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This week, all of the broadcast networks (and then some) are putting their future schedules in full view for the advertiser upfronts, and we’re ecstatic to see what everything looks like. But while we wait, why not throw some love to the channels higher up on the dial that we tune into for more than just primetime and local news?
We’ve culled together several lifetime’s worth of TV viewing, put all the data into a giant 1980s computer, and out popped a list of the 10 greatest cable channels of these modern times. It may not be the most Science Channel way of going about it, but we at least explain our choices. Now somebody keep a lookout to make sure Chip “Cable Guy” Douglas isn’t around to read this, or he’ll be here all day.
10. Comedy CentralWhat’s Great: The Daily Show, South Park, Key & Peele
What’s Not So Great: The numerous and forgettable one-season-and-done shows, Most of the movies
Overall Thoughts: Though the impending retirement of Jon Stewart will take away the network’s most well-known mascot, it’s hard to argue that the current programming is top-notch is most cases, with the above-mentioned shows strengthened by Inside Amy Schumer, Broad City, Drunk History, and tons of stand-up specials. When the longest-lasting scripted program on your channel is Workaholics, you know you’re schmokin’ with fire.
9. Fox NewsWhat’s Great: Megyn Kelly, Red Eye, No Nancy Grace
What’s Not So Great: Everything else if you’re even slightly liberal, Repetitive nature that plagues all 24-hour news channels
Overall Thoughts: A right-winger’s televised wet dream, Fox News is filled with talking heads that are entertaining to watch regardless of where you stand on their viewpoints, and the high quality production value is always easy on the eyes. If you can’t get excited watching Bill O’Reilly in the middle of a feud with someone, check your pulse.
8. HGTVWhat’s Great: Ellen’s Design Challenge, House Hunters, All those houses!
What’s Not So Great: All that jealousy it inspires, The annoying hosts
Overall Thoughts: The ultimate “put something on while doing something else” network, HGTV has a smorgasbord of series that will inspire around-the-house projects and dreams of your home’s future. It’s like window shopping through some of the prettiest neighborhoods in the country/world. So what if some of it is fake? My desires for 2,000 square foot decks are real.
7. HistoryWhat’s Great: The Bible, Vikings, Shows about actual history
What’s Not So Great: Ancient Aliens and other garbage conspiracy theory programs, Reality series
Overall Thoughts: Once H2 became a thing and brought more focus to history-based series, History proper latched onto shows about monsters, Pawn Stars and other pseudo-educational topics. Perhaps now that Vice is taking over H2, History will return to its glory days, but with more badass original shows like Vikings.
6. TNTWhat’s Great: The Last Ship, Murder in the First, NBA Basketball
What’s Not So Great: Boring unscripted series, Repetitive movie slate
Overall Thoughts: TNT is certainly coming into its own as far as original programming goes, with more genre fare like The Librarians and the upcoming superhero show Titans. Plus, it’s got all the procedural repeats you can handle, with shows like Law & Order and Castle. Plus, sometimes the movies it repeats are indeed great movies.
5. AMCWhat’s Great: Better Call Saul, Mad Men, The Walking Dead
What’s Not So Great: No more Breaking Bad forever
Overall Thoughts: When you get right down to it, AMC is as good as it gets for a cable channel, with top-tier original programming – add Hell on Wheels to that – and a very promising upcoming slate of shows. (Preacher!) Plus, they’ve scrapped most of their pointless reality shows, and their FearFest lineup every Halloween is always a treat.
4. StarzWhat’s Great: Black Sails, The Missing, Spartacus repeats
What’s Not So Great: Subscription-based
Overall Thoughts: When you add Power, Outlander and the always stellar movie lineup to the list, it’s hard to fault Starz for anything but arguably too few original series. Oh, what’s that? They have Ash vs. Evil Dead and American Gods coming? Never mind, then. Starz is amazing.
3. FXWhat’s Great: American Horror Story, The Americans, Louie
What’s Not So Great: The loss of Sons of Anarchy and Justified
Overall Thoughts: FX does drama extremely well – add Fargo and Tyrant to the list above – and their comedies are just as excellent; Archer features some of the smartest writing on TV. (If only FXX hadn’t become a thing and taken It’s Always Sunny…) The upcoming lineup, including Kurt Sutter’s The Bastard Executioner and American Crime Story, should only help to make things better.
2. HBOWhat’s Great: Game of Thrones, True Detective, Veep
What’s Not So Great: Only airing original series on Sunday night, Subscription-based
Overall Thoughts: With a stocked upcoming slate that includes Westworld and The Brink, HBO has more than enough series to spread throughout the week, rather than hoarding the end of the weekend. But then that’s where repeats go, I guess. Thankfully, there are still more than enough movies and Vice episodes to keep things interesting during the daily grind. Plus, HBO Now gives non-subscribers a chance to check things out.
1. ESPNWhat’s Great: Monday Night Football, 30 for 30, All other sports stuff
What’s Not So Great: Repetitive programming, Bill Simmons’ retirement, It could use a scripted series or two
Overall Thoughts: Another channel that, assuming one doesn’t hate all sports equally, could be left on the TV for an entire day while things get done around the house. ESPN isn’t quite as mind-bogglingly in-depth as sports-specific channels like NFL Network, and covers damned near any game on the planet, even poker and bowling. Sportscenter’s Top 10 and Not Top 10 should be required daily viewing for everyone.
Honorable Mentions: H2, Showtime, USA, Syfy, FXX