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When a new TV network launches, people don’t just start watching it — those channels need to also launch with in-house shows. They’re like video game consoles — you need that one (or more) killer game to get people to buy the system. Reality shows rarely work, and launching with a (cheap to make) Daily Show-style comedy news program is rarely the ticket. No, the way to do it is some serious scripted drama and/or comedies. Check out some examples that really helped build up new TV networks!

 

Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Adult Swim

While it isn’t technically a network, late night programming block Adult Swim was a major piece in shoring up its popularity and success for Cartoon Network. Launching a bunch of weird adult cartoons to establish their “cool kid” cred might have crashed and burned if they hadn’t been so weird, and Aqua Teen Hunger Force was both real weirdand real popular. I don’t know if any of you guys remember how big this show was, but the adventures of a meatball, milkshake, and box of fries somehow captured America’s interest. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that it was on at a time of night when everyone watching TV was stoned.

 

The Sopranos, HBO

(This is literally the only clip I could find that didn’t have excessive violence or swearing in it)

The Sopranos destroyed pay cable television — it won all the Emmys for years, and was an impossibly big critical and commercial success. In the late ’90s/early 2000s, everything was The f’n Sopranos. It was so beloved that SNL did a commercial parody about TV critics masturbating because the show was so good. And it earned the adulation, because The Sopranos set an incredibly high bar for character, and story telling, and production values. Honestly, if you’re of age, go watch The Sopranos right now. It was essential television, and turned HBO into an essential network.

 

Breaking Bad, AMC

Now, this one is tough — AMC had Breaking Bad and Mad Men debut around the same time when they were breaking into original programming. Mad Men was the big critical hit, garnering Emmy nominations and a lot of press. But Breaking Bad… it was the audience favorite. Pulpy and fast paced, Breaking Bad was the show that escaped its initial small cable channel audience and became a true water cooler show. Sure, The Walking Dead is AMC’s HUGE hit, but that kind of pulpy serial couldn’t exist without the smarter, more propulsive Breaking Bad. And now AMC is still searching for its next big show to take over the mid-rung that Breaking Bad occupied, in terms of viewer eyeballs.

 

Sons Of Anarchy, FX

I’ll be honest, The Shield, a television show that FX made before Sons of Anarchy, is better than Sons Of Anarchy by almost any reasonable measure. But Sons Of Anarchywas the one that put butts in seats, and established the “FX tone” — it was soapy and trashy and crazy, as opposed to the gritty realism of The Shield.

 

Monk, USA

I never watched Monk, so I don’t know a ton about it other than it was a very popular show on USA about a charming, yet OCD-riddled detective. Monk set the tone of USA — blandly inoffensive, as evidenced by Suits, Burn Notice, and whatever else.

 

South Park, Comedy Central

South Park has been around for so long that a lot of you probably don’t remember how big of a deal it was initially. “Cartoon kids who swear” was essentially the original premise, with much of its social commentary coming in the show’s third season. But that first season was an absolute sensation — before that, Comedy Central was known for sitcom reruns and movies that had been severely edited for content. Now, it’sliterally the comedy channel, and that couldn’t have happened without South Park’s exposure.

 

House Of Cards, Netflix

Yes, I know Netflix isn’t “television”, but it has essentially become on big (ENORMOUS) television network. And while Orange Is The New Black is more critically acclaimed than House of Cards, House of Cards announced Netflix as a player even before it even started production. The streaming company paid one hundred million dollars for the show because it had the superstar team of David Fincher and Kevin Spacey onboard. House of Cards immediately signaled to everyone that they were taking the content game real, real seriously.

 

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7 TV Shows That MADE Television Networks

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