The TV landscape is vast. Depending on your television package, you might have hundreds of channels to choose from. Some channels are available, however, whether or not you have cable, a satellite dish, or an antenna: digital subchannels. After it was mandated in 2009 that all local network affiliates start broadcasting digitally, stations were able to broadcast multiple channels from a single digital signal. These channels offer an array of programming that you might have overlooked—but overlook them no longer. Here’s Paste’s primer on 10 of the best digital subchannels out there.
Specializes in: Retro television
Tune in for: Batman ‘66
MeTV, or “Memorable Entertainment Television,” is the top dog of digital subchannels. It has the rights to a ton of different shows, which gives viewers a diverse and eclectic set of programs to choose from. MeTV focuses on classic television shows from the ‘50s through the ’90s, running the gamut from sitcoms to cop shows to Westerns. On Saturday nights, the channel focuses on pulpy programming, such as Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk and Lost in Space. MeTV also airs Svengoolie on Saturday evenings. Svengoolie is one of the last of a dying breed—a horror host. You can watch him crack wise before and after commercial breaks during some old B-movie, and it’s a delight. Sunday nights, MeTV airs such iconic sitcoms as Cheers, The Bob Newhart Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Columbo. MeTV is a great channel, and should probably be your first stop if you watched Nick at Nite and TV Land in the ’90s.
Specializes in: Game shows
Tune in for: Match Game
Remember what the Game Show Network used to be? That’s what Buzzr is, basically. It showcases a selection of classic game show episodes, often shown in blocks called mini-marathons. Match Game and Family Feud seem to dominate the programming. (If the idea of somebody looking at a giant playing card and guessing whether the next card will be higher or lower appeals to you, then by all means give Card Sharks a shot, too.) Buzzr also shows really old game shows like To Tell the Truth and What’s My Line? with the original commercials kept in. If you’re a Betty White fan, you can watch her appear on game shows from the ‘50s through the ‘80s. You can also see Alex Trebek host a ’70s game show called Double Dare whose biggest novelty is probably the “spoilers,” a group of PhDs the winner of the main game goes up against.
Specializes in: Classic CBS programming
Tune in for: The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Decades is owned by CBS, which means it primarily features old CBS shows. The channel is pretty wedded to the idea of the binge. Programs air in block form, and they have mini- marathons nearly every day. On weekends, though, Decades offers a major inducement to binge, airing a marathon of a single series—and it’s a different one every week. Sometimes it’s sitcoms like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Get Smart, but occasionally it’s a show you don’t see as often, like That Girl or The Donna Reed Show. They do a fair amount of dramas, too. Recent weekends have been dedicated to Wiseguy and Police Story. This is a channel tailor-made for people trying to kill a weekend.
Specializes in: Comedy
Tune in for: Roseanne
Laff is all about comedy, as the name suggests. The channel shows a lot of sitcoms that were once popular that you don’t see much anymore, like The Drew Carey Show, Empty Nest and Night Court, for which John Larroquette won four consecutive Emmys in the 1980s. Recently, Laff has added Roseanne to the group—part of the same licensing agreement by which the network landed the rights to 3rd Rock from the Sun, That ‘70s Show, Grounded for Life and Cybill, all sitcoms from the ’90s and early ’00s that deserve a renaissance. Laff also shows movies like The Ref and Spy Hard, particularly on Sundays.
Specializes in: Retro television
Tune in for: The Monkees
Antenna TV’s tagline is “TV how it was meant to be,” which is hitting the nostalgia impulse pretty hard. It’s almost entirely comedy, consisting mostly of sitcoms and episodes of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. If you like magical sitcoms, Antenna has you covered, with Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Mork and Mindy, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and My Mother the Car. Also, for the Sally Field fans out there, both The Flying Nun and Gidget are included as well. It’s something of a mixed bag, but there are some really good sitcoms, including some you won’t find on other networks, like The Monkees and Barney Miller.
Specializes in: Classic NBC programming
Tune in for: Frasier
Much as Decades focuses on old CBS shows, Cozi, which is owned by NBCUniversal, is the place to go for NBC shows of yesteryear. It doesn’t have a lot of comedies, but it does have Frasier, which is one of the best shows of all time. (Frasier is readily available elsewhere, such as the Hallmark Channel and Netflix, but if you don’t have access to either of those, Cozi is for you.) You can also watch The Dick Van Dyke Show or The Munsters. The channel has a much heftier drama catalog, including a fair amount of cheese (Baywatch, Knight Rider). If you want something just a bit more critically acclaimed, there’s also Miami Vice.
Specializes in: Um, movies.
Tune in for: A variety of movies, mostly from the ’80s and ’90s
Movies! shows movies. The channel name is a dead giveaway. It’s not quite like TCM, because there are commercials, and because the selection isn’t quite as impressive. By way of example, here is a brief selection of movies that were shown recently: Stand By Me, The Doors, Dead Man Walking, Cujo, Vampire in Brooklyn and Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla. As you can see, it’s a pretty eclectic mix. It’s likely that, at some point in the week, they are showing a movie you would like to see. The tricky part is remembering to look at the schedule and set your DVR. If you just want to flip on something to watch for a few minutes, though, Movies! is there for you.
Specializes in: TV shows built around the idea of “heroes and icons”
Tune in for: Hill Street Blues
H&I stands for “Heroes and Icons.” What does that mean? Basically, it means cop shows, Westerns, and a ton of Star Trek. It seems like Star Trek is always on. H&I has six different versions of Star Trek on air, including the animated series. If you’re a huge Star Trek fan—a Trekkie, if you will—then get familiar with where H&I is on your dial. On occasion, thought, the network shows stuff that isn’t Star Trek, including a couple of highly lauded cop shows (Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue) and one that had Johnny Depp in it (21 Jump Street). There are also several Westerns, from the familiar (Have Gun, Will Travel) to the obscure (Wanted Dead or Alive, which has the distinction of starring a young Steven McQueen.)
Specializes in: Cultish movies and the occasional TV show
Tune in for: The Addams Family
This TV shows mostly movies. Some of them are whatever the network can get its hands on, but there are a few interesting selections. Movies such as Escape from New York, The Legend of Billie Jean, and Adaptation have aired on the channel, albeit in edited form. (This TV is the place to be if you want to check out an edited-for-content version of The Terminator.) The channel also shows a bunch of Sea Hunt and Flipper early in the mornings, for people who get up before dawn and love the water. Weekends feature frequent airings of In The Heat of the Night, which is based on the Academy Award-winning movie of the same name, as well as the classic cop show Cagney and Lacey.
Specializes in: African-American-centric programming
Tune in for: The Bernie Mac Show
Bounce TV separates itself from a lot of digital subchannels in a couple of ways. One, it markets itself toward a black audience: It bills itself as “the first African-American broadcast network,” and its tagline is “TV our way.” Two, it has a few original programs, including the sitcom Family Time, which stars Omar Gooding from Wild & Crazy Kids—think TV Land original sitcoms, but worse. Bounce is also a place to see some pretty awesome movies. Sure, there’s terrible stuff like B.A.P.S., but there are also movies like Enter the Dragon and Blaxploitation genre entries. Richard Roundtree as Shaft has definitely popped up now and again, and Bounce has shown I’m Gonna Git You Sucka in the past as well.
Chris Morgan is not the author of THE book on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but he is the author of A book on Mystery Science Theater 3000. He’s also on Twitter.