Hard to believe, but A&E's facing a harsh reality and it ain't pretty.
It used to be an overly earnest if slightly schizophrenic station offering Normandy invasion docs, repeats of Law & Order and Murder, She Wrote, respectful celeb bios and stand-ups performing in front of a brick wall.
But in a post-Survivor, post-Surreal Life TV-scape in which any number of has-beens and never-quite-weres try to prove they can sing, dance, skate or juggle chainsaws, A&E has ditched its stuffy, Hercule Poirot-ish demeanour in favour of a slew of sensationalistic true-crime series, John Gotti's gangster offspring, obnoxious tattoo artists and one mind-freaking magician.
The sudden rise in popularity of celebrity-based competition shows like Skating With The Stars and the Tyra Banks-powered America's Next Top Model hearkens back to the glory days of Battle Of The Network Stars (Good Times vs. Happy Days) and Circus Of The Stars (with ringmaster George Hamilton).
It seems we just can't get enough of famous people doing anything, whether it's getting out of their car without wearing panties, trying to dance the tango or sticking their head in the mouth of a lion.
A&E, long revered as a place where time was well spent, is tapping into this reality obsession with a slight twist on the typical Meet the Osbournes-style train wreckage.
Dog The Bounty Hunter and Gene Simmons Family Jewels are two of A&E's most popular programs (Family Jewels ranks in the top five for Canadian specialty channels). They're also two of the unlikeliest family programs on TV, reality or otherwise. They expose the human drama behind the sensationalism, much like the Learning Channel's reality series Little People, Big World.
Dog stars Duane Chapman, the self-mythologizing fugitive hunter from Hawaii who looks like a bouncer at a gay biker bar. He and his family track down bail-jumpers, mostly small-time thieves and drug dealers, and drag them back to jail in a show that looks like another Cops rip-off.
However, Dog's appeal isn't in the slam-bang takedowns, but in his heartfelt attempts to help his captives he phones their families, makes sure the handcuffs aren't too tight and even posts their bail.
And in contrast to his skip-tracing hijinks, Chapman lives a surprisingly normal domestic life. He vacuums (in full bounty hunter couture, of course), fixes lunch for his kids, sings them a lullaby and promises to take them to the beach. He even drives a minivan!
Things aren't much different at Gene Simmons's house, where the KISS frontman tries to maintain his slutty rock icon image even as he undermines it with a certain Father- Knows-Bestness.
He may brag about bedding thousands of women, but the only one we ever see is his girlfriend of 23 years, ex-Playmate Shannon Tweed, and it's clear she keeps him on a short leash.
Of course, he wouldn't be Gene Simmons if he didn't offer his budding rocker son career advice while they're on a trip to a porn convention. But the son's embarrassment is nothing compared to Simmons's own when his daughter makes him take her to work for a school project on the day he's auditioning exotic dancers for a new KISS-inspired exercise video.
Unlike the Ozzy Osbourne show, which was all about the high cost of rock star excess both for Ozzie and those bratty kids of his Family Jewels is about the less-typical-than-it-used-to-be nuclear family: Dad's the breadwinner, Mom's a great homemaker and the kids aren't spoiled little shits or addicted to meth.
Dog The Bounty Hunter airs Tuesday and Wednesday at 9 pm. Season one of Gene Simmons Family Jewels will be out on DVD December 19.
What to watch this week
Monday, December 11
The Lost Room Murder leads to a mysterious time-space portal in this sci-fi miniseries starring Peter Krause.
9 pm on Space
Tuesday, December 12
Degrassi: The Next Generation Drug abuse, strippers, jail and murder? Somebody's been watching The OC.
8 pm on CTV
Sunday, December 10
The Line of Beauty Back-to-back-to-back eps of the soapy drama about coming out and coming of age in 80s England.
10 pm on BBC Canada