Just What You’re Looking For: The Life of Prevue Channel

Alternate title: I Came Here For the Trailers

Second Alternative Title: Waiting On Listings For A Certain Channel…Still Waiting…

Consider those the worst of the worst in working titles.

When I originally planned out this month’s offerings for Do You Remember Tuesdays, I had initially planned to talk about the time when Nickelodeon would end its broadcasting day at 8 pm and A&E would take over.  I always found that interesting, bizarre, and disappointing as a kid (it only happened on weekdays, as far as I can remember), but there was another broadcasting oddity of the same time that I’ve always found much more interesting.

Who knows, the Nickelodeon/A&E split may make its way into a future article, but for today, we’re talking electronic program guides.

What is an Electronic Program Guide?

Asked no one – er, I mean – everyone!

Electronic Program Guides, or EPGs, are menu-based systems that provide viewers, listeners, and users of media applications with continuously updated menus that display current scheduling information, as well as that of upcoming programming.

There are two types of EPGs – the non-interactive guides known as navigation software, and interactive guides, which allows users to navigate and search by time, channel, program title, or genre.  Think of EPGs as the dedicated television channel that showed this information day in and day out – the Prevue Channel (later TV Guide Channel), and the interactive guides as the ones on your cable or satellite provider’s service.

We’re going to talk about the earlier, non-interactive version today, since it is something we all admit to having watched at least once, when we were too lazy to pick up a TV Guide, and oh wow, did you see that trailer?  And that one?  And the music is so catchy!

What?  Why do you judge me?!

Yes, I Admit It…

I LOVED Prevue Channel as a kid.  It was less about seeing what was on (though the technology felt mind-blowing for its time), and more about watching movie trailers and television show promos.  Oh, and you probably were looking for something to watch anyway, so you stick around.  I also liked the music played between commercial/promo/trailer segments.  It had that elevator muzak vibe that The Weather Channel always had.

I always liked the movie trailers – I have this ridiculous memory of seeing so many mid-1990s movie trailers on Prevue Channel.  And it was never for good movies, just the really terrible movies airing on HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, and The Movie Channel at the time.  I can’t tell you how many times I saw the trailer for Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde when it aired on HBO, yet I didn’t see it until 2008 (don’t ask, it was 2 am and nothing else was on!).

Anyway…how about a history lesson?

From The Electronic Program Guide to TV Guide: The Evolution of the Concept

The first network channel-dedicated Electronic Program Guide was established in 1981 as simply The Electronic Program Guide.  It was launched through the United Video Satellite Group.

220px-epg-tvguide

It provided onscreen programming information 24 hours a day, with listings shown up to 90 minutes in advance.  Data for the listings was provided via satellite to a computer at a headend facility.

Screenshot (291)
In some instances, television listings weren’t the only information provided (Screenshot from United Cable’s Electronic Program Guide, Phoenix AZ, October 1987)

This service would later be renamed as Prevue Guide, which ran from the late 1980s until 1999 (changing its name to Prevue Channel, and overhauling the service in 1993), when it was renamed as TV Guide Channel, then TV Guide Network, before that network became a channel called Pop.

Along with trailers for movies and television show promos, Prevue also showed commercials (especially the psychic hotline ads that were “all the rage” in the 1990s), and infomercials late at night.  They also had “programming” in the form of Prevue Tonight.  Movie summaries, VCR+ codes, ratings, and weather were also features of Prevue Channel.  It seemed so cheesy and the lazy man’s TV Guide, but it was technological and THE FUTURE(!)…except when it crashed.  Then it looked like the future was one big technological nightmare playing out before your eyes.

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And oh, when it crashed, it was something else!

Upload via Steve Sisson

You NEVER got that music out of your head!

Technological failures (known as guru meditations) were a common, but not overly frequent, issue with Prevue Guide/Channel.  They were actually kind of funny.

By the way, the interstitial music is called “Opening Act,” from the James and Aster music library. Because it was worth knowing about.

Upload via PrevueChannelMusic

On February 1, 1999, Prevue Channel became the TV Guide Channel, which became an expansion upon the popular weekly cable listings guide.  The channel maintained the same format as Prevue Guide/Channel before it – movie previews, its own programming above the listings grid, and of course, the listing grid.

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The transition to TV Guide Channel (later TV Guide Network from 2007 until 2013) marked the end of the earliest era of the innovative standard for checking for a show).  This type of channel would become obsolete by the mid-2000s.  Even in the earliest days of the TV Guide Channel’s takeover, programming would take on a fullscreen concept, and by the late 2000s and early 2010s, were showing movies and programs without even a two-line programming grid.  The network went from a utility network to a television network, and by 2015, with relaunching as Pop, the days of the non-interactive electronic programming guide were history.

The fact that it took until the mid-2010s to figure that out are nothing short of interesting.  That’s even like reading TV Guide, which seems to be less “I’m checking to see what’s on” and more “I’m reading the articles!” I mean, I did that all the time in the 90s, which either makes me ahead of my time, or strange.  Or both?

By the time the network was rebranded as the TV Guide Channel, it had already become something I would tune into just to check for something, and really nothing more than that.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve watched that channel, well…ever since it rebranded from the old Prevue Channel.

The Prevue Guide/Channel Lives On Through Video!

Well, of course I was going to wrap this all up with videos people of the YouTube Land archives have posted.  Because someone thought to tape this stuff!

Upload via Kobe E. Blanchette

Upload via John Kord

Upload via bostonnewsarchives

And the Oddity Archive did an episode on these guides.  The story of the technical aspect and just seeing all that cool nostalgic footage is so much fun!

Upload via OddityArchive

And Now…You!

Let's Chat!

So, let’s chat.  Tell me about your Prevue Guide memories.  Did you/someone you know have any professional connection to the network, or are you like me and have a personal nostalgic connection?  Do you remember the inevitable crashes, infomercials (did anyone ever see Dionne Warwick’s Psychic Friends on there?  I did!), and any of the programming.  Did you come back to it when TV Guide took over, and have you ever watched Pop?

Or was this network merely convenient, a utility, and redundant if you kept watching it long enough…like all day?

For me, it still brings back great memories of summer vacation and looking for something to watch…with the previews becoming “something to watch” instead.

Sound off in the comments below (or be social on, well, social media), sharing is caring (this is the good kind of sharing!), and have a great day!

So…what to watch…

 

12 comments

  1. I remember Prevue Guide quite well when I was a young lad back in the late 80s and all throughout the 90s & 00s. The local cable TV company here where I live first offered it when it was still the “EPG – Electronic Program Guide” on their channel lineup around 1987 (I remember the commercials the cable company aired on local TV for it, to drum up subscribers). I thought it was kinda neat and convenient back then to have a video version of the TV listings on a dedicated cable TV channel.

    During the EPG era, they would simulcast for the audio portion along with the guide a high-quality stereo feed of one of the local AM stations in town (they were owned by the same company who owned the cable company at the time, in fact the station and the cable company were in the same building, along with the local NBC TV affiliate and another FM station all owned by the same company), it sounded a lot better than their AM broadcast, since it was an audio feed directly from the station’s mixing desk and fed along with the EPG’s video.

    I think it was around the turn of the 90s (I’d say around 1990 or so), when the EPG got upgraded to the Prevue Guide we all remember and admire :). I was drawn in even more by all the promos and trailers that aired, it gave me something to do while I was waiting for the program scroll to display the right channel(s) so I could see what was scheduled.

    And I do remember the times it crashed, with the obligatory “Guru Meditation” error (the standard error message for AmigaOS, running on the Commodore Amiga 2000 systems installed at local CATV headends, that Prevue Guide used to generate the channel), either by it’s lonesome on a black background, or superimposed over the two top split-screens of video and the C-band satellite version of th program scrolls while the Prevue Guide music (normally played during still ads or other times where no video was diaplayed) played on until a headend tech would come in and reboot the system :).

    Prevue Networks also had another channel that was carried on some cable TV systems (including my local system at the time) sometime around the early-mid 1990s called “Sneak Prevue” that broadcasted movie trailers for pay-per-view movies. It was similar in function to the Prevue Guide, but the video was full screen, with a locally-generated text “super” on screen mentioning the time and cable channel the movie was airing on. Plus the video of the trailers was played locally at the CATV headend from a laserdisc supplied and changed out monthly (IINM) by Prevue Networks, rather than fed via satellite as was Prevue Guide’s case.

    I sure do miss Prevue Guide (and its later form of the Prevue Channel). It just wasn’t the same anymore when it became the TV Guide Channel in 2000.

    Liked by 1 person

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  3. I was another Prevue Guide nerd when I was in elementary and middle school. After watching a couple of video clips, I have had that music in my head all day.

    Some of my favorite PG memories…
    – The ident showing the earth, the moon and the sun in space and the quintessentially 1980s synth score that accompanied it. Seriously, for me it was almost as cool as HBO in Space.
    – Whenever the service had technical difficulties and you got the channel listings not for your local cable service, but for satellite dish customers, as illustrated in one of the videos posted above. I enjoyed seeing the lists of all the channels our cable provider in suburban Detroit didn’t offer, and naturally I also got rather envious of those who could watch those channels. WPIX, KTLA, WSBK… as a broadcast geek, I wished I could have the chance to watch them. Our lame-o cable provider didn’t even offer WGN, though we did get WOR from New York.
    – Everyone remembers the psychic ads, but my most memorable ad was an answering machine service called “Crazy Calls” or something like that, which allowed the user to create humorous musical messages for their answering service. When I hear those iconic notes from Beethoven’s Fifth (aka the theme music for Judge Judy), I still sometimes sing out loud, “NOBODY’S HOME, NOBODY’S HOME…”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahahahahahahaha!!! I always love stories and memories like this. I grew up in the New York media market (even though I lived in South Jersey, their reach was as far south as my town, but we also had Philadelphia stations). I have had a chance to see the national feed of WGN, but being the proper broadcasting geek I am that has to watch at least one newscast wherever I visit, I watched WGN my first visit to Chicago (well, Rosemont). I’ve watched the news in the top four markets (New York, where I always watched the news from, Los Angeles, where my husband’s family lives near, Chicago, which I’ve visited, and Philadelphia, which is my current media market). Your memories of Prevue Guide are pretty much the same as mine – those great technical difficulty screens and that music permanently ingrained in my head. I always thought this was “THE FUTURE!” and that TV Guide would be obsolete! Thanks for sharing your stories, and your bullet list, I love a comment with organization!!!!

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  4. I used to watch The Prevue Channel a lot whenever I was a child in the ’90s. I remember seeing the commercials and the program guides themselves whenever I watched the channel … and I also remember them using a music piece called “The Standard Is Set” by Killer Tracks in some of their station IDs.

    I also watched TV Guide Channel whenever I was younger. I will remember the Prevue Channel for a long time!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can remember sitting there, waiting for something good to scroll by. It seemed to take several minutes before you saw everything and I would always miss something and have to wait for it to scroll back around. Your article also reminded me of the Movietime network, which eventually became E Network. I remember when we first got the Movietime network and it was just a 24 hour movie trailer channel… that’s it, just 24 hours of movie trailers (probably several hours of informercials too). Thanks for this little trip down memory lane.

    Liked by 1 person

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