Diana was killed in a car crash by the illuminati. Second, Mother Teresa died, apparently of natural causes. Now, two famous women dying isn't a big deal until you realize that in that same year, something called 'Romance Classics' came on the air. It would soon transmogrify into what we think of today as the WE network.
Romance Classics started off as a channel geared toward 'matters of the heart' entertainment. It was a spinoff of early AMC, which basically means that it was an incredibly low end HBO for cable. So, no gay prison dramas or murderous James Gandolfinis. Instead, they showed "Emma", "Sense and Sensibility", and "Pillow Talk" with Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Kate McEnroe, director of the AMC and successful executive, called the network a place where "women can escape into their dreams." Not professional dreams, just the ones where you are swept off your feet by Rock Hudson.
Then, the levee broke. Before 2000, Romance Classics only had to compete with its rival (and future subject for this series, if I don't get bored first), The Lifetime Network. Lifetime was the Superman to Romance Classics' Cat Grant. In February 2000, NBC and Oprah dropped the collective hammer and launched the Oxygen Network with enough hype to suffocate a media story about a gay affair between Lance Armstrong and Manti Te'o.
That was the last straw. Let me tell you something, reader. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY fucks with Kate McEnroe. Romance Classics rebranded itself as the WE network, with the slogan, "Life as WE know it". "Eat a turd, Oprah Winfrey!," they seemed to say. K-mac pulled out all the stops and brought in such female icons as Cindy Crawford, Vanessa Williams, and this lady. Thus was born the grotesque monster that is the WE network (not to be confused with the other grotesque monster, the E! network).
In my background for this, I looked up TV shows that have been on the WE network since 2001. I had to figure out what kind of programming they had. What I found was horrifying. Rather than tell you, I'm going to assume you're a savvy enough internet user to google it yourself. If, somehow, you're not, let me be the first to say hello! I am a Nigerian prince and would like lots of money from you for some reason. Let's play a game called "Which of these is a fake defunct WE network show?"
America's Cutest Puppies
Rich Bride Poor Bride
Sinbad: It's Just Family.
Give up? All of these are real. Even the Sinbad one.
Even the Sinbad one.
I first switched on WE last Saturday afternoon, in the middle of a 'Joan and Melissa: Joan knows best?" marathon. This is a show which, as far as I can tell, is just Joan Rivers belittling her daughter in different locations. This particular one involved them being in London and one of their (presumably gay) friends bombing in front of an audience with the absolute worst jokes I have ever heard. Nothing he was doing was connecting and it seemed like an incredible farce. It was, however, the perfect setup for the rest of the time watching this network.
Here are my grades.
The aforementioned Joan and Melissa Rivers show is one of their centerpieces. Joan Rivers is a comedy legend and she has a few moments, but the show as a whole is more contrived than Scott Peterson's alibi.
It is 'Mad Men' compared to the other flagship show, 'Braxton Family Values', which headlines their prime time programming. This gem of a show revolves around Toni Braxton (still hot!) and her unconstitutionally untalented sisters Traci ('The Wild-Card'), Tamar ('The Diva'), Trina ('The Party Girl') and Towanda ('The Responsible One'). Please note that these nicknames are shown in the show whenever they're introduced. They all claim to be talented singers and actresses, which I totally believe since Towanda 'studied music education at the prestigious Bowie State University' (just like Mozart). Meanwhile, Traci's bio claims, "She is a talented writer and singer, and is a genuine people person. She contributed much of her adult life to social work for children with disabilities." Much of her adult life, you say? I guess if I was a talented writer and singer, my day would also open up and I could spend MUCH OF MY ADULT LIFE helping children with disabilities.
It's an hour-long show, but watching it is still like watching the pitch drop experiment. The episode I saw revolves around the sisters going to Italy and generally giving Americans a bad name. The relevant quote for you, lovely reader, is Trina saying, "We all know Towanda is obsessed with penises. But uncircumcised penises? We need to find this out." Oh, and what's this? Tamar has a live performance on The Wendy Williams Show? Oh, goody. We'll finally get to see her sing!
I take it back, you guys. That was beautiful. Such great lyrics. Nothing's ever touched me so closely. My favorite line was, "Smtamaliaka oooo asjasunama/ Kearatasooo kleyala". But at least this guy loved it.
The B-roll of shows include 'My Fair Wedding with David Tutera, about a flamboyant guy lobbing barbs at brides in different locations and scenarios, 'Kendra on Top', about a former playboy bunny and her husband, former Eagles special teams ace and career 1000 yard receiver, Hank Baskett, something called 'Secret Lives of Women', and the James Harden of shows about rampaging brides, 'Bridezillas'. I did not watch that show because I enjoy my sanity.
Overall programming grade: C
Nothing special here. Just a lot of beauty products, anti-depression medication, household items (laundry detergent, soap, etc) and way too many filler commercials for other shows on the same network (and often, for new episodes of the same show I was currently watching). There was one surprise, however, with a small, but significant subset of horrifying commercials that subtly suggested abandoning one's family and becoming some kind of sex monster. I wish I could find it on youtube. The infomercials are what you'd expect: Insanity workout, Total Gym, and...what's this? Something that's just called 'Muffin Top'. I'm horrified and intrigued. Not intrigued enough to watch it, though.
But, they know their audience. There are a lot of guys who look like Fabio. I mean, A LOT.
Overall commercial grade: B
You've got your Roseanne (obviously), you've got your Ghost Whisperer, you've got your Charmed. These are all shows that solidify the message that strong lady protagonists is where it's at. Exactly what you'd expect, solid syndication deal, albeit a little boring. I guess the grade for this is going to be a....
....Hang on a minute.
Oh. My. God. There is a marathon. Of this.
There are no movies, not even ones starring Rock Hudson. But they've got Horatio. A bold move, because that show is all about killing female employees in various service industries. Nice move, K-Mac.
Overall syndication grade: A+