Updated October 2012
Today, if you want to actually watch classic television on television, you’ll need to look for it and be lucky. Many cable channels that used to air primarily classic television programs have shifted to original or more recent shows. The short-lived Ha! The TV Comedy Network, prior to merging with The Comedy Channel in 1991, aired classic sitcoms from the 1950s through the 1970s. When FX launched in 1994 (as fX), it filled its schedule with shows like Batman, Mission: Impossible, Wonder Woman, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams and Dragnet. Syfy, back when it was The Sci Fi Channel, would air shows like The Amazing Spider-Man, The Immortal, The Time Tunnel and Planet of the Apes.
For years you couldn’t turn on The Sci Fi Channel without finding something from the 1960s or 1970s, or so it seemed. But not anymore. Even recent cable channels like Cloo (formerly Sleuth) and Chiller have dropped much of their classic programs. You can still find I Love Lucy, The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie on Hallmark Channel. And TV Land, although it has abandoned its classic television roots, does continue to air classic programs like All in the Family, Charlie’s Angels, Green Acres, Hogan’s Heroes, I Dream of Jeannie, Star Trek and more.
(A cable channel that used to be dedicated to classic television was AmericanLife TV Network, also known as GoodLife TV Network and before that The Nostalgia Channel. As recently as 2010 it was airing Rhoda, Mission: Impossible the so-called “Color Honeymooners” episodes. A few years before that it aired Batman, The Green Hornet and The Rat Patrol. In September 2011 it relaunched as Youtoo TV and dropped all its former programming to devote itself to somehow merging social media with television.)
There are several specialty “networks” that do continue to offer classic television programming. These are primarily available as digital subchannels of local stations as well as certain cable systems. So if a station where you live is affiliate with one or more of these networks, you’re in luck. Here’s a look at the largest of these networks. Note that This TV and Me-TV are either owned or co-owned by Weigel Broadcasting while Retro Television Network and My Family TV are owned or co-owned by Luken Communications so there is overlap in the programs the two sets of networks air.
Among the programs aired by RTV are Movin’ On, Police Story, Route 66, The Saint, Lassie, The Cisco Kid and Naked City. It also airs more recent programs and not every affiliate follows the national schedule.
I wrote about This TV back in June 2009. Although it primarily airs feature films, you can watch Highway Patrol, Sea Hunt, The Outer Limits, Bat Masterson, The Patty Duke Show and Mister Ed.
Formerly Faith TV, My Family TV was relaunched in 2008 and airs programs like Daniel Boone, I Spy, Lassie, Movin’ On, Peter Gunn and The Rifleman.
An off-shoot of local Chicago and Milwaukee stations, Me-TV airs dozens of classic programs, including Batman, The Big Valley, The Brady Bunch, Burke’s Law, Combat!, The Fugitive, The Guns of Will Sonnett, Lost in Space, Make Room for Daddy, M*A*S*H, Night Gallery, The Rebel, Route 66, That Girl and The Twilight Zone.
Antenna TV airs programs like Adam-12, Bachelor Father, Dennis the Menace, Father Knows Best, The Flying Nun, Gidget, Hazel, Leave it to Beaver, The Partridge Family and Soap.