TV Features

What Happened to the Travel Channel?

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You remember your childhood best friend, right? Someone you ate paste and played pretend with before your dad took the training wheels off your bike. You might remember her in pigtails, or him in chunky early ‘90s sneakers. Fast forward to 2018: you’re an adult now, maybe a little deep in the cups, and you start to wonder how so-and-so is doing these days. You look them up on Facebook and—oh dear god, they’re living in Idaho with six kids, purple hair, an eyebrow piercing, and have a lot of opinions on the shape of the Earth! Whoa! What happened there?

Classic cartoons tend to soak up all the glory when it comes to discussions of late ‘90s/early aughts TV programming, but I spent just as much time with my little nosey nooser pressed to the screen watching the Travel Channel. The content fell somewhere between ANIMAL PLANET and proto-Buzzfeed, consisting primarily of top-10 lists and overuse of the word “Xtreme.” It was amazing. A smorgasbord of all things awesome to a seven-year-old, Travel Channel tackled the latest and greatest in theme parks, roller coasters, water slides, swimming pools, and more. Halloween brought top-10s of haunted places and “Xtreme” haunted attractions. I spent hours dreaming of a family vacation to the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, a trip to the Schlitterbahn inspired by segments that have not aged well, and braving the now-infamous McKamey Manor.

Recently, I popped over to the Travel Channel expecting a nostalgic trip down memory lane and perhaps some summer vacation inspo. So imagine my surprise at THIS SHIT:

Travel Channel trvlchl

Wt th fck?

The newly rebranded “Truh-vull” Channel’s most hyped series are two legend/lore-based miniseries starring Megan Fox (yes, that Megan Fox) and Chris Jericho (yes, that Chris Jericho), respectively. Other top-billed programming includes HAUNTED LIVE, GHOST ADVENTURES, and JOSH GATES’ DESTINATION TRUTH. If you’re wondering who the hell Josh Gates is, never fear! The first link on the show page is a Buzzfeed-esque article complete with .gifs answering exactly this question. Gates’ bio describes him as “an adventurer and avid explorer with a unique brand of humor and deep-rooted passion for off-the-map excursions” and the show page promises “his unique point of view” on “magical” locales such as Greece and the Yucatan Peninsula.

“No mayo please, it’s too spicy for me!”

To really wrap your head around the depth of this transformation, I need to take you through a week of Trvl Chnl’s current programming. This is from the week after Thanksgiving (11/25 – 12/1), I have not cherry-picked this for content:

SUNDAY: Four hours of MYSTERIES AT THE MUSEUM, five hours of MY HAUNTED HOUSE, and nine hours of HAUNTED CASE FILES intercut with SCARIEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE and something called TREASURE QUEST: SNAKE ISLAND.

MONDAY: Three-to-four-hour blocks of  A HAUNTING, PARANORMAL SURVIVOR, MY GHOST STORY, and MY HAUNTED HOUSE, capped off with eight alternating hours of ya boi Josh Gates and LEGENDARY LOCATIONS.

TUESDAY: Josh Gates still going strong this morning with “Romanian Werewolves,” “Plant Monster in Thailand”, and the “Filipino Lake Monster.” We get an afternoon break with MONSTER ENCOUNTERS, then it’s 11 entire hours of EXPEDITION UNKNOWN, interspersed with two reruns of MONSTER ENCOUNTERS’ “Death By Anaconda.”

WEDNESDAY: An entire day of MYSTERIES AT THE MUSEUM save for two hours of CITIES OF THE UNDERWORLD (“Soviets Below Us” and “Tokyo’s Underground Savior”) and two runs of the same episode of MONSTERS AND MYSTERIES IN AMERICA: SASQUATCH, WOLF SPIRITS, AND LAKE MONSTERS.

THURSDAY: We’re in for a spooky Thursday with seven hours of MY HAUNTED HOUSE and 12 hours of THE DEAD FILES (one episode of the latter titled “Triggered – Flint, Michigan,” joining “Soviets Below Us” in our new segment “Info Wars or Travel Channel?”)

FRIDAY: Trvl Chnl knows you were getting turnt on Thirsty Thursday, so we’re keeping it straightforward this morning with HAUNTED THINGS and THESE WOODS ARE HAUNTED (the latter featuring both “Bigfoot Showdown” and “Bigfoot Encounter”). Then, fuck you, it’s 12 hours of GHOST ADVENTURES.

SATURDAY: A brief return to form this morning with FOOD PARADISE and BIZARRE FOODS until 11:30 AM and then fuck you, it’s fifteen (not a typo—fifteen) hours of GHOST ADVENTURES.

Travel Channel 15

Fifteen

A brief peek into Travel Channel’s history gives a good chunk of insight to this head-scratching change. The network was originally founded in 1987 by Trans World Airlines and Viacom, presumably to sell airline tickets (and it totally worked—see paragraph two). It hit peak viewership in Spring of 2008, followed by a slow and painful decline that continues to this day. A long game of acquisition hot potato ultimately landed the network in the hands of Discovery, Inc. in March 2018, at which point Travel Channel took its place as the red-headed stepchild among all-star siblings Discovery Channel, Food Network, HGTV, and TLC. Travel Channel’s classic food, destination, and how-to programs were suddenly rendered redundant by superstars like Chip and Jojo Gaines and Guy Fieri. How would this misfit network stake its claim in its new family? The same way your childhood best friend did: an edgy goth rebrand.

And so, in October 2018, Travel Channel cast off its original vision and its vowels to become Trvl Channel, with a stated focus on the paranormal, the unsolved, the creepy and terrifying.”

Travel Channel Jericho

Pictured: The Unsolved

Look, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I won’t zone out and watch GHOST ADVENTURES for a good four hours; it’s truly a show deserving of its own op-ed one of these days. And dont you for one single second think I’m lamenting the rise of my beloved papa, Guy Fieri. But… I do feel like we’ve lost something here that goes beyond #only90skids nostalgia goggles.

As kids we were inundated by advertisements for everything under the sun: pervasive commercials for sugary drinks, cereals, and toys interspersed between cartoons designed to sell sugary drinks, cereals, and toys. Anybody who grew up in the pre-streaming days has a few commercial jingles occupying the spot in their brains where “how to fill out a 1099” should probably be. I still remember the R&B bop designed to sell some con-air product that put colorful streaks in your hair and I’m sure damaged it irreperably. (“Change your color for the prom/(It’s the prom!)/What do you know—it even looks good on your mom!”)

Travel Channel was something my parents would gladly watch with me for hours rather than plopping me in front of BLUE’S CLUES to go do other things. It never explicitly billed itself as family content to my knowledge, but it was excellent co-viewing before kids’ content really started trying to get the parents involved. While I fully admit that the original Travel Channel programs were transparent advertisements for vacation packages, they stirred up an interest in me to see the world. Most of the items on my traveling bucket list (looking at you, Atlantis Resort water slide that goes through a shark tank) started as segments on The Travel Channel. And the destinations weren’t always your “exotic” island getaways—they were often lesser-known attractions in Middle America that benefited from the boost.

Like—come on—this is SO DOPE

Nowadays if I want to see some Xtreme roller coasters or haunted attractions, I can find infinite YouTube videos to scratch my itch. There’s no shortage of blessed content like DINERS, DRIVE-INS, AND DIVES to showcase Middle America’s finest, and Netflix has taken up the modern iteration of the “Xtreme” genre with shows like THE WORLD’S MOST EXTRAORDINARY HOMES and AMAZING INTERIORS. The void of the original Travel Channel has certainly been filled, and it’s fun to yell at Zak Bagans being a shitty ghost hunter, but probably not as culturally enriching as having the world in my living room before I could carry it in my pocket.

Kate Brogden
Kate Brogden is the Television Editor at Merry-Go-Round. When she's not hunting down the latest in hyper-niche reality television, she's helping awesome people make awesome animated shows. Her proudest achievement to date is getting a friend into Disneyland without a ticket.

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    13 Comments

    1. I was just thinking about this the other day, when I had GHOST ADVENTURES on in the background!

      1. The Travel Channel actually inspired me and was helpful when I was pursuing my degree in Travel Industry Operations a little over 20 years ago. If I ever go after a degree in zombie hunting I guess I’ll start watching it again.

    2. It oddly seem to decline with Bourdain’s suicide. Once Andrew Zimmern departed, lost cause…

    3. They might as well call it the “Ghost Channel”. I hate the programming now. I want to see places to go or places that I can’t afford to go but dream of. I enjoyed Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern. I watch Josh Gates from time to time, but other than that, just not into the paranormal side that this channel has taken on. Bring me more destinations that bring me joy and tranquility. Show me trips to take in an RV, things that create good memories. Get rid of the BS.

    4. I found this article as I searched, “What happened to Travel Channel?” It’s unrecognizable today. All of the paranormal/ ghost/ hauntings shows have used the actual travel shows of the channel. I so miss Samantha Brown, Alby Mangles Adventure Bound, Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, all of the Xtreme shows, & even Travels in Europe with Rick Steves, which TC ran for a short period. The “Travel” seems to be gone on the Travel Channel.

      1. The Travel Channel actually inspired me and was helpful when I was pursuing my degree in Travel Industry Operations a little over 20 years ago. If I ever go after a degree in zombie hunting I guess I’ll start watching it again.

    5. The Paranormal Chanel is what it should be called. Not much travel involved anymore. I guarantee you some millennial punk took over as CEO or programming director. Who else could put so on much crap and ruin a once good channel?

    6. I once watched this channel quite a bit. I enjoyed the cooking shows and travel shows. I always looked forward to my Andrew Zimmern fix and DD&D fix as well. But this crap is NOT…repeat NOT “travel” related in ANY way!!! I find it extremely offensive and totally disgusting. I don’t need this “fear porn” shoved in my face with this ghost hunting, paranormal, witch brand type of garbage, this once good channel now spews out!! Sorry TC…you lost this once loyal viewer. I refuse to even click on your trash programming for even a nanosecond!! I hope your channel ends up going deep into the bowels of hell which you all seem to be so deeply fascinated with!! Good day!

    7. I hate this new travel channel! I miss my bizzare foods, extreme water parks, food paradise were is everything?

    8. Ok, so I’m not the only one missing the old Travel channel. I had to Google to see what the heck was going on. I loved Bizzare Foods, Food Paradise, Man V. Food, and my beloved Mysterious at the Museum. I don’t care for paranormal shows, why can’t they play shows like that on Scifi channel or create a channel specifically dedicated to the paranormal. Now, I just go past it as I’m going through the guide on TV because I know there isn’t anything related to Travel anymore. Whoever made this decision is an idiot! There is no way their ratings can be high with the programming they currently have.
      I know this post is about Travel channel, but you ask me all the other channels that I grew up watching: History channel, Animal Planet, E!, MTV, VH1 and The Learning Channel have all gone down hill.

    9. You are so on point. I hate the “tervl” channel. They need to just call it paranormal channel and be done with it. And the shows aren’t even good!!!! Josh Gates never finds shit! Where is the next Anthony Bourdain?? Been over Andrew Zimmern mug years ago. They don’t even try. Not even No Reservations reruns?? I have to go to YouTube and Instagram for my travel tv fix. It’s so sad. I get more travel tv on PBS than than “tervl” channel. There is so much excellent travel show talent out there with vloggers and bloggers and they won’t even tap in to that. Terrible!!

    10. I loved your article. You had me cracking up through the whole thing! I too was searching for what the fuck happened to the travel channel even though it’s all I watch. The seriously need to rename it the ghost channel or ghst chnl ? lol!

    11. I stopped watching Travel Channel (Trvl, or whatever its called now) a long time ago and started watching a channel called AWE – A Wealth of Entertainment. AWE does have some none-travel shows, but their non-travel shows are almost somewhat related to travel in some way. For example, they have a show called “Buying Yachts”, and it’s not really a travel show, but it often seems like a travel show because you see them at the Miami oceanfront, or other places that look very “vacation-ish”. Another non-travel show called “Find Me a Luxury Home” is not a travel show, but they are often showing luxury homes near nice beaches, which makes it seem somewhat like a travel show. Overall, AWE has a much larger percentage of real travel shows airing than Travel Channel. My favorite shows on AWE are “Private Islands”, “Dream Cruises”, and “Top Travel”. Some cable tv providers offer AWE, some do not. I have AT&T U-verse tv, which does offer AWE. Anyway, its a shame that Travel Channel has basically turned into a hot mess of nothingness over the years. Travel Channel is like the guy in an old movie that gets shot and takes forever to finally fall down and die. If they aren’t going to go big and recommit to being a real travel channel with mostly real travel shows, then someone needs to put them out of their misery once and for all.

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