A few weeks ago the History Channel’s spinoff network H2 turned into Viceland, a joint production of A+E Networks and Vice Media. A+E Networks is the owner of the History Channel, and in addition to being a co-owner of Viceland, it also is a co-owner of Vice Media. The new network is targeted at young adults aged 18-34, which means that after spending the last six weeks in the network’s target demographic, my opinion stopped mattering to Viceland when I turned 35 yesterday. That won’t stop me, however, from pointing out that A+E Networks is leveraging its ownership of Ancient Aliens and Viceland to create synergy in the hope of driving more Millennial viewership of its properties.
Tomorrow Viceland will show Action Bronson’s Ancient Aliens 4/20 Special in which Arian Asllani, a rapper on Vice’s Vice Records label (a division of Atlantic Records) who goes by the name Action Bronson, will smoke marijuana with friends while commenting on an episode of Ancient Aliens. Asllani, who also appears on the Viceland program F*ck, That’s Delicious, calls the show the “greatest” program ever, and he is a true believer in alien gods, claiming that the ancient astronaut theory enables him to come to terms with the age-old quest to find meaning in life. He added that ancient astronaut theorist Giorgio Tsoukalos is a “genius” in “my favorite genre.”
While the official trailer calls the program by the title above, it was previously promoted as Traveling the Stars with Action Bronson, though they must have decided that the title didn’t adequately convey the amount of marijuana needed to enjoy Ancient Aliens.
The marijuana-induced commentary is, according to the trailer, something like Mystery Science Theater 3000 if MST3K were entirely improvised by ignoramuses with minimal education. (I am sure somewhere noted ex-marijuana enthusiast Graham Hancock is fuming.)
Viceland devotes several hours per week to marijuana-themed programming, and one might argue that this is the best use of Ancient Aliens since the program’s inception. But it seems that there is a business calculation at play here that is seeing A+E Networks try to bolster Viceland’s viewership with an assist from History’s most popular show with viewers under 60.
(A+E Networks is the owner of the trademarks and intellectual property of Ancient Aliens, which is produced for the History Channel by Prometheus Entertainment.)
Vice Media and A+E Networks refused to allow A. C. Nielsen to report Viceland’s ratings, but the International Business Times obtained ratings data last month from Rentrak, a competitor to A. C. Nielsen, and it wasn’t good. In January, Rentrak reported that H2 averaged 241,000 daily viewers (and this was for its rerun programming, having stopped airing originals last year in anticipation of the switch to Viceland), while Viceland drew just 55,000 daily viewers in its first month on the air. Vice Media disputes the numbers but won’t release their own for five more months. In its prime, H2 had drawn more than 1.1 million viewers for its flagship show, America Unearthed, while Vice insists that most of its Viceland content is consumed online, where more than 113 million “views” occurred in the first three weeks, though Vice would not define a “view.”
It’s hard not to see the heavily promoted Ancient Aliens special as a way of leveraging that program’s much larger audience of roughly 1.6 million viewers to help Viceland gain ratings traction on TV. Remember, too, that a few weeks ago I spoke with a producer from Vice Media who was planning an Ancient Aliens-themed program on the cultural impact of the series. It seems unlikely to be coincidental.
Meanwhile, there was still more depressing news from the world of television. CBS announced that it is reviving the Twilight Zone yet again (after the 1980s revival, the Twilight Zone feature film, and the UPN revival series), but this time as a hybrid TV show and video game. According to a report in The Wrap, the plan is to produce episodes of the series that will allow viewers to “change and adapt the story based on what he or she feels.” It would be unfair to judge the new product before it launches, but it would seem that this approach would be antithetical to the storytelling format of the original Twilight Zone, in which stories built to a specific conclusion in order to deliver a moral lesson or dramatic irony. The only way this might work is if every choice resulted in the same conclusion, though that would be a depressing confirmation of predestination that would again undercut Rod Serling’s humanistic views.
It strikes me as a cynical reuse of a famous name to try to garner attention for a new product. Hmm… That seems to be a theme today!
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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