So you dropped cable a few years ago? You don’t have dish? You’re reading, pursuing a hobby or watching TV online, ala carte?

Well, if you haven’t been watching, here’s a little bit of what you’ve been missing.

You surely already knew MTV stopped involving music more than two decades ago, and there’s nothing worth learning on TLC, the Learning Channel.

Other cable networks are following suit.

During primetime hours, the Travel Channel hardly presents travel shows, unless there’s a handheld-camera crew traveling somewhere to investigate a legend, purported haunting or demonic possession. Last October, the network changed to TRvL, which apparently forgives no longer having high-quality programming in dreamy destinations and far-off lands.

The late Anthony Bourdain of “No Reservations” fame certainly could not be replaced. He introduced Travel Channel audiences to unsung chefs of Spain. He dined and cooked with Jews and Muslims living in disputed Israeli-Palestinian territory, providing insights into their lives and fears.

Rather than filling the schedule with fitting programming to replace Bourdain’s programming, TRvL now has hours on end of ghost-hunting shows and psychics searching for “shadow people” and “dark entities” in working-class houses.

To its credit, TRvL still has some worthwhile programming such as “Mysteries at the Museum.” And legend-hunter and entertaining narrator Josh Gates does take the viewer to exotic and unusual places they’d likely never be able to tread.

Animal Planet gained an audience with several years of a group of folks out “squatchin’” (looking for sasquatch) in “Finding Bigfoot.” The group rarely found an animal and, of course, never found bigfoot.

National Geographic even has gotten into the bigfoot- and yeti-hunting business. Well, Nat Geo TV, to be exact. Owned since March by Disney, Nat Geo TV has been airing programs with scientists consulted, but also with narrators making speculative statements on legends such as the Loch Ness Monster. Nat Geo narrators don’t make blatant claims like some cable programs — the “Finding Bigfoot” folks told viewers matter-of-factly that bigfoot likes to throw rocks and slam branches against tree trunks. Instead, Nat Geo narration might include phrases such as “some observers say.” Or, they’ll introduce ridiculous possibilities with terms such as “what if? …”

If you get stuck while flipping through channels, the programming can get much worse, which is sad when some of the best screenwriting and documentaries still can be found on cable. But, it’s so easy to find ridiculous programs on cable. What can you expect when 300 channels need to fill 24 hours, seven days a week?

There’s “Naked and Afraid” for Discovery Channel followers who must not want old-fashioned nature shows. Each episode, a man and a woman remove all of their clothing as they’re abandoned for weeks in jungles, deserts or crocodile-infested riversides. With their naughty bits blurred out, they seek food, water and shelter, injuring their feet and skin in the process and often going days without food or protein.

At the beginning of each show, they’re assigned a survivalist score, usually 8 or 6. And when they’re done, that might go up to an 8 or down to a 4. I presume it’s a 10-point score, and everyone loses two points automatically because they’re foolish enough to try to take on nature for days and nights on end without wearing shoes or clothing. We evolved beyond that 4,000 years ago, right?

“Hillbilly” shows gained popularity. So, naturally, next came a group costumed in overalls and hunting for “Mountain Monsters,” while talking about the supposed diets and habits of everything from southern versions of nonexistent bigfoot and werewolves to Mothman and even lizard-man. Of course they don’t catch any of these in their traps, but they apparently captured advertising and producers. These clowns drove around in $60,000 trucks, and Networthmag.com once reported the cast had a net worth of $2.5 million. It’s just plain stupid, and hopefully no children believe any of this stuff.

But “Reality” programming can get worse. Promoters of “Paradise Hotel” on Fox say the rules of their dating game are “hook up or check out.”

Is this what Ray Bradbury saw coming when he wrote “Fahrenheit 451?” Read it. Read something else. Go out and explore. Do something. Boycott the junk — trust me. I tuned in and saw these train wrecks.

Craig Sterrett can be reached at (815) 220-6935 or ntlocal@newstrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_NewsEditor.

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