A million channels and nothing on

By Вen Li

Why do we need over 120 channels of mindless drivel on digital cable? With the exception of a few gems like the BBC, some movie channels and Discovery, most of the "specialty" channels are filled with low-quality crap that even the Vision network wouldn’t touch. The shows are better suited to fulfill CanCon requirements than they are to viewing (although calling some of the niche programs, like midnight community jazzercizing shows "content" is a bit generous).

Despite what marketdroids at the cable aggregators may think, I do not want to participate in television socialism by subsidizing obscure programming and thus paying more for channels I actually watch. There are reasons why niche programs and channels aren’t viable on their own: no one watches them and broadcasters can’t sell real ads. The sad truth is that the cable companies probably know this, hence they are stuck on the three-digit channels where they’re unlikely to annoy the blue collars who instantly surf to Monday Night Football.

The specialty channels also create problems for public access television. When the Access network airs Star Trek reruns five nights a week, it’s a pretty clear sign they are struggling to find and retain good niche programs that once competed for their airtime. Not only does that deny the broader audience quality programming, it denies producers and writers a broader audience.

The extra 60 niche channels also decimate the quality filter such that Dotto’s Data CafĂ© gets as much air time as The Screen Savers, even though the former is an eye-gouging experience for all but their six devoted fans.

For those lifeless souls who need all those channels, I propose a simple solution: if you care enough about animals or nature to watch three different channels devoted to those subjects, volunteer at the zoo or the nature conservatory. There, not only can you hear about animals from experts, just like on TV, but you also get to ask questions and work with the animals interactively. That’s almost better than TV. Not only that, but the people you help will thank you for your efforts.

That solution also works if you’ve ever fantasized about being a character on a hospital, police, law or newspaper drama. Volunteering allows you to become a part of the action and get to hear about real life people and perhaps realize that what Hollywood feeds us is mostly dog crap with a heaping pile of elephant dung on the side.

Which brings me to my final gripe: the claim that the low-
cost glorified handicam shows are more reflective of reality. They may show the tackiness of the production crew, but that’s not the reality that viewers want. Take, for example, the genetics "expert," who doubles as a Baptist minister in his other job, explaining DNA by showing Discovery Channel Web site printouts to an inept camera grip.

Sometimes I think the only reason we have 120 channels is so we don’t have to interact with the subjects of their shows. It’s like having mini-zoos of different groups of people in our living rooms. And just like in the real zoo, we don’t need to interact with them, we can just be secure in the knowledge that they exist somewhere out there.
No. That would be cynical.

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