July 1st, 2008
11:43 AM ET

The new UHF

In a 500-channel universe, there truly is a channel for everything.

Looking for old movies? Turner Classic Movies and American Movie Classics - not to mention the various Encore channels. Trying to build something? You may find an answer on the Do-It-Yourself Network. There’s golf on the Golf Channel, animals on Animal Planet and history on what’s now simply called History.

And now there’s a channel for long-ignored old TV shows.

Sure, TV Land offers plenty of old shows, the likes of “Bonanza” and “Little House on the Prairie” along with old standbys such as “I Love Lucy,” “The Andy Griffith Show” and “All in the Family.” But what about “Rawhide”? “Mission: Impossible”? “It Takes a Thief”? “Cannon” (A Quinn Martin Production)?

Late last year, I was visiting my brother in Chicago. He was showing off his new HDTV and pulled in this odd channel that had all of these shows (along with others, like “Bonanza,” that also air on TV Land). Turns out it was RTN, a broadcast channel that’s been airing on local stations’ secondary digital feeds. RTN is part of the digital cable lineup in Atlanta, and I would imagine that’s true in many other cities.

RTN’s lineup reminds me of what you’d find on an old UHF independent channel 25 or 30 years ago: the entertaining cast-offs that the wealthier local affiliates had let go in favor of more recent syndicated successes. (Given the rise of cable, “UHF” has little significance anymore … unless you’re still trying to manipulate your rabbit ears.) UHF stations needed cheap programming and lots of it, and that meant running oft-seen reruns in bulk.

With RTN picking up those ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s series, it seems that the next step will be running ratings failures. (Trio gave it a shot with “Brilliant But Cancelled,” but the cable network went under. “Brilliant But Cancelled” continues as a blog.) Will someone air “When Things Were Rotten”? “United States”? The second episode of “You’re in the Picture,” in which Jackie Gleason spent the entire half-hour apologizing for the FIRST episode? (Some of this sort of thing is available from the Museum of Broadcast Communications - check it out.)

Eventually, all this material will end up on a Hulu-type site and then we can surf to our heart’s content. (Hey, Hulu already has “I Spy”!) In the meantime, you’ll have to excuse me. I think “Love, American Style” is on.

- Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer

(Addendum, 2:30 p.m.: I notice some shows people are mentioning are available on TV Land, RTN or online services such as Hulu. Be sure to check out their Web sites - you may find what you're looking for. And if you don't, send them e-mails. Who knows? That "Montefuscos" marathon may be on the way.)


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