On the topic of intellectual races to the bottom:
I think a very interesting analysis could arise from a comparison of the ways in which non-fiction cable television has changed over the past five to ten years. This struck me when, for reasons now lost to me, I stumbled upon the website of TLC. Let me now summarize the current program roster on The Learning Channel:
10 Years Younger ("Complete strangers guess our participant's age. Then our glam squad goes to work and takes a decade off the person's look in just 10 days!"), Flip That House, Say Yes To the Dress (bridal shopping), What Not to Wear, LA/Miami Ink (teaching valuable tattoo industry tips), Must Love Kids, Who Are You Wearing?, Makeover Train (was that a Wesley Snipes movie?), Rock the Reception, specials like "160-pound Tumor," shameful freakshowism like Little People Big World, and so on. If this is learning, freebasing cocaine is gourmet cooking.
But let's focus on their big-ticket shows. There's American Chopper, an incisive look at the tribulations of a facially-hirsute team of motorcycle builders. Through this show I learned that motorcycles go "vroom!" and do not come from eggs. There's Jon & Kate Plus 8, which apparently exists to make the rest of us feel better about our mastery of birth control and avoidance of fertility drugs. And don't forget the original smash hit Trading Spaces, in which people attempt to fill holes in their lives by redecorating rooms. As the "Learning" channel says, "Two room (sic), 48 hours and $1000." Ed agree. That look good.
TLC's competition has hardly fared better, filling their schedules with shows about explosions, dieting, people falling into mud and/or sewage, morons eating insects because they went into the "wild" without packing food (but with a camera crew), and people catching crabs. Now don't get me wrong. I like Mythbusters. It's fun. I'll watch some Deadliest Catch. But I also miss the kind of programming that they used to provide in spades. I want hour-long specials about the history of styrofoam. I want boring, lightly-narrated, grainy color footage of things on conveyor belts. I want detailed retellings (with bad re-enactments) of obscure historical events that did not involve muskets, swords, or warfare. I want to learn things that will only be of use on Jeopardy! or first-dates with unreasonably intelligent folklorists.
I do not want to learn any more about historical armed conflicts. You have taught us enough about WWII, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and military toys in general to last several lifetimes. I know the thickness of the armor on every conceivable type of Cold War-era tank. I know what it looks like when precision munitions hit something and then explode. I know all of Hitler's personal habits, every person he ever spoke to, and what he ate for breakfast the day he died. I do not want to know any of this. It has stuck through simple repetition, a brute-force attack by your networks. Think of your programming as the camera-guided bomb and my brain as the Iraqi bunker.
In short, please rededicate yourself to bland, informative programming about topics of minimal appeal to audiences. This was your bread-and-butter for years and I miss it. The invisible hand of the free market may have erred when it led you astray to programming with commercial appeal. This does not educate us. It may entertain us (although looking at TLC's roster again I am skeptical) but that is not your raison d'etre. Your switch to makeover- and chopper-based shows makes economic sense, but look at it this way: people who like makeovers and shopping already have 997 channels to call their own.