AMERICAN TV By Jim Elliott (Article)


Jim Elliott with Joan Ann

Those concerned that the control over North American television programming once exercised by the old, traditional broadcast networks might be reduced by the proliferation of the new, strictly cable, networks may rest easy.

The same media giants who own the old networks are still in control of almost all of the new cable channels. This is true to a greater or lesser extent on both sides of the border. While the ownership of the new channels is no secret, it is certainly not emphasized. Perhaps the best rule of thumb in guessing the ownership of the new channels is to see whose programs they use as re-runs, and whose programmes they advertise. The new networks do produce some original programming, but they still rely on re-runs to fill most of their hours, especially during daytime.

     One prominent new feature of the “new programming” is to have a comedian comment on the news on his own show, with a few guests. This format is very different from the “22 Minutes” and “Air Farce” we all know and love. There are two competing versions, CNBC, NBC’s allegedly all-news spin off, has Dennis Miller fresh from a disastrous year as an NFL football commentator, on an eponymous show which features an interview with the Republican du jour (Governor Schwarzenegger of California for whom Miller campaigned was the first) followed by a more or less right-wing rant and a panel discussion (the Varsity) in which an out-numbered Democrat usually holds his or her own against two rightists.
     HBO, a Time-Warner satrapy, has a much more congenial (to me)show in “Real Time” with Bill Maher which I prefer, not only does its leftward tilt accord more closely with my own prejudices, it’s far raunchier. Maher was rather precipitately forced from the air waves after 9-11for allegedly defending suicide terrorists from charges of cowardice by pointing out that they had in fact put their lives on the line. He seems unrepentant. His program also features invited guests and a panel. He also does skits and the occasional song, including a country tune/commentary on the Janet Jackson bosom-baring and ensuing media brouhaha.
     I must confess to missing the brief exposure, I had turned away from the Super Bowl to catch “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The choices we are forced to make! I am sure the main reason so much is being made of the Jackson/Timberlake affair is because it over-shadowed what was a surprisingly good game.
     The other main game on television, also partially over-shadowed by Janet’s “unrehearsed wardrobe malfunction,” was of course the convoluted process by which the Democratic Party was attempting to choose a candidate to unseat the President of the United States. It seemed to be unfolding according to plan and would only briefly be driven from prime time by the Grammies and the Oscars.

Jim Elliott

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