Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The Corsair's Remote Control Tour Diary, 2.1

The Corsair originally ran this nearly a year ago (has this site been up that long? how time flies), but as the cable universe changes and evolves faster than Kylie Minogue's face, and since new readers have joined this blog, I'm adding on some new channels and commentary as well as the original piece.

There are over 500 cable channels nowadays, so who better to give you a tour of some of the major ones? Anyhoo: 500 channels means "niche marketing." And with all those niches, things can get confusing as to what is being marketed and to whom. So, The Corsair will help the viewer through the wonderful world of cable with these pithy explanations, In Media Res:

TNT: Should be renamed LNR as, at any time, Law and Order is running on this one horse station 24/7. Lousy with Middle-aged Testosterone. A musky-smelling channel suffused with past-their-expiration-date men defending their country from sundry characters with Kung-Fu. Hugely improbable. Bruce Willis and Steven Seagal and Samuel L. Jackson and Clint Eastwood retread action flics with basketball on the side. Big in New Jersey.

MTRO: I think you can only get this in New York. Does New York Magazine still run the content? For those who missed the 788 other rebroadcasts of the Tommy Hilfiger runway show at the Bryant Park tents. Sexy models with blank expressions nonchalantly stroll on the catwalk in sheer gowns to Rolling Stones music. Fuck. The Hungry man's porn. A hundred thousand high school guys are hoping their mothers don't catch them in "the act."

CNN: Pity CNN: They used to wine and dine with kings and queens, but now they are laying in the gutter eating pork and beans. Wolf Blitzer spends sundays chatting up war criminals of the foreign policy Establishment. CNN has morphed into the channel republicans love to hate. Establishment without the ratings or juice. The edge is gone; CNN has given up it's investigative edge to be in the "In" crowd. Someone toss Christianne Amanpour a life vest.

Lifetime: A channel earnestly devoted to fanning the smouldering resentments of Midwestern housewives. Husbands are, of course, to blame in most of these story lines that usually end with a favorable courtroom verdit .. after the wife has killed the abusive cad. *The Corsair shudders* Anger is the predominant emotion here. If this channel could talk it would scream, "I've given you the best years of my life!!" Hollywood has not been kind to Nancy McKeon. Hell hath no fury like Joanna Kearns scorned!

ABCFamily: The channel devoted to Christian tween girls in a nuclear family with a conviction that human history has a purpose beyond this world. Halleleuia, praise Jesus, and please send money. Lots of early Mary Kate and Ashley films, which, ironically, attract a very different sort of crowd than the ones that these cats are actually aiming after. The Gilmore Girls prevail!

CNBC: This channel serves as "White Noise" for the various strip joints in the hard-boiled Wall Street and financial district vicinity. As your typical Bud Fox-like trader with the requisite (Averted Gaze) "Lawng Island" accent sips a Stoli on the "rawks" during his lunchbreak, sniffing his -- sniff, sniff -- "Bolivian white Powder" ("... Hey, it's Vitamin C ..."), getting his "friction dance" from his favorite "dancer," he can look over her shoulder, casually -- 'cause he's "suave", and catch a brief glance at just how the markets are doing, getting a gauge on when he should return to the office. Maria Bartiromo as metaphor for the ideal Long Island investment banker's trophy wife. Sweet Maria. Sniff, sniff.

A&E: An elderly folks network with lots of Murder, She Wrote, and "original" films like "Horatio Hornblower," for viewers who can remember their glorious years of service in the British Imperial navy policing those hectic colonial ports. And Biography. Old people love reading and watching biographies. The Corsair doesn't know why. Another life not their own. Of late, it's been getting tabloidy and all Playboy.

History: This is the Hitler and Outlaw Biker channel. At any time of the day, there is a hilbilly bar with serious discussions going on as to Hitler's "tactical blunders" and what they would like to have done "different," with this channel serving as the obvious background noise. Attila the Hun and controversial historical persona, like Vlad the Impaler are big here and treated with "the tenderness dey deserve". It takes a tough man to make a tender Visigoth reference.

Discovery: This is the older, skeevier companion network to the decidedly low-rent History Channel, which means that it attracts a comparatively downscale sort of viewer than one would expect at History, which is not saying much at all. Seriously, though, This is the straight-up serial killers network. No joking, on the strength. Somewhere in the Yosemite Valley there is a man, in a dungeon, sweating profusely, wearing clown makeup and laughing at the moon. He is surrounded by dog collars and he is described by co workers at the Phoemix post office as "a solitary man." Guess which channel this guy is watching to drown out the screams. That's right, sweetbread (sotto voce) Discovery. Homeland security must needs to monitor anyone who watches more than 3 hours a day of this shit.

VH1: Perhaps the coolest channel on basic cable or otherwise (full disclosure: I write for VH1's best blog ever, on occasion), to me at least. Suffused with irony, snark and nostalgia, this channel supplies the basic components of the urban diet. Michael Hirschorn is our god; we are not worthy.

MTV: No longer cool: a little resentful of the joie de vivre its older, more successful brother, VH1. It will never be the 80s again and the blush has worn off that ordinary looking frat boy Carson Daly. Lots of prank shows, like Punk'd and Wild Boys. White boys doing silly stuff which, oddly, attracts women viewers: if The Corsair had a nickel for every woman who has told him they they would like to "do" Steve O. Eeew. TV for the low attention span generation (thanks, hippies, for dropping the kids in front of the gameboy -- ass)

E!: Creepy celebrity stalking and gossip. In a just world, the E! on-air staff would be summarily arrested -- cuffed and stuffed -- for stalking celebrities. Everyone on this channel reeks of thwarted Hollywood ambitions and plastic surgery gone awry, especially the "humpy" Teddy Casablancas. This channel hasn't had a hit since Greg Kinnear was up in this bitch, and Jules Asner snatched Steven Soderberg, using the Asner name (she divorced Ed Asner's son years ago). E! stands for envy, which is the predominant emotion expressed on this channel.

ESPN: This is reality tv for the Maxim set. Faint but palpable homoerotic subtext conveyed via "hero worship" of alpha males, like, say, Shaq or Sprewell (whom viewers call the jocular-guy-pal sobriquet "Spree," cause, like, they know him personally in a Calvin Klein kind of way), but, of course, your average Joe Fratboy will never acknowledge that distrubing little truth.

Bravo: For the affluent gay man, but not as culturally prestigious as BBC America, because BBC has that whole colonial cachet -- pre 1776, and AbFab credibility. Cultural programming (National Dog Show, Cirque du Soleil, Inside the Actors Studio) and Queer Eye For the Straight Guy rebroadcasts are the staple diet. Excellent movies like Deer Hunter are occasionally sprinkled into the programming.

BET: Brooding cartoonist Aaron McGruder has a great line about BET -- "There is neither anyone black on this station, nor is it entertaining." This seriously embarassing network marketed to the seediest stereotype of the urban underclass. One almost wonders if "Ripple" and "Muscatel" will buy ad space sometime soon. "Ghetto" comedy skits explained in unremarkable "Wayansesque" turn of english with frequent reference to bodily functions. Snake oil selling televangelists like the dodgy duo of Crispy and Taffi Dollar rule the airwaves on Sundays. And C-List Blaxploitations flix fill out the rest of any regrettable week's lineup. Can you fucking believe that Viacom paid three billion dollars for this channel?

Sci Fi: The repressed sexuality channel. Every viewer can remember where they were when they first read the death of XMan Phoenix. The SciFi niche viewer is the grown man who has a crush on the X Man, Storm, and dreams in full-on video game graphics. Somehow the unresolved "sexual energy" gets worked out into a reverence for the "paranormal." The Corsair wishes Jung were still alive to explain that one. B List hot chicks like Shannen Doherty and Tracy Lords end up hosting gigs here after Hollywood is through feasting on their young and tender flesh.

Fox: If you go in for Karl Rove's talking points, this is the channel for you. Yes, Virginia Frat Boy, there is a Santa Clause. The Corsair has to admit that he watched it during the Second Gulf War (CNN made its bones on Gulf War 1, Fox on Gulf War 2). Fox routinely scooped the other networks and it sometimes seemed as if Rummy gave soldiers Fox camcorders. For a "family values network," the women broadcasters have an oddly pornographic patina about them. The "juicy-lipped" Laurie Dhue, for example. Hmmm.

Showtime: Tries earnestly to out-extreme the original programming at HBO, but just ends up like the wigger trying to be cool in a room full of black people. They go too far. Dreams of getting recognized at events like the Golden Globes; not likely, however. This is the place to try to pitch your indie documentary on transexual underwater basket weavers in Micronesia.

Food: For people who's interest in food has transcended the purely phenomenal eating stage. We still like the Iron Chef, though:

Fuku-san, --"yes" -- I just heard that the Iron Chef, that odd Asian man dressed in a Rennaissance courtier outfit via Liberace with big ups to black Kimono's, circa the Meiji Restoration was last seen munching on a yellow pepper.

TLC: This channel is a bit of a mystery to me. It used to have a niche as a sort of Cliff Clavin channel, great for neighborhood bar know-it-alls: you know, for the general interest trivia mind-- programming on the imago stage of cognitive development, poisonous reptiles, the Minoan civilization, restoration of Roman mosaics, classical biological warfare, the robber barons, the science of volcanoes, that sort of thing. But now it has a lot of "fixing up the home" and "makeover" programming. It's sort of like a guy who is trying to be "manly" just a ... just a little too hard at the Thanksgiving Dinner table, and then, to everyone's relief, just comes on out of the closet.

AMC: Kind of Cool. Old Hollywood glamour with some original programming and commentary on the Gilded Age of Hollywood. This is like a channel put together by the editors of Variety looking backward. Vanity Fair should do a show here with Graydon Carter hosting. But then, unfortunately, there would be no African-Americans on air. My bad.

FX: Not worth talking about. Maxim lite. Loads of testosterone. A warehouse for old Fox Tv shows. Married ... with Children repeats, anyone? A very odd "cop" and "fireman" fetish. Come on, though, admit it, you love Nip/Tuck.

We: Women's fantasy. Lots of Merchant-Ivory BritShit productions of aristocrats who fall in love with common women, who are often middle aged American divorcees. Yeah, like that's going to happen. Freudian wish fulfillment, anyone? Pure drivel.

C-Span: For the ultra political science geek. Viewers tend to look like Michael Barone, waiting anxiously for their New Republic subscription copies to arrive, chuckling over Senate voting record statistics. The average viewer can rattle off the precise wording of the Republican Party platform of 1964. They read The Almanac of American Politics for fun. Who am I kidding -- "they" is "me."

Oxy: Very (air quotes) "sisterhood" oriented; Oprah and Gerry Laybourne's experiment has recently taken a sort of Sapphic detour of late with regard to their programming. Gerry Laybourne once huffed at me because I didn't know the way to the elevator after a photo shoot at my old magazine. Bitch.

National Geographic: Interesting and kind of cool. This is a channel about animals and exotic cultures and taboos. NGC Anchor Lisa Ling uses this job to "export" antiques and other cultural knicknacks. The Corsair hears her apartment is lousy with Third World trinkets.

IFC: So earnest, so hip, so anti-Hollywood-- yet as soon as Dinner for Five's indy star John Favreau gets to do a big shlocky Hollywood film like Elf, he jumps like a Cocker Spaniel being offered a dog yummy. Independent cinema dies when Harvey Weinstein cared more about The Oscars than the cinematography. Ass.

TCM: This is a less hip AMC. This is like AMC with a broken hip and angina. Lots of old movies with no irony or relevant commentary. What's worse, in most of these movies, African-Americans are butlers or chubby maids with ample bosom, itreminded me of my last trip to Baltimore! Old people like this and can go into hourlong riffs on the "letter box format." Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Ovation: The Corsair has a theory that this is a piece of flotsam adrift on the vast media ocean that is digital television (or in the case of Ovation, a pleasant gondola ride down the Venetian Grand Canal). Ovation repeats the same ten or so programs ad nauseum, the Cecilia Bartoli on Vivaldi piece, Lost Frescos, Yanni at the Acropolis (-- eeew). Is there anyone employed at Ovation? Did the programmer have a heart attack in the 80s and promptly die? Did anyone notice? Is anyone watching?

ESPNClassic: Oh, dear lord help us. Old men with beer bellies reliving "classic sports moments." (At this point, Bruce Springsteen's Glory Days should be playing). This is the tv channel Al Bundy would most likely be watching on his day off from the shoe store. What was once relegated to the category of trivia (the perfect sports moment) has not, tastelessly, morphed into a television channel. Charmed, I'm sure.

SoapNet: This is ESPN Classics for the housewife. For those who missed an episode of One Life Too Live because the pesky rugrat swallowed a button. Imagine the inconvenience. Bon-bons are big advertisers. Susan Lucci is, like, Aristotle to this crowd.

TVLand: Tries to be all retro-ironical, but street cred will not be forthcoming by running repeats of Bewitched and Sanford and Son, alone. Silly rabbit, tricks are for kids! The other networks have bought all the good old tv shows, leaving TV Land to contemplate Mayberry. Irony will not mask incompetence! The Emperor has no clothes!

Animal Planet: Television for committed vegans and PETA members. The Crocodile Hunter is their posterboy, but even he's gotten boring with those crocs. Boring. We want hyenas and lions and feral pigs and other maneaters! What kind of ad revenue do these guys generate? Pet detectives and other odd programming fill the bill. The Corsair has heard that lots of pet owners keep the channel on while they go to work.

Sundance: An edgier IFC; very left wing politically, but pure. Robert Redford's pet liberal project. While IFC pretends that they their directors will have the integrity to turn down 3 picture deals to make crappy Hollywood car-chase pictures, these guys really would rather do a documentary on Micronesian head hunters. So there. If IFC is for the (Averted Gaze) hipster, then Sundance is for the socially conscious grown up.

Trio: Perhaps the coolest channel of them all. What VH1 viewers will most likely watch after they all "sell out" (The Corsair didn't sell out, he "bought in") . Used to be a Canadian station, believe it or not, back in the day, with lots of Canadian mountie dramas and Native American shows. A station devoted to the sophisticated amateur sociologist interested in the decline of Western Civilization. In a detatched, ironic and witty manner, of course. The Corsair fosters ambitions of doing a late night talk show for this channel.

NWI: A wrap up of all the international anti-American news agencies. At any time of the day, you, too, can see the seething hatred and utter contempt that the world community holds us in. And, if english is not enough, they have Japanese news with dubbed voice overs. Al Gore is having as much trouble buying this station as he had in Florida. Are you going to blame Nader for this too, Al?

DiscoveryTimes: One of the strangest channels in the world. This is actually the New York Times' channel -- they own it, but it is devoted to showing America militarized or in crisis, which, all told, are the moments when The Old Grey Lady was at its finest, but why focus on that content? Lots of Civil rights struggles, war footage, Third World chaos, terrorism analysis, and --wierdest of all -- endless looks into our military academies. What the fuck?!

FUSE: MTV's competitor for the extreme generation low attention span kiddie market, which is not saying much. Hipsters swear that this is the second coming of MTV. Big in Williamsburg.

VH1Classic: Could be interesting, as the X Generation is big on nostalgia, but right now this channel is not happening. It's like Ovation.

USA: This is the sybil channel -- split personality. It is high testosterone most of the year, focusing on but come holiday time it is all about the holidays... kinda like our dads.

Style: If it is possible this is an even more shallow channel than E! Lots of C-List types talking about the beauty business, botox, their plastic surgery. Hair care, weight loss, mascara ads predominate. It is all about being beautiful. This channel can induce severe nausea in people who actually read books for leisure.


Anonymous said...

Hilarious! (As usual!)

One note: The Discovery channel seems to have morphed into the "Biker Boyz" channel; every time I turn it on, there's some biker, hot rod, or some other garage type show on... maybe they're trying to intercept some of the Spike TV crowd?

Team said...

Dude, I was with you until you harshed on "E!." You've got to check out "Fashion Police" for cheap laughs that are actually informative and positive. Things are looking up for the celeb-encrusted station. Mark my words.

And TCM is the bomb...where else can you watch Robert Mitchum B-movies and film noir with closed captioning?

The Corsair said...

I harshed on E! with professional courtesy. Everything I wrote was in jest (except for Discovery Channel, that place is downright creepy) If E! were to offer me a gig, I'd whore myself out to them in a nanosecond. I'm old school like that.