The Sorry State of the Travel Channel

Given the amount of traveling I do I don’t have many opportunities to watch television. When I am back in the US I use Hulu and Netflix to catch up on some of my favorite shows as well as watch some of my favorite channels. In addition to the Discovery Channel and the History channel one channel I used to watch extensively before I started traveling was of course the Travel Channel. The Travel Channel was one of the ways I got my travel fix before I hit the road. When I’ve tuned in to the Travel Channel this month things were different.

It is hard to describe how disappointed I’ve become in the Travel Channel.

Outside of Anthony Bourdain, who is really a food guy when you get right down to it, Travel Channel basically has nothing to do with travel anymore. Take a look at some of their current shows:

No Reservations: I have no beef with Tony Bourdain or his show. I like him and it is a good show and there is nothing inherently wrong with having a food themed travel show. Bourdain is far and away the face of the travel channel now. A full two nights a week of prime time are devoted to his show (6 out of 21 hours of programming) and you will find it throughout the course of the day as well. What I don’t get is that the lesson they seem to have taken from No Reservations is to create more food shows, not more shows showing interesting people traveling. Travel being the raison d’être for the entire network of course. This is the ONLY show in their current prime time line up which I’d consider legitimate travel programing. You’d think they’d try to replicate the success of this show, but the seems hell bent on following the best practices of reality TV found on other channels.

Man v Food: WTF does overeating have to do with travel??? Oh, he overeats in a different city each episode. I get it……Not. A full 5 hours of prime time are devoted to reruns of of this show. I have no idea why eating 10 pounds of ice cream is supposed to inspire someone to travel. This isn’t even good food programing. This is to food television what a snuff film is to pornography.

Truck Stop Missouri: This is their new show they recently launched. Again, what does this have to do with travel? I get that if you travel you might stop at a truck stop, but filming at one location is the anthesis of travel. Moreover, a show about truckers is more about transportation than travel. It makes about as much sense as putting a show about auto mechanics on the Travel Channel. This seems to be an attempt to rip off the success of programs like Pawn Stars and other programs that just watch people working. If you want to put a travel spin on this, why not follow flight attendants or pilots? Why not shoot a show showing how a hotel operates behind the scenes?

Sand Masters: This is a show about people who make sand sculptures. It has nothing to do with travel other than it happens to be filmed on a beach.

Ghost Adventures: Huh?

Paranormal Challenge: See above

That is just what is appearing this week. Some of their other shows which are in rerun status don’t fare much better:

Samantha Brown: You don’t see much Samantha Brown anymore on the Travel Channel. I have no idea why as she was one of the most recognized names which the network produced. Somehow she got lost in the Anthony Bourdain lovefest which the network seems to be engaged in. She’s just an actress who auditioned for the role on a travel show, but at least it was a travel show. Her shows are one of the only things I can think of that the network has produced that is legitimately about travel and isn’t centered around food.

The Wild Within: Bear Grylls is popular? We need us a survival show too!

Bizarre Foods: Again with the food thing. At least Andrew Zimmern travels and he attempted to start a new series that wasn’t food related: Bizarre World. However, after one season they axed Bizarre World and they brought the food show back for 2011, once again cementing the Travel Channel as the Food Network-lite.

Triple Rush: A show about bike messengers. “Bike messengers travel from office to office. That’s close enough!”

Deathwish Movers: This is a show the Travel Channel launched that follows guys who move things like pianos into tall apartment buildings. I’m not kidding.

Confessions of a Travel Writer: Remember this train wreck of a pilot from 2 years ago? They couldn’t even get a show that was squarely about travel right. I find it hard to believe someone actually watched this before they put it on air.

Bridget’s Sexiest Beaches: Chesty McBoomBoom’s Bridget’s Favorite Beaches was the Travel Channel showing they could fuck up going to the beach.


Beside the fact that whoever is responsible for programing at the Travel Channel should be summarily fired, their business strategy makes about as much sense as their programming strategy.

They recently purchased Oyster.com, which is a hotel review site which has “real” photos of the hotels you visit. The theory being that if the Travel Channel is inspiring people to travel, they should get a cut when people book rooms. It is an interesting theory which might make sense……if they were actually inspiring anyone to travel. Shows about eating contests, paranormal investigations and greasy spoon truck stops is hardly the sort of programming which makes people want to go on vacation. They certainly aren’t going to think of you when going to book a hotel room.

Several years ago they purchased WorldHum.com which is one of the best travel writing sites on the internet. What did they do with this amazing asset? Did they integrate it into their website or promote it on TV? Nope. They basically killed it and currently the founders of World Hum are trying to keep it afloat without any real assistance from the part of the Travel Channel. You’d THINK that a great online property like this MIGHT help with their new Osyter.com acquisition, but hey what do I know.

Remember those commercials for the Travel Channel Academy? They got hundreds of people to pay money to learn how to create travel videos so they could use it on online as well as on TV. After the company was sold, they quickly axed the program. What I find really funny about it is that it would have fit really well with Oyster.com if you had an army of people getting video from hotels and other destinations. It also killed one of the strongest ties the channel had to the community….not that they seem to care about community building.

The thing is, I’m sure somewhere in the Travel Channel offices there are bean counters who can justify every decision to run every show regardless how little it has to do with travel. When the Travel Channel was last sold it went for over a billion dollars.

The problem is, no matter how much each individual decision can be justified, every paranormal investigation show takes them one step further away from their core and what makes them unique. The travel channel is now just another cable channel that just happens to have Anthony Borudain. Without their travel focus, investments like Oyster.com make no sense and they will keep losing their loyal audience base.

If they can’t get back to their travel roots then they should be upfront and honest about it and just change their name to the Paranormal Food Network.

  • 57 Comments... What's your take?

Get My Free Travel Photography Ebook

Subscribe to my email newsletter to get a FREE 100 page ebook of my favorite travel photos.

Comments

  1. Donnie Hagan says:

    Gary,

    I just say your message, and I wanted to say “AMEN”!!! I have not read any other comments but wanted to briefly support your message. Bring back Sam. TC has turned to mostly junk. Your assessment is on target. THANK YOU!!!

  2. Natalie T. says:

    I don’t get the Travel Channel (nor do I really watch a lot of television currently) but the selection of shows on TC is laughable. I think there’s a lot of cross branding opportunities that the network has wasted that could have been integrated digitally. That said, maybe someone from the network will see this to prove that there is an audience out there looking for quality travel shows. Departures, as mentioned and Word Travels are two shows that I enjoyed that really capture the essence of the journey.

  3. Obviously the Travel Channel execs/marketing gurus know something we don’t. Clearly travel shows don’t sell, or at least are not as profitable as their current lineup. Traveling a huge crew to exotic locations is expensive. It’s much easier and cheaper to just park it at a truck stop and fill reality TV. Their net loss of viewers must be minimal otherwise they would change their strategy.

  4. David says:

    Quite right. Same things has happened at the “History” Channel– they’re all about Ice Road Truckers and Pawn Stars now. It’s all about the $$ and the race to the bottom in quality. “Reality” shows are cheap to produce.

  5. Micah says:

    Anthony Bordain and Man Versus Food make it worth watching the travel channel. Otherwise I like PBS just as good.

  6. Dave says:

    I thought their “5 Takes” series was excellent, and watched several seasons before taking my trip around the world (late 07). It was all about taking 5 backpackers and giving them cameras while they went out to travel, and they took suggestions from viewers via a web forum. That’s exactly the kind of programming that inspired me to travel. Sad to see them depending so much on Bourdain at this point.

  7. Adeline says:

    Very interesting post. Good thing we don’t have the Travel Channel here in my country. We have Discovery’s TLC which still gives a few informative travel shows that don’t focus much on food like Passage to Malaysia and Fun Asia.

  8. Totally agree Gary there is rarely a show about now where you can be inspired to travel to a destination. The same thing is also happening in Australia with programming there too. Do you think it has anything to do with the fact that people go online now to consume a plan a lot of their travel news desires?

  9. Mikeachim says:

    I haven’t watched the TC, but this sounds very similar to what has been happening to SyFy (previously “SciFi” before the inexplicably pointless respelling). Their commercial staple has always been original shows, some of them very good, padded out with a lot of dreadful scifi movies starring the likes of Jan Michael Vincent and David Hasselhoff and filmed in someone’s garage. All well and good. Scifi geeks get to weep open-mouthed at how good Battlestar Galactica is, then tear a hole in whatever follows it. But recently? Paranormal investigators, reality TV…..and *wrestling*. (And it’s not even wrestling in the future – or zero gravity. It’s just wrestling).

    I know networks have to make money. But can’t they see by so openly pandering to markets that have absolutely nothing to do with their original target audience, they can’t survive as a brand? They end up like everyone else. And we know how that goes in the long run. Get your money in other ways and remain *distinct*, guys – it’s your nest egg for the future.

  10. Marissa says:

    I totally agree! The Travel Channel should convey more shows about how to travel under a budget or explore the best place to go in the winter! They are wasting their time with putting in shows that DO NOT show or explore a tropical island or mountain. A few years ago the Travel Channel was most popular for their Samantha Brown show. And what did that show entail? Simply just exploration and adventure around the world. I would like to see more of that on the air.

  11. jen says:

    i have been a subscriber for a long time, but this is my first post. I totally agree with you, and i have the same complaints many others have. The one that grates me the most is TLC… you know, the LEARNING channel. Where we learn about spoiled brides, little people, hoarders, people with 8+ kids … it makes no sense.

    I’m gonna be a dark horse and defend MvF a little, I think that he generally goes to interesting places that give a feel for a vibe of the town he is visiting, on some level. However, I do feel like he’s a bit of a stretch for the travel channel, but not completely incongruous with what I’d like to see on the channel. If they want to do reality shows, how about some that are set in different places around the world, and are about living there. It fits the cheap reality programming niche, and is at least having to do travel (sort of)

  12. Pepita says:

    Well said Gary. I used to be addicted to the travel channel. Now I barely rememer that my beloved Tony Bourdain is on there anymore. Sam Brown’s shows were good too. Everything else on the on their channel and most others now is crap. If you missed the No Reservations show in Brazil, here as a clip of Tony’s snarkiness, “They may look like gentle, fruit-eating monkeys, but I’m pretty convinced one of these things is gonna suddenly land on my head and start humping my earhole with his sharp, furry penis, so I’m little uncomfortable. ” Tony Rules !

  13. JustAnnie says:

    Feel your pain. I love Bourdain, Zimmern & Sam Brown but the rest is crap. But I think all the cable channels are doing this. SyFy (ugh) keeps canceling really good sic-fi series & now has hours of wrestling. WTF?

  14. JimG says:

    I agree with all. Bourdain has a good show and is the face of the travel channel now. He does a pretty good
    Job and has fun at it. I miss Samantha Brown as she did a good job as well. But every time I flip through to see what’s on, it’s always Man vs Food. What’s up with that. Then how about when they run the poker games and casino’s?
    I actually was interested in going to their Academy too. Let’s hope they get this figured out and follow the success of Bourdain and Samantha Brown.

  15. Angie Orth says:

    The Travel Channel is the new MTV. Travel Channel isn’t about travel the way that MTV isn’t about music. In fact, I think the Jersey Shore cast travels more than anyone I’ve seen on TC lately.

  16. good post i never understood the point of overeating in each city haha

  17. Redruby says:

    i wish i also have much time watching tv esp. about travel and adventure..travel channel seems to be a good one..

  18. Alex says:

    THANK YOU! I have been bemoaning these same points for a while now. I once ran into a bunch of travel channel employees at a bar in NYC once and as I had had one too many glasses of wine I did give them a piece of my mind. Way to burn bridges, Alex!

  19. Ekua says:

    This topic was on my mind as I watched the season finale of No Reservations yesterday. Even though Anthony Bourdain is a food guy, I think he is real traveler with a real travel show where food is the medium that he uses to explore cultures and share those cultures with others.

    But lately, the travel seems to end with AB on the Travel Channel. Sometimes I feel like it’s the “Extreme Food Channel”. I can’t help but feel nostalgic about the days when I first started watching the TC. Back then, they showed Globetrekker which was still called “Lonely Planet” at the time. Straight up travel. I keep hoping that someday, someone over at the TC headquarters will decide to bring the travel back to that channel, but I’ve been waiting for awhile now…

  20. kevin says:

    I miss Dhani Tackles the Globe, which was interesting in that he traveled to a country and played their popular sports. Made a change from seeing food stands and attractive images with voiceover work.

  21. Michael says:

    What is the Travel Channel?

    Haven’t looked at it in a few years; it is pure garbage!
    Hop on a plane and go explore!

  22. Scott says:

    Spot on man! Anthony is great, but his food/culture/travel show should just be complimentary programming to full-on travel shows. While I will cut Man Vs. Food a little slack cause he does travel, here are some better ideas: reality show following backpackers, How to do City X on a budget (besides Vegas, which had taken over their channel for years), or just HD shows dedicated to landscapes. Bottom line is the only real travel show that I know of on TV is Globe Trekker, and it’s on PBS.

  23. seth says:

    I could not agree more with everything you wrote. I use to love the travel channel but now every time I turn it on all I see is junk. Nothing to do with travel. Awesome post!

  24. Che says:

    This seems a continuation of a trend in many “specialized” channels these days: Dumb down to someone’s idea of widest audience. Quick examples: “Sci-fi” changed their name to “Sy-Fy” and programs wrestling and dumps Sci-fi shows; “Animal Planet” has the show Hauntings (and not of or by animals); “Sleuth” has just changed to “Cloo”.

    To be really cynical, perhaps advertisers don’t want us to travel, since how would we see their commercials? Ugh.

  25. RG says:

    Mr. Bourdain tweeted that he plans on heading to Libya, Myanmar, Iran, Israel, Penang, the DR, Congo, Mozambique soon. Should be really interesting. I love his show. I love food, I love travel. I also like Bizarre Foods but that’s it for the travel channel. Agreed with your post.

  26. Dan says:

    Gotta agree, Gary. The Travel Channel blows. I used to watch it all the time, just like I used to watch MTV growing up when they actually showed music videos. Now I get what little travel fix I can find from CreateTV.

  27. Charlie says:

    Would like to put a plug in for HGTV. Their HouseHunters Intl turns out to be a pretty darn good show if you like to find out about trying to live in outside the US. The show last week on a Brit couple trying to buy property in Malta was fascinating. My wife and I are now thinking about a trip there in the next couple of years.

  28. Charlie says:

    Excellent summary of TC demise. Business plan has definitely changed. My wife and I have been to 50+ countries, and get most of our ideas from travel mags like NG Traveler and Conde Nast, travelogs from Rick Steves, Rudy Maxa, etc. Discovery Channel has some shows worth watching, eg Sunrise. We used to get HD Net which was fantastic!

  29. Rachelle says:

    LOL! I love “Paranormal Food Network”

    Great write up. =)

  30. Jessie B. says:

    I agree that Deathwish Movers and Sand Masters are terrible shows. But I have to tell you, Triple Rush is a fantastic series. Great characters, real drama… New York City!! Travel Channel’s screw-up is not that they put that show on, but that they took it off. The programmers have no idea what good TV is!

    • Gary says:

      It might be a great show, but it has nothing to do with travel. The Sopranos or the Wire are great shows too, but they don’t belong on the Travel Channel.

  31. Dorian says:

    LMAO!!!!!!!!!!!

    Great post.. I love the Man v.s Food part… hahahaha

    Television will never be what it used to before before the internet and it will continue to get worse. Networks need to come up with ideas and schemes to get people to tune in..

    In a nutshell, we are in trouble

  32. Craig Mische says:

    I too miss Samantha Brown. Her show was the only reason I tuned to thenTravelmChannel.

  33. Margaret says:

    Reading your post, I can understand your frustration. We have Outdoor Life Network (OLN) in Canada. It used to carry many shows focused on outdoor living and activities. It also carries Man vs. Food, Storage Wars (how is that outdoor-related I dunno!), and Operation Repo. Luckily there are some travel-oriented shows still on it, but they get relegated to weekend time slots when most are OUTDOORS enjoying local travel etc. So I can understand why you are frustrated. I end up during to Oasis HD and EQHD, stations that carry more about travel and places to visit.

  34. Michelle says:

    I used to watch the Travel Channel all the time. Now I rarely do. Most of what they show is more food than travel and what isn’t is so old, it’s not even worth the time.

    There are some good travel shows on TV, but they’re few and far between. I love Globe Trekker (PBS), Young, Broke & Beautiful (IFC), and An Idiot Abroad (Science Channel) are the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

  35. I have fond memories of watching the Travel Channel as a kid as I dreamed of my own adventures. Maybe it’s just that I’ve gotten older and my tastes have changed, but I have to agree with you. The Travel Channel has hit a state of ridiculousness!

  36. Ditto everyone’s comments. I used to love to watch the Travel Channel either to get ideas of new places to explore or to see programs on places I had explored and loved. It was the channel I watched most often. I don’t bother watching it anymore… now I look for travel related programs on PBS and other channels, or blogs and videos on the web. Still enjoy catching Rick Steves.

  37. Scott says:

    Agree with you whole heartedly, Gary!…I forget The Travel Channel is still on the air! You can find better travel programing on HD Net!…
    Smart Travels, Ultra Eye, World’s Coastlines from Above, Visions, and of course, Rick Steves!

  38. Gray says:

    I couldn’t agree more and have ranted about this on occasion on Twitter. The Travel Channel used to be my favorite channel, but when it stopped being about travel, I stopped watching it. There’s just really no point any more. You’d think they’d have to relinquish the rights to the name of their channel if their content falls to below 50% of the thing the channel is named for. If the Travel Channel would rename itself “the Food and Ghosts Network”, then somebody else could take over the Travel Channel moniker and produce actual content about travel. What a concept that would be!

  39. Amanda says:

    Agreed. So much food stuff, and most stuff not too much related to travel! About a year ago, I was very disappointed when a “Best Beach Resorts” (or something like that) was AT LEAST ten years old. SERIOUSLY?! The resorts have changed or been trumped, and the outdated fashion was ridiculous. I guess they hoped women might start wearing fluorescent high-cut bottom bikinis again?!

    My somewhatish-related-to-travel TV fix is actually House Hunters International. Vacation home in Nicaragua? Yes, please. Also saw a couple episodes of An Idiot Abroad – not necessarily intended to inspire travel BUT hilarious!!!

  40. Great post… couldn’t agree more!

    We’re not big TV watchers at all and last year we tried cable for a while and were so excited to check out the Travel Channel…

    …that lasted about a week… we couldn’t find anything interesting travel wise… weird! :-)

    N & S

  41. Great post! I thought it was just me! I’m obsessed with travel and I never watch the Travel Channel- there’s something very off about that. Who is their audience then?

  42. Since I have been getting a bit into the whole TV/Hollywood thing in the past 12 months or so, this all makes a lot more sense to me than before. Like you, and many others, I have bemoaned the crap programming, but… it is intentional. In terms of cost/benefit, the Travel Channel’s current garbage programming makes sense for what their particular goal is. Odd and annoying, but given how cable TV channels make money and survive — can’t say it is going to chance anytime soon.

  43. Shauna says:

    I haven’t watched TC in months for every reason you stated above. Honestly couldn’t have said it better myself. Instead, I’ve sworn off TV as a mode for getting inspired to travel (except for an occasional interesting show on PBS), and have put all my travel-junkie eggs in the Internet basket. *sigh*

    What I really need is to find a decent website that isn’t subsidized to push you toward a particular hotel chain/airline/tour group offers good insights for working parents who occasionally get to travel for work and only have late afternoons/evenings available to explore locales by themselves (no kids, no spouses, maybe a random coworker). If someone here has any suggestions, please let me know!

  44. Amanda says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. The “Travel” Channel is kind of a joke these days as far as I’m concerned. For me, not even Anthony Bourdain can save it.

  45. Sherry says:

    I was never a fan of Samantha Brown herself, but I did love her travel show. She went to a variety of places, and when the show first started, she went to a variety of price points- some hotels/restaurants/locales featured were what I consider affordable, some would be high end… As the show progressed and became more popular, it tended to focus on more high end, but it was still inspiring in the “I want to travel to this place” way.

    I didn’t mind the Weird Foods and Bourdain guys in the beginning; at first they included things like exploring local culture with exploring cuisine. Nowadays, the Weird Foods guy seems to be pared down to just strictly eating weird stuff and Bourdain’s show is just about him eating and getting drunk/high.

    I’m also tired of their never ending Top 10 lists. These used to be fun when they were first introduced- Top 10 tallest roller coasters, or haunted castles you can stay at, or camp grounds around the world. But now it seems to be Top 10 sexiest something- beaches, hidden waterfalls, hotels, more beaches, oh and, beaches- like the only reason people travel is to see topless Brazilians on a beach.

    Travel Channel has certainly gone the way of most cable niche channels. Veering further and further away from the core of what made the channel successful to begin with.

    • As the number of cable and satellite channels expanded, the initial promise was that we’d have all of these wonderful niche channels that provide the programming that we want. However, all of the channels are aiming to get the largest possible audience, so the Travel Channel is becoming Reality Channel 214, and the difference between it and Reality Channel 213 is 1.

      I love Samantha Brown, but I’d always laugh when she’d gush over the bathroom in her hotel room.

  46. Carlos says:

    Oh man I can’t agree more! Every time I tune into it I see some guy pigging out in some American fast food joint. No Reservations is all we are left with. This channel is ridiculous. Good thing I don’t have to even flip through it anymore now that I downgraded my cable :D

  47. James says:

    I haven’t watched the travel channel in months. It covers travel like MTV covers music. When will you get a show and bring some good TRAVEL material to the channel?

  48. I have been saying this exact thing for a while. It is really disappointing. I never really liked Samantha Brown and I don’t really enjoy food programs so I really have no interest in the Travel Channel anymore. There is another channel that I have found that actually has a nice focus on travel and it’s not even a travel based channel. It’s called Halogen. The channel focuses on good which is vague enough to include shows like (my personal favorite show in exsistence) Departures, which follows two young guys around the world. There are four or five really good travel shows (which is more than I can say for the Travel Channel) and the rest of the programming is quality as well. The channel really gets back to the roots of channel and captures the wonder and excitement that comes with it. Everyone should check it out if you are fed up with what the Travel Channel puts out!

  49. Kris Koeller says:

    Great post, and spot-on. Bourdain is only on the Travel Channel because he thinks the Food Network is full of culinary hacks and wannabes. I also like his show, and its a good travel primer, but the rest of their programming has taken quite a slide.

  50. Very true, sir. These days, I just satisfy myself with Samantha Brown re-runs.

    • Musttravel says:

      Thank you for posting this message, I used to love the travel channel and would watch it for hours. I loved Samantha Brown shows, she was fun to watch and I actually stayed in a few of the places that she featured, like the Onion house in Hawaii.

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
Read More

Get My Free Travel Photography Ebook

Subscribe to my email newsletter to get a FREE ebook of my 100 Favorite Travel Photos and exclusive travel updates.

  • Archives